Tag Archive for: Mohammed bin Salman


Journalists spent the holidays combing through 6,000 pages of Trump’s 2015-2020 tax records. Here’s what they found, and why it could create more legal trouble for Trump.

Trump’s taxes may reveal criminal, Constitutional violations

For years, former President Trump refused to honor a decades-old precedent, which began with Richard Nixon, by publicly releasing his taxes as a presidential candidate. Throughout his four years in office, he continued to refuse to release his yearly taxes as the 8 Presidents before him had done. Now we may know why.

Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee, who had obtained Trump’s tax returns going back to 2015 after a protracted legal battle, released nearly 6,000 pages of documents. Since then, journalists have been sifting through the huge document dump. Some important nuggets were released just before New Year’s. But with all the hustle and bustle of the holiday, they didn’t make much of a splash. Now that the confetti has settled, here are a few aspects of Trump’s tax records that are worthy of further attention, and possibly even legal scrutiny.

Foreign accounts and holdings

Some readers may have heard a vague mention of these over the weekend. Trump held bank accounts in China between 2015 and 2017. He also had accounts in Ireland, the UK and St. Martin during his presidency.

During his candidacy and presidency, Trump’s taxes cited business income, expenses, taxes or other significant financial items from various countries and territories: Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, China, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Grenada, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, Panama, Philippines, Puerto Rico (US territory), Qatar, South Korea, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom.

How big a deal is it really?

It depends on how you read the Foreign Emoluments Clause (Article I, Section 9, Clause 8) of the United States Constitution.

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

“Emolument” is just a fancy word for salary or compensation for an office or service. The Foreign Emoluments Clause exists to ensure that the President and other federal office holders are not financially beholden to any foreign power. When Trump took office in 2017, he again defied decades of precedent for sitting presidents. Rather than selling assets or putting them in a blind trust as previous Presidents had done, Trump left them in the control of his children, many of whom also had prominent roles in his campaign and administration. Simply put, this opened the door to corruption.

Trump and the Saudis

The foreign accounts and holdings were not Trump’s only flirtation with violating the Clause. During Trump’s presidency, Saudi Arabia spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at Trump hotels in Washington and elsewhere. And lo and behold, Trump signed a massive weapons deal with the Saudis. He also vetoed a bill passed by Congress to stop supplying weapons to the Saudis on the grounds they were being used to perpetrate war crimes in Yemen, the Kingdom’s impoverished neighbor. When US intelligence concluded that the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince likely ordered the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump dismissed and downplayed the allegation, and bragged about it.

Trump’s cozy financial relationship with the Saudis didn’t end after he left office. It continues even now that he’s officially announced his 2024 presidential candidacy. Early in 2021, Saudi Arabia signed a $2 billion investment deal with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. More recently, Trump’s golf course in Miami became part of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit. The amount Trump has received for this hasn’t been disclosed. Considering that LIV pays top players hundreds of millions of dollars, a fee in the tens or hundreds of millions for the use of Trump’s club doesn’t seem out of the question.

Trump’s financial relationship with the Saudis is far from the only concern. His holdings in China, revealed both in the returns and in previous reporting, have also drawn considerable scrutiny. There’s also his recent $4 billion deal to open a golf resort Oman, another wealthy kingdom on the Arabian Peninsula with an abysmal human rights record. But there’s another elephant in the room that needs addressing.

Evidence of “criminal tax evasion”

Trump’s tax records show that he paid $641,931 in taxes in 2015; $750 in both 2016 and 2017; just under $1 million in 2018; $133,445 in 2019; and in 2020, he paid nothing.

Columnist David Kay Johnston of the Daily Beast says Trump’s tax documents suggest “powerful evidence of criminal tax evasion” which merit scrutiny from investigators. Johnston firstly highlights how Trump managed to turn a $2.8 million profit off the Alternative Minimum Tax between 2015 and 2020. This is not illegal in and of itself. It’s merely an example of how lobbying by the wealthy (including Trump himself) has helped to structure our tax codes in their favor.

However, Johnston also points to a bigger, and potentially criminal, red flag. This concerns 26 sole-proprietor (Schedule C) Trump businesses “with zero revenue and hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax deductions for expenses”.

“Unless Trump can produce records showing the expenses are real and meet other standards to be deductible, that’s fraud,” Johnston says. 

These 26 deduction claims, Johnston adds, should be of particular interest to New York State Attorney General Letitia James, or Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Both James and Bragg are probing the finances of Trump and his businesses for criminal violations.

A Manhattan jury recently found the Trump Organization guilty on 17 counts of criminal tax violations. Meanwhile, AG James announced last year that she was suing Trump for flagrant tax violations and bank fraud. Johnston says a probe into the validity, or even existence, of these 26 sole proprietorships could yield a “slam-dunk prosecution”. James and Bragg so far haven’t commented on any of the recent revelations from Trump’s tax forms.

This all leads to an important question.

Why wasn’t any of this caught before?

Johnston’s article explains in depth the various incentives and disincentives for the IRS when it comes to auditing the wealthy. The IRS’ own incentive structure has created an environment that allows wealthy individuals and businesses to risk violating an already favorable tax code without fear of prosecution.

During Trump’s presidency, any of these red flags coming to light would have resulted in impeachable offenses. And, as President, Trump should have undergone mandatory IRS audits each year he was in office. So what happened there? The short answer is- practically nothing.

The IRS only undertook a very limited look at Trump’s 2016 filings- and that only happened in 2019! None of the other years received any official scrutiny at all.

There are various explanations as to why. Johnston blames the loyalists Trump appointed to key positions, namely IRS commissioner Charles Rettig, and Rettig’s boss, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. But the House Ways and Means Committee’s findings point to something less nefarious but equally troubling.

No cop on the beat

The IRS simply doesn’t have the resources to take on audits of highly-complex filings by wealthy individuals and entities. This, of course, means that the burden of tax enforcement disproportionately falls on middle- and working-class taxpayers

While Trump was in office, agents responsible for auditing him never brought in specialists to scrutinize his filings and holdings. They justified this inaction with an assumption that a private accounting firm (hired by Trump) would make sure everything was in order. In the Committee’s opinion, that “assumption” was a grievous error.

Coincidentally, House Republicans have announced it will be their first order of business to roll back one key provision of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act – the provision that would beef up IRS funding and enforcement to crack down on wealthy tax dodgers. 


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Garland names special counsel to oversee Trump probes. Twitter imploding under Musk; engineers warn platform could fail as soon as Monday. Biden administration gives Saudi Crown Prince immunity in journalist’s killing.




AG Garland names Jack Smith special counsel to oversee Trump investigations

Three days after Donald Trump announced his 2024 candidacy for President, Attorney General Merrick Garland has announced the appointment of a special counsel to oversee two separate federal criminal probes into Trump. Garland has named Jack Smith, a veteran Justice Department prosecutor, to decide whether to issue indictments in the two cases.

The Justice Department appoints special counsels in politically sensitive cases, often to avoid potential conflicts of interest. Garland himself is a political appointee of the Biden administration himself. By investigating an announced Presidential candidate who could potentially face Biden in 2024, Garland would open himself up to accusations of prosecuting Trump for political reasons. Trump likely will level that accusation anyway and will try to use it as a talking point in his defense against any potential prosecution. Appointing Smith will at least distance Garland’s office from the case.

Jack Smith is a former chief of the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section, which investigates public corruption. He has extensive experience in handling cases linked to national security and bribery and corruption of public officials. Smith will decide whether to prosecute Trump for his mishandling of the classified documents seized from Mar-a-Lago. The other probe is related to efforts by Trump and his advisors to overturn his loss in the 2020 Presidential election. 

Notably, a federal courthouse in Washington impaneled three new grand juries today, possibly in connection with Smith’s probe.

A separate criminal probe of Trump’s election interference led by Fulton County DA Fani Willis in Georgia is also expected to issue indictments in December.

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Twitter imploding under Musk; engineers warn platform could fail as soon as Monday

So far, Elon Musk’s reign over social media platform Twitter has been one catastrophe after another. Musk immediately fired many of the top executives, followed by several department heads. Then he laid off half of Twitter’s workforce. A few days later, he asked some of them to come back a few days later when he realized he needed their expertise to keep the platform running.

Now, thousands more have quit after Musk issued an ultimatum, demanding they either be “extremely hardcore” and commit to working 80-hour weeks or quit. There’s no publicly available information to confirm how many have left, but statements from several former employees suggest there’s hardly anyone left. When Musk took over, there were about 7,500 employees- now anecdotal reports suggest there may be fewer than 2,000.

According former Twitter VP Bruce Daisley, former company engineers are saying that the platform could “fail as soon as Monday”. Most of the staff who were crucial to keeping the platform working have reportedly left the building. Twitter has crashed before, but the people who knew how to get it back up quickly are out the door. Any outage could now take days or weeks to rectify. A lot of Twitter users are now posting messages telling their followers where else to find them online in case the platform goes down for good.

To make matters worse, Twitter’s advertisers are spooked at the prospect of no one being at the wheel to control hate speech and other undesirable content on the platform. Advertisers are currently Twitter’s main revenue source and they are backing out in droves. 

Amid the tumult, Musk has locked employees out of their offices until Monday, November 21, which is never a good sign.

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Biden administration gives Saudi Crown Prince immunity in journalist’s killing

In 2018, Saudi dissident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khasshoggi was brutally murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. US intelligence concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (sometimes called MBS) had ordered the killing. While there have been some prosecutions in Turkey of low-level henchmen, MBS himself has so far eluded justice.

Hatice Cengiz, Khasshoggi’s fiancé at the time of his death, and a civil rights group founded by Khasshoggi filed a civil case in a US District Court in a last ditch attempt to hold MBS responsible for Khasshoggi’s assassination. But now, the US State Department has filed a recommendation with the court to shield the Crown Prince from prosecution on the grounds that he is now effectively Saudi Arabia’s head of government. MBS was recently appointed Prime Minister.

Cengiz responded to the ruling on Twitter saying that “Jamal died again today”. Cengiz was waiting outside the consulate as Khasshoggi was being strangled and then dismembered inside. She had accompanied Khasshoggi to the consulate, where he was to file some papers that would allow them to marry.

As a general rule, heads of government enjoy broad immunity from prosecution in US courts. This is part of an agreement to protect US diplomats abroad. But the State Department also has the option to stay silent in such cases and advocates for justice in Khasshoggi’s death had hoped they would. During his 2020 campaign, Biden had promised to hold MBS accountable for Khasshoggi’s death, in contrast to then-President Trump who at the time dismissed the findings of his own intelligence service. 

However, after gas prices rose this year, Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with MBS in hopes the oil-rich country would increase production. Despite this, OPEC+ voted in October to decrease production by about 1 million barrels a day. 

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Mar-a-Lago raid: Was Trump selling nuclear secrets to the Saudis? Why did Crown Prince give Kushner $2 billion? Taliban marks one year in power in Afghanistan.



Mar-a-Lago raid: Was Trump selling nuclear secrets to the Saudis?

Last week, Attorney General Merrick Garland released the warrant  authorizing last week’s raid on former President Trump’s Florida resort home at Mar-a-Lago. Garland also revealed that he approved the search personally.

The warrant was requested by Trump-appointed FBI head Christopher Wray. Despite this, Republicans and Trump supporters continue to assert that the raid was part of a political witch hunt.

The details of the warrant reveal that the FBI was investigating the possibility that Trump committed three separate crimes. These include obstruction of justice, tampering with or destroying federal government records, and violations of the Espionage Act. The Espionage Act makes it a crime to keep or transmit potentially dangerous national security information.

A property receipt also revealed the materials agents seized from Mar-a-Lago. These include top secret documents and some material pertaining to the President of France. Some of the top secret documents bore the classification TS/SCI (top secret- sensitive compartmented information). This is a classification for documents whose mishandling could cause “exceptionally grave” damage to US national security.

News organizations are also pushing for the release of the affidavits signed by investigators in order to obtain the warrant. The affidavits would reveal more information as to how the DOJ established probable cause to search Trump’s home. This would include details as to their sources and the information they received.

Speculation over Trump family’s cozy and corrupt relationship with the Saudis

Since the warrant’s publication, theories and speculation have swirled about what Trump had and why he had it. An anonymous source familiar with the FBI investigation told the Washington Post that some of the documents the DOJ believed Trump had were related to nuclear secrets. The source wouldn’t specify whether these were US nuclear secrets or another country’s. The property receipt also doesn’t specify whether the documents agents seized at Mar-a-Lago contained these nuclear secrets.

However, the revelation has revived interest in a 2019 Congressional inquiry probing whether Trump and his proxies had tried “to rush the transfer of highly sensitive US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia”. The report from the House Oversight Committee stated that “strong private commercial interests have been pressing aggressively for the transfer of highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia”. These commercial interests, the report said, “stand to reap billions of dollars through contracts associated with constructing and operating nuclear facilities in Saudi Arabia”.

Unsurprisingly, the “commercial interest” in question, IP3 International, had close ties to Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and General Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. The Oversight Committee’s GOP contingent rejected claims Trump’s dealings with the Saudi government were improper, and the probe ultimately went no further.

This was far from the only time Trump showed favoritism to the Saudis. During his presidency, he downplayed US intelligence reports that concluded that Saudi Crown Price Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the brutal assassination of journalist Jamal Khasshoggi in 2018. Trump also quashed efforts to declassify documents (later declassified by Biden) showing that Saudi officials had aided the 9/11 hijackers.

Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

Kushner’s $2 billion investment deal with the Saudis

Earlier this year, Kushner struck an investment deal with the Saudi government, the details of which are not known. We do know that MBS overruled his government ministers to authorize the deal, enriching Kushner by $2 billion. MBS also reportedly bragged that he had Kushner in his pocket

Understandably, the Trump family’s continued dealings with the Saudis have raised questions about the nuclear documents that were reportedly in his possession. Some commentators have suggested that Trump may have stolen the documents in order to continue personally enriching himself by peddling nuclear secrets to the Saudis.

This remains speculation, but more may come to light as the FBI’s investigation progresses. Additionally, the Senate Intelligence Committee has requested that the DOJ hand over the classified documents seized from Mar-a-Lago so that the committee can evaluate the national security implications of Trump’s mishandling of the documents. The request came from committee members Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). 



Taliban marks one year in power in Afghanistan

Today marks one year since the Taliban took power in Kabul, ending a 20-year US military occupation. Celebrations were fairly muted in the capital. Some hardcore Taliban loyalists were in attendance, donning the uniform of a black turban, long black shirt and pants.

There were no counter demonstrations, as the Taliban has largely suppressed them. On Saturday, about two dozen women marched to demand an end to the Taliban’s oppression of women. Women’s freedoms have been severely curbed since the Taliban takeover. Girls’ education is effectively outlawed in many parts of the country and working women have been forced to give up employment outside the home. In a demonstration of the regime’s attitude to women, Taliban militants dispersed Saturday’s small gathering by firing live bullets over the heads of demonstrators.

The US and other western powers have refused to recognize the Taliban government. The west has imposed sanctions in an effort to pressure the Taliban to allow women more freedom. But so far, the sanctions have only succeeded in impoverishing the Afghan government and its people. More than 90% of Afghans don’t have enough to eat. But this may soon change as the Taliban cozies up to Russia and China, seeking economic relief. 

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Jan. 6: Secret Service reportedly deleted texts from Jan. 5 and 6 after subpoena. Report finds “systemic failures” in police response to Uvalde shooting. Tensions remain after Biden meeting with Saudi Prince.



Jan. 6: Secret Service reportedly deleted texts from Jan. 5 and 6 after subpoena

In a letter to the Congressional homeland security committees, the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security claims that members of the Secret Service deleted their texts from Jan. 5 and 6, 2021, after the Jan. 6 select committee had subpoenaed them. The Secret Service denies that their members deleted these texts to evade the subpoena. Instead, they maintain that some texts were deleted long ago and that others were lost in a “device-replacement program”.

Whatever the case, this oversight failure is only the latest in a string of worrisome revelations about the Secret Service and its parent agency DHS. 

Back in March reports surfaced that, as early as Dec. 21, 2020, the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) had been monitoring threats of violence to occur on Jan. 6. These included specific threats to kill protesters and government officials, as well as tactical maps of D.C. and the Capitol grounds. I&A made no attempt to share its concerns with law enforcement or other relevant officials until Jan. 5. That report was not even approved and released until two days after the riot.

However, I&A officials were trading communications amongst themselves, joking about the prospect of Democratic politicians being hanged.

DHS targeted journalists, protected far-right militants

Intelligence and Analysis found itself in the spotlight previously in 2020. First, in the summer of 2020, leaked documents revealed that  I&A officials had been compiling files on journalists who were covering the George Floyd protests. Later, an I&A whistleblower came forward claiming that the acting heads of DHS had pressured analysts to downplay intelligence concerning threats of violence from far-right groups and to instead focus on bolstering Trump’s claims of dangerous left-wing organizations. At the time, Trump loyalists Chad Wolff and Ken Cuccinelli were the acting Secretary and Deputy Secretary of DHS, respectively. Cuccinelli also famously promised to ban sodomy during his unsuccessful campaign to become governor of Virginia.

Jan. 6 involvement

The key to understanding the role members of the Secret Service played in the planning of the attempted coup on Jan. 6 lies with Tony Ornato. Ornato was himself a member of the Secret Service and head of Trump’s security detail until Dec. 2019. At that point, Trump appointed him Deputy Chief of Staff, an unprecedented step up for a Secret Service agent. In his new position, Ornato oversaw security matters at the White House.

During the riot on the 6th, Vice President Pence and others were removed to secure locations near or within the Capitol grounds. Ornato reportedly wanted to remove Pence from the Capitol altogether. Pence, however, insisted on staying put. Ornato allegedly told Pence’s national security adviser Keith Kellogg that he wanted to remove Pence to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Kellogg reportedly said to Ornato, “You can’t do that, Tony. Leave him where he’s at. He’s got a job to do. I know you guys too well. You’ll fly him to Alaska if you have a chance. Don’t do it”.

Had Ornato gotten his way and removed Pence to Maryland, or even further afield, Trump’s goal of blocking the certification of the 2020 election results would have been accomplished. Kellogg’s words to Ornato seem to indicate that Kellogg’s suspicions that Ornato and perhaps other members of the White House security detail had just such an outcome in mind.

A spokesperson for the Secret Service has denied that Ornato had any involvement in Pence’s movements on the 6th. Ornato has denied having several crucial conversations reported by multiple high-ranking members of the Trump White House, with some outright calling Ornato a liar. Ornato remains a high-ranking member of the Secret Service, currently serving as assistant director of the Secret Service’s Office of Training.

Thursday’s hearing

The 8th and possibly final public hearing of the Jan. 6 committee is set to take place this Thursday, July 21, during prime time, though these schedules are always subject to change. Committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) told ABC that following the reporting about the deletions from the DHS Inspector General, the Secret Service reached out to the committee denying the allegations and saying that they will comply with the subpoena. Lofgren says the committee expects to have the relevant texts by Tuesday, July 19. It’s not clear what texts the Secret Service has or how they were preserved or recovered. Lofgren says the texts are necessary to get “the full picture” of what happened on Jan. 6. 

This week’s hearing will focus on Trump’s actions and other goings on in the White House on the day of the 6th.

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Report finds “systemic failures” in police response to Uvalde shooting

A committee of state legislators in Texas has released the report of their investigation into the Uvalde school shooting. The report found “systemic failures” in the police response to the shooting. In particular, the report blames a lack of leadership and a “lackadaisical approach” to the shooting for allowing a gunman to rampage inside two classrooms for 77 minutes. Ultimately, the 18-year-old shooter killed 19 children and two teachers as about two dozen police officers stood in the hallway. 

The report found that nearly 400 police officers responded to the shooting, many from surrounding areas. Videos circulated after the shooting of the hundreds of police officers with military grade weapons and heavy protective gear standing outside the school. Rather than attempting to enter the school to stop the shooter, these officers stood outside preventing unarmed parents and community members from entering the school. In at least one instance, police pepper sprayed a distraught onlooker and tackled him to the sidewalk.

Despite pointing to a lack of leadership, the report did not single out any particular official as being responsible for the failures that day. Following a public outcry from citizens, the Chief of the Uvalde School District police Pete Arredondo finally resigned weeks after the incident. Arredondo has claimed that he didn’t know he was in charge of the scene when he turned up.

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Tensions remain after Biden meeting with Saudi Crown Prince

Over the weekend, President Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia in his first official visit since taking office. Previously, Biden had pledged to make Saudi Arabia, and in particular its Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) a “pariah” over an abysmal human rights record. But following chaos in the oil markets due to the war in Ukraine, Biden relented his former rejection of talks with MBS in hopes that Saudi Arabia might increase its oil production.

One of the key points of tension between the two leaders is the finding by US intelligence that MBS approved the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khasshoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. Accounts differ over whether Biden addressed Khasshoggi’s murder during his meeting with MBS. A Saudi minister who was present at the meeting said he did not hear Biden say that he blamed MBS for the assassination. Biden flatly denied the Saudi minister’s version of events.

Another account alleges that during the meeting, MBS taunted Biden for caring more about Khasshoggi’s death than the death of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Witnesses to Akleh’s death claim that she was targeted by Israeli forces. Akleh’s family has asked the US to investigate her death. US officials have so far rejected this plea, despite concluding publicly that Akleh most likely died at the hands of the Israeli military.

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