Hunter Biden, A Liability on the Precipice

Photo: Visar Kryeziu/AP, as published in CityWatch LA, 12/30/19.

Photo: Visar Kryeziu/AP, as published in CityWatch LA, 12/30/19.

By Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher (Originally published in CityWatch LA, 12/30/19)

 

DC DISPATCH-Amidst Trump campaign slogans calling for Hunter Biden’s location, one thing is clear. . .we all know where Hunter is — Los Angeles — and hope he is enjoying his new life in Citywatch’s backyard.
But in wishing him well, we would be remiss if we did not mention the serious threat he presents to his father’s presidential prospects. Hunter Biden (photo above, left) is an unpredictable tracking cookie who follows his father’s campaign, displacing bytes of data wherever he travels. Furthermore, he appears to be a liability that the campaign or its leader has strongly overlooked in assessing Biden’s chances of winning the presidency. Absent a credible strategy to block Hunter’s cookie trail, he will continue to diminish the fungibility of his father’s candidacy — stonewalling or calling members of the audience on the campaign trail “damn liars” will just not work. 

Let me start by saying that I admire Joe Biden as a candidate and public servant. This courageous American has dedicated his entire life to the American people both domestically and abroad. He has endured unimaginable tragedies which makes his ability to connect with fellow survivors genuine. I do not question his patriotism nor his frontrunner status in national and swing-state polling, but I am left feeling very uncomfortable that his former partner in the Executive Branch has failed to endorse him. 

According to some media reports, Obama is not convinced that Biden has what it takes to clinch the nomination and beat Donald Trump. Absent the overt and covert blessing of Obama, we are left to infer that he knows something about the former Vice President that the general public does not. What can it be? His health? His age? Or some secret information that he’s gleaned from classified intelligence reports? 

Obama, during the last year of his presidency, had the insider track when it came to monitoring the impact Donald Trump was having on the U.S. elections — he may have underestimated the impact, but he knew that the Russians were working to harm Hillary Clinton and to push for Donald Trump. In hindsight, I’m sure he feels his administration should have acted more forcefully as a former member of his cabinet was eviscerated by a very successful Putin-led assault. Obama is likely flustered at the prospect of witnessing another member of his former cabinet suffer the same tortious interference and I suspect he thinks that possibility is very real. 

As the activist, silent investor in the Democratic party, Obama knows the assets and liabilities of each candidate on the debate stage. When the former president speaks publicly about the 2020 contest, it has been to caution the party against going too far left. So, when he was reported to be telling top democratic donors that “Elizabeth Warren is a capable candidate,” it seems as if he was steering wealthy donors to look elsewhere — a definite slight to Biden, who served him loyally for eight years. 

While out on the campaign trail, Joe Biden has failed to competently address questions and concerns related to his son. While many candidates have previously enjoyed the rule that family is off-limits, in the age of Trump and his tweets, this is no more, and candidates must adapt. Nothing is off-limits and everything is on the table, including Hunter on a platter. 

Hunter Biden’s ongoing child support and paternity case illustrate the type of prey that Trump, a known carnivore, will pounce on, feasting on every savory morsel of output. If Trump had known that Hunter would risk gravely harming his father by engaging in an open-source civil matter, our President would not have needed to risk abuse of power and obstruction of Congress by mining for dirt in Ukraine. Trump could simply have waited for Lunden Roberts, Biden’s baby momma, to produce a trove of public and humiliating documents. 

This case cried for a quiet settlement, but for some reason, Hunter first refused to acknowledge paternity and then to make steady payments to the child he knew he had helped produce. By his arrogant conduct, Hunter managed to anger the judge who has denied a protective order in part and compelled him to appear for a deposition in Arkansas in early 2020. Hunter will now be forced to supply five years of financial documents (instead of three) which include his time as a Burisma board member, his work in China and who knows where else he has been conducting business. These will be made public in redacted form. 

D & A Investigators, a private, Florida-based company is assisting with the effort of digging up dirt on Hunter and has filed a series of salacious documents with the court.

These allude to a series of criminal investigations that have tenuous links to Hunter at best, but they have become part of the court record. More importantly, it is not known who is footing that bill. In all likelihood, the T-shirt catchphrase, “Where is Hunter” will soon give way to, “I’ve got the Dirt on Hunter” from the Trump campaign. 

Hunter’s recent claims of poverty, rebuked by the purchase of an upscale home in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, does not help his credibility. And though he lives far from Little Rock, it is clear that Hunter Biden will have to deal with this now very public proceeding and discovery process. It would have been the more prudent move to shield his father, his 18-month-year-old infant, and his newly pregnant wife, Melissa Cohen Biden, the pain of a public display by reaching an out of court settlement. 

In the current political environment, where dirt and kompromat have more value than the actual record, the younger Mr. Biden will continue to be an onus to his father’s campaign. Trump has demonstrated time and again that he will risk all to mine for valuable “oppo” data. Since it will now be available in plentiful supply in Little Rock, Trump won’t have to rely on Ukrainian cutouts. He will soon learn the utility of having an open legal proceeding out there for the press to dissect. The current Commander in Chief will benefit greatly from the subpoena of Hunter’s financial records, emails, and other communications and he won’t even have to show a trace of the clumsy machinations he and Giuliani used in Ukraine. 

The Biden family must address this unresolved liability head-on even if it involves acknowledging wrongdoing and errors of judgment. Candidate Biden cannot plead the loving father, asking no questions of his errant son. Hunter can no longer claim his finances are a private matter. There are simply too many areas of questionable conduct — from allegations of shady business dealings and child support obligations. Both Bidens need to sit down together for a lengthy, no-holds-barred interview and explain to the American people how they erred in the past and how they both intend to behave in the future. If Biden is to be elected President, it is the only way to take a step back from the precipice. If successful, they will be able to assuage voters’ fears and blunt the onslaught of oppo dirt that Trump and his campaign will keep hurling their way.

(Sara Corcoran writes DC Dispatch and covers the nation’s capital from Washington for CityWatch. She is the Publisher of the California and National Courts Monitor and contributes to Daily Kos and other important news publications.)

 

Trump Games the Legal System but Will It Last?

Photo: AP/Alex Brandon, as published in CityWatch LA, 12/2/19.

Photo: AP/Alex Brandon, as published in CityWatch LA, 12/2/19.

by Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher (Originally published in CityWatch LA, 12/2/19)

DC DISPATCH-In a normal judicial proceeding, when the Court speaks, it does so through orders. A court order is a command issued by a judge. If a judge orders you to appear for your speeding ticket hearing, failure to do so can result in a bench warrant or a default judgment. Penalties can also include jail time and fines. 

A subpoena, also an order of the court, can be issued by either of the parties to a civil action and, if approved by the judge, can require a person to produce documents or appear in person to provide testimony. And like most CityWatchers, when faced with a court order, a subpoenaed party would cooperate. For many of us that may mean paying a speeding ticket or getting current on child support, because the fear of being held in contempt of court or jailed would frighten most people, especially given their unfamiliarity with judicial process. 

Could you ever imagine being completely immune from any court order and/or subpoena? Life would be very different for most of us, if we thought that the arm of the law could in no way reach out and touch us. Yet, this is the position that Trump is claiming. He maintains that he is basically above the law and needs to answer to no one for his conduct. He also argues that anyone who works for him is similarly exempt — in effect, claiming absolute immunity from any legal process. We are witnessing in real-time what life is like for a person who believes this. In a country that promotes the rule of law, this monarchical conduct is simply not sustainable if Congress and the Courts are to have a role in running the country. 

In his recent book, “The Warning,” Anonymous notes President Trump’s familiarity with the legal system. When Trump became President, he had something like 3000 outstanding cases to his name. Anonymous recalls a conversation Trump had with a group of staffers when he paraphrased, “If you want to irritate someone threaten to sue, but if you really want to scare someone, file a lawsuit against them.” Trump is in the luxurious position of being able to rely on an army of Justice Department lawyers to bring his claims, however frivolous, and he no longer has the check of legal fees to control his conduct. He also has a group of lawyers led by Rudy Giuliani who work for him pro bono. Talk about carte blanche. No wonder he is tempted to abuse the American legal system. 

We have a litigious expert in the White House and while rules of civil procedure may not be his strength, he is very familiar with the benefits of delay. Trump is now for the first time in his life concerned with outcomes. Even if he loses in the lower courts, there is always a higher court to appeal to and more time to prevent the public from getting access to whatever information he is hiding. When coupled with his constant attacks on Twitter and in the press designed to undermine whatever position his opponents may take, Trump has manipulated the legal system to his ultimate advantage — likely assuring that he can defer any negative court decisions until after the election of 2020. 

There are a few risks on the horizon for the President, however. The litigation calling for him to produce his tax returns is advancing at a faster than expected pace and is already pending review by the Supreme Court. The Court could decide to take one of the cases and stall a resolution until next year, or it could decline to hear the cases, letting the lower courts’ decisions stand — in which case, the President could find himself suddenly exposed and forced to produce his taxes. 

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) has issued countless subpoenas for both testimony and documents. Trump has instructed his subordinates at the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) not to cooperate in any way, citing an unfair impeachment process. This obstruction of Congress is unprecedented and exceeds even the Nixonian example. 

While the Democrats have managed to build a credible case working around the top layer, the testimony of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney under oath, should under normal circumstances present the President’s defense that his conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine was a proper exercise of his foreign affairs powers and not, as Congress is alleging, an improper request to a foreign government for Trump’s personal benefit in a political campaign. By refusing to cooperate in any fashion, it is logical that Congress would infer guilt from these parties’ obstruction. Congress has also wisely refused to engage with Trump in the courts in trying to enforce subpoenas against these parties. The Congressional figures pressing Trump’s indictment know his game and are pressing on without them. 

Even though Trump and his legal counsel expressly ordered parties not to appear before the HPSCI, it is amazing how many people have shown extraordinary courage to testify both secretly and in public notwithstanding the Presidential orders. The recent conviction of longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone for lying to Congress may also have served as a harbinger. When there is a conflict between the Congress and an Executive branch leadership that may be engaged in wrongdoing and covering up that wrongdoing, it may be prudent to comply with the subpoena. While the long arm of the law has not yet reached into the White House and taken hold of our President, it has caught up with some of those around him. If individuals very close to the President are now concerned that the blanket claim of executive privilege won’t protect them indefinitely, the President himself should be worried as well.

(Sara Corcoran writes DC Dispatch and covers the nation’s capital from Washington for CityWatch. She is the Publisher of the California and National Courts Monitors and contributes to Daily Koz and other important news publications.)

Michael Bloomberg: An Option That is in the Money

Photo originally published in CityWatch LA , 11/14/19.

Photo originally published in
CityWatch LA
, 11/14/19.

by Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher
(Originally published in CityWatch LA, 11/14/19)

DC DISPATCH-Michael Bloomberg, the former Mayor of NYC, has officially expressed interest in earning the Democratic nomination for 2020.

Although his pathway to the nomination may be unconventional, likely forgoing the four early but low-vote states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina and instead making a concentrated Super Tuesday attack for the big-delegate states including California and Texas — Bloomberg has the right moxie, background, temperament, and demographic appeal to unseat Trump in the next Presidential election. 

The current roster of Democrats lacks a candidate that has the ability to comfortably beat Trump.  Moreover, recent swing state polling margins confirm this. All the current Democratic front runners are either negative or in the margin of error when paired on the electoral college map against Trump. Bloomberg has the best chance of changing this paradigm. Although national polls that have shown Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden beating Trump in the popular vote, it is only Biden who eeks out a win in some of the swing states, including Arizona and Virginia, with an outcome too close to call. 

The current lineup of Democratic candidates does not offer enough risk insurance against a Trump presidency, given the likelihood that 2020 will be determined within the margin of error yet again. Joe Biden, once the best shot to beat Trump, has been weakened by the mere allegation and perception of corrupt practices by his family in Ukraine. Although the impact on Biden’s polls of Trump’s attacks tends to fluctuate, to dismiss it as a contingent  liability is naive. Trump’s attacks are not likely to stop. If anything, they will increase and become more vicious. Biden’s defense of his son has been to evade and plead ignorance. There is a real risk that he will not be able to absorb the Trump onslaught, particularly if he remains financially vulnerable. 

After Bloomberg officially expressed interest in pursuing a 2020 run, the reaction has been mixed, but more favorable to some who are looking for a middle of the road option. For Independents, swing voters, and moderate Democrats, this should be a welcome move. His announcement may also serve to quell the rumblings of a possible third try by Hillary Clinton. Biden has publicly approved of a Bloomberg run, although privately, he may be shaken. On the other hand, both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have piled on with criticism of “billionaires buying their way into an election.” 

Although both Sanders and Warren (who are millionaires, not billionaires) have had impressive careers, they will not be able to carry the white, working-class vote in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. They are both Washington insiders in a country that has an increasing appetite for “outsider” Presidential candidates even those who are independently wealthy. It is ironic that Tom Steyer, a billionaire, has been unable to create traction with voters, suggesting that some unknown quantifier is at play. 

Bloomberg is a self-made billionaire who has created jobs. Coming from humble beginnings, Bloomberg made his wealth the old-fashioned way, he earned it. His career on Wall Street started as a partner Solomon Brothers. As the creator of the Bloomberg terminal, Michael Bloomberg transformed the way professionals could access, interpret, and understand capital market relationships with banking, credit, currency and government finance to name a few. Anyone who has had the pleasure of accessing a terminal appreciates the wealth of information that it affords. Today, Bloomberg is a diverse conglomerate that focuses on financial services, software, and media with over 20,000 employees and revenues north of $9 billion. 

As much as the liberal base of the Democratic Party thinks they drive the nomination process, it is incumbent upon this branch to support the candidate that has the best chance of beating Trump. It is Bloomberg whose option is in the money (“in the money” refers to a concept in options where the underlying security’s price is greater than its strike price). At a minimum, Bloomberg can distract Trump away from Biden and allow the former VP to recover from the onslaught against his family. Bloomberg is a covered option that has value whether you go long or go short. 

In the present environment where much of the Democrats case against Trump centers on charges of foreign influence and accommodations, Bloomberg will have to deflect claims that his business interests  make him susceptible to foreign influence given his various subsidiaries with China in particular. Bloomberg will have to address the allegations of  firing  journalists and changing editorial content in its news in exchange for maintaining access and financial terminal business. That said, Bloomberg can differentiate himself from Trump by demonstrating he understands what putting his assets in a trust involves — he did it when running for mayor of New York. Bloomberg’s brand isn’t about chaos and nepotism. He has a clear understanding of how to avoid conflicts of interest. 

Instead, his focus is on creating jobs, accepting climate change as a threat, and instituting concrete economic policies. He has run a massively complex city and has proven executive skills. He has developed relationships with mayors and governors across the country and is data driven in his responses to problems. When Trump won the presidency, he allegedly called Bloomberg and asked him for advice. “Hire people smarter than you,” he reportedly recommended. Trump was obviously too insecure to follow this suggestion with disastrous consequences and claims that Bloomberg lacks “the magic” to win. We shall see how much magic Trump brings to the next election as he turns his attention to a possible Bloomberg threat. 

A repeat of the 2016 Presidential race would be devastating to the Democratic Party but if they underplay the significance of state data in favor of national data, it is likely to occur. Progressive Democrats keep looking at national polling with the hopes the state polling will eventually mirror it, but this won’t happen without the right candidate who leads by more than 5%. Trump salivates at the prospect of fighting an election into the margin of error where the dirt he cultivates against opponents can have magnified value and impact. When polling data goes below 5%, foreign actors can interfere indiscriminately without being identified, at least in the short run.

Michael Bloomberg made his fortune by making wise choices about options. If the Democrats want to win the 2020 election, they need to do the same.

(Sara Corcoran writes DC Dispatch and covers the nation’s capital from Washington for CityWatch. She is the Publisher of National Courts Monitor the California and National Courts Monitor and contributes to Daily Koz, The Frontier Post in Pakistan and other important news publications.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

Trump vows to revoke waiver allowing California to set auto emissions

 Photo credit: Damian Dovarganes/AP as reported by NPR on 9/18/19.

Photo credit: Damian Dovarganes/AP as reported by NPR on 9/18/19.

President Trump announced he will revoke a 2013 waiver issued by the EPA to the California Air Resources Board which allowed the state to set stricter air-quality standards than those imposed on the federal level.

According to an NPR report, “The move comes after the Department of Justice earlier this month launched an antitrust investigation into a July deal between California and four automakers – Ford, Volkswagen, Honda, and BMW – and is seen as a broader effort by the White House to rollback efforts to combat climate change.”

The report notes, “California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra has vowed to take the Trump administration to court. Speaking on Tuesday, California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom said that while the White House ‘has abdicated its responsibility,’ his state ‘has stepped up.'”

Court rebukes President Trump for blocking followers on Twitter

Photo Credit: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times as reported in The New York Times on 7/9/19.

Photo Credit: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times as reported in The New York Times on 7/9/19.

How the First Amendment functions in the social media age gained further clarity this week when a federal appeals court ruled that President Trump violated the Constitution by blocking people from following his Twitter account.

“Because Mr. Trump uses Twitter to conduct government business, he cannot exclude some Americans from reading his posts — and engaging in conversations in the replies to them — because he does not like their views, a three-judge panel on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, ruled unanimously,” The New York Times reports.

Tuesday’s ruling may be appealed.

“Mr. Trump’s legal team argued, among other things, that he operated the account merely in a personal capacity, and so had the right to block whomever he wanted for any reason — including because users annoyed him by criticizing or mocking him,” The New York Times reports.

“Courts have increasingly been grappling with how to apply the First Amendment, written in the 18th century, to the social-media era,” The Times continues. “In 2017, for example, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down a North Carolina law that had made it a crime for registered sex offenders to use websites like Facebook.”

The bleak state of the immigration court system

markus-spiske-1475927-unsplashA recent article by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) outlines the current state of the immigration court system and it is bleak: “In a report released earlier this year, the American Bar Association described the U.S. immigration court system as facing an ‘existential crisis,’ an ‘irredeemably dysfunctional’ system ‘on the brink of collapse.'”

The report notes a backlog of 900,000 cases quoting The Economist: “People will die of old age in America before they ever acquire the legal right to live in America. This is an extraordinary failure to govern.”

According to the article, Trump’s new regulations have just exacerbated the problem, comparing the complexity of the immigration courts system to the tax code. They also note that the massive backlog of cases “have led to judges rushing to complete cases, compromising their ethical obligations and violating immigrants’ due process rights…”

Deportation order for 11-year-old draws attention to courts’ woes

Laura Maradiaga-Alvarado, 11, was ordered deported without her family. Photo credit: Fiel Houston as reported by NBC News.

Laura Maradiaga-Alvarado, 11, was ordered deported without her family. Photo credit: Fiel Houston as reported by NBC News.

The near-deportation of a solitary 11-year-old child earlier this year highlights, critics say, the backlogs and turmoil surrounding federal immigration courts.

“A federal immigration judge in Houston signed a deportation order for Laura Maradiaga-Alvarado, originally from El Salvador, on March 12,” explains an NBC News article.

In the wake of publicity about the child’s plight, the judge ordered a new hearing scheduled for May 20, officials said.

“The deportation order has been attributed to a mistake made after a hearing scheduled in February for the girl, her mother and her sister was delayed by the government shutdown,” the article notes.

A March report by the American Bar Association indicated “that since its 2010 review of the court system, things had worsened ‘considerably,’” NBC News reports.

“The same issues identified then persist nearly a decade later: inadequate staffing, training and hiring; growing backlogs; inconsistent decision patterns among judges, particularly in asylum cases, and adoption of video-conference technology that impedes fair hearings. The situation, it said, has been exacerbated by years of congressional inaction while enforcement has increased under the Trump administration,” the article notes.

Anonymous Alfalfa

by Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher
(Originally published in CityWatch LA on 2/14/19)

 You can use the attached image with the caption: Senator John Kerry steps down as Alfalfa president (Photo originally published in CityWatch LA)


Senator John Kerry steps down as Alfalfa president (Photo originally published in CityWatch LA)

Every 3rd week in January, the “.02%” take over Washington DC to host their annual dinner at the Capital Hilton. Established in 1913, the Alfalfa Club cultivates its membership of elite powerbrokers from all over the United States. 

With a membership of 200– including Fortune 500 executives, politicians, and Presidents.— members invite guests to attend the DC dinner. This is a seldom refused invitation. However, breaking with long-standing tradition, the ever-insecure Trump declined the invite for 2018 and 2019. 

So, if you weren’t one of the lucky few invited to attend the passing of the gavel from former Senator John Kerry to newly elected Alfalfa President, Senator Mitt Romney, you can still be a spectator from the basement of the Hay Adams Hotel. If there is an optimal time to catch a glimpse of the accomplished and well-heeled crowd, it’s the weekend of January 25th. 

Read more here.

Health care law in limbo during government shutdown

 The appointment of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker may be delayed to the government shutdown. Photo Credit: Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo as reported by Roll Call, 1/11/19.

The appointment of acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker may be delayed to the government shutdown. Photo Credit: Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo as reported by Roll Call, 1/11/19.

In December, a federal judge in Texas struck down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but under appeal, the status of the health care law remains in limbo during a partial government shutdown.

“The partial government shutdown halted a major challenge to the 2010 health care law among other civil litigation on Friday, as Justice Department lawyers sought the same in a challenge from three Senate Democrats to the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general,” reports Rollcall.com.

“The federal court system will start feeling the crunch of the shutdown on Jan. 18 when the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts estimates it will run out of the court fee balances and other non-appropriated funds that so far allowed for regular operations,” notes an article by Roll Call.

“Courts have been asked to delay or defer non-mission critical expenses, such as new hires, non-case related travel, and certain contracts to stretch funds to that date. Criminal cases are expected to proceed uninterrupted.”

California federal judge blocks Trump birth control coverage rules in 13 states

Photo credit: AP File Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, as reported by AP on 1/13/19.

Photo credit: AP File Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, as reported by AP on 1/13/19.

According to the AP, on Sunday, 1/13/19, Judge Haywood Gilliam of California granted a request for a preliminary injunction by California, 12 other states and Washington, D.C.,  to block Trump administration rules, which would allow more employers to opt out of providing women with no-cost birth control. According to the report, “The plaintiffs sought to prevent the rules from taking effect as scheduled today while a lawsuit against them moved forward… But Gilliam limited the scope of the ruling to the plaintiffs, rejecting their request that he block the rules nationwide.”