Trump to demand an investigation into suspected FBI surveillance of his 2016 campaign

Trump to demand an investigation into suspected FBI surveillance of his 2016 campaign

President Donald Trump said on Sunday he would demand an investigation into whether the FBI had placed surveillance on his 2016 campaign — and whether such activity was ordered by members of the Obama administration.

Ramping up a public war of words between the Oval Office and the law enforcement agency, the president said that he would formally request the Department of Justice probe the FBI’s role in investigating his campaign. His remarks come amid reports that the agency had placed a confidential informant somewhere in the Trump campaign’s orbit, while he was a still candidate.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said it would ask the Inspector General “to expand the ongoing review of the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] application process to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election.”

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein added that “if anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action.”

‘Bigger than Watergate’

Trump’s assertions of a mole, either inside or outside his campaign, have yet to be confirmed. On Saturday, The New York Times reported that FBI agents sent an informant to talk to two Trump campaign advisers, after receiving evidence that they had made contacts linked to Russia during the campaign that were deemed suspicious.

On separate occasions, the unnamed operative met with George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, The Times noted. Trump has attempted to cast the source as a spy.

Trump’s implication of Barack Obama, also renews a fight the president picked early in his tenure with his predecessor. In March of 2017, Trump boldly asserted that Obama of ordering surveillance of Trump’s residence during the 2016 campaign — an accusation which the former president flatly denied. The FBI, then led by James Comey, said there was no information to support the claim.

Last week, Trump reacted to the suggestion of potential FBI spying as being “bigger than Watergate.” Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported this week that allies close to the president were working to expose the source.

Trump and the FBI have been locked in an unprecedented public battle. The president and his allies have long complained about a “deep state” agenda of government officials actively working to undermine his presidency.

The controversy has also stirred angst among other members of the Trump administration, with Rosenstein reportedly telling close confidantes that he was preparing to be fired for his role in the Russia inquiry, NBC News reported last month. The president has repeatedly and pointedly criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the matter.

In an interview with The Post last week, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani — Trump’s personal lawyer — accused law enforcement officials of “covering” for actions committed by the Obama administration.

Meanwhile, Giuliani told The Wall Street Journal in an interview published Sunday that the president shouldn’t consent to an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the probe into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, unless the role of a suspected FBI informant was made clear.

Otherwise, the former mayor told the publication, Trump could be “walking into a trap.”

Apartment demand to stay strong, boost flagging development pipeline, JLL says

Apartment demand to stay strong, boost flagging development pipeline, JLL says

Rising population and denser cities will underpin continued demand for apartments, even though completions are likely to drop by more than one-third over the next two years, JLL predicts.

The pullback of both local and foreign investor buyers will dampen the construction pipeline as developers hold back even on approved projects – prompting completions to fall from a peak last year of 26,617 to 17,160 next year – but the demands of a growing population of mainly local buyers in Sydney and Melbourne and a recovery in Brisbane, will limit the decline, said JLL’s Australia head of residential research Leigh Warner.

“Investors have taken a bit of heat out of that inner city market and the focus is shifting to middle ring infill product more because it’s easier to fund, reach presales and targets a buyer market that’s still active – the owner-occupiers,” Mr Warner said.

There are already signs that the housing pipeline is holding up better than expected. New dwelling approvals rose an unexpectedly high 2.6 per cent in March.

But even though approvals – a leading indicator – do not necessarily translate into new projects, sentiment was holding up more strongly than expected, said Mr Warner, author of the real estate agency’s Q1 Apartment Market Report.

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Completions of new apartments were likely to peak in Sydney this year at 8946 and slip back to 6469 next year.

“The downward pressure will only last a year or so and then we’re back into a more positive market again,” Mr Warner said. “I expect headwinds to prevail through this year and into next year, with things starting to improve by the second half of next year and into 2020. We’ll be back to a more positive market by 2020.”

In Melbourne, where unit rents and prices remained above their five-year average, the volume of new completions – which peaked last year at 10,426, the most of any city – had not dented the wider apartment market.

The Victorian capital’s pipeline of projects – including projects completed, under construction, those currently marketing as well as those with plans both approved and submitted – stood at 69,700, more than Sydney’s 43,800 and Brisbane’s 34,700, the report showed. This included the loss of more than 9000 units earmarked in applications for the city’s Fishermans Bend urban regeneration precinct, because planning minister Richard Wynne’s decision in February to freeze them made it unlikely they would be completed any time in the next five years, Mr Warner said.

Mr Wynne’s decision may actually have helped strengthen the Melbourne apartment market, Mr Warner said.

“I can see that there is potentially a confidence boost locally from pushing that back a little bit,” he said.

In Brisbane, price growth was turning flat after a period of decline and the medium-term outlook for the economy in the Queensland capital – stimulated by mixed-use projects such as Queens Wharf – would soak up some of that completing new supply, he said.

“Prices are stabilising in that secondary sales market,” Mr Warner said. “There’s still a bit of supply to complete in this cycle but we’re through the worst of it. And there is a bit more confidence starting to emerge.”

Protesters demand ‘new deal’ for workers

Protesters demand ‘new deal’ for workers

Demonstrators gather in London for a protest organised by the Trades Union CongressImage copyright
Reuters

Thousands of people have joined a trade union march calling for a “new deal” for workers and public services.

The central-London demonstration, led by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), highlighted demands for better pay and job security.

TUC research said the UK’s real wage squeeze would be the worst in modern history and the slowest for 200 years.

The government said its policies had boosted pay for the lowest earners and meant workers could keep more of it.

‘Major earnings crisis’

Demonstrators gathering at Saturday’s march called for a higher minimum wage of £10 an hour, a ban on zero-hours contracts and greater funding for the NHS, education and other public services.

Speaking before the rally, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “There is a new mood in the country. People have been very patient but they are now demanding a new deal.”

The union data suggested wages in the UK had lagged behind inflation since 2008, and were worth £24 less in real terms than in 2008.

The TUC also said wages would not recover until 2025, by which time, it said, the average worker would have lost £18,500.

Official figures for employment and average earnings are due to be published next week. They may show average wage rises have risen above inflation for the first time in a year.

But that would not be enough to overturn the trend seen since the credit crisis, the TUC said.

Workers marching out

As well as nurses, ambulance crews, postal workers, teachers, civil servants and cleaners, the London demonstration included workers not known for union membership.

Staff at restaurant chains TGI Friday’s and McDonald’s joined the march after balloting for industrial action for the first time.

Workers at two branches of McDonald’s walked out in September last year in a dispute over zero-hours contracts and pay.

And waiters and kitchen staff at TGI Friday’s decided to hold a ballot over strike action in April following wage disputes.

The TUC’s deputy general secretary Paul Nowack told the BBC the UK had had 17 years of falling wages in real terms, the biggest relative wage loss since the Napoleonic Wars.

He said: “It doesn’t matter whether our members are working in the public sector or the private sector, the fact is they’ve seen their living standards fall year on year.”

In the last eight years, a million more children from working families were living “below the breadline”, he said.

“I don’t think it’s right that people who go out and work are struggling to put food on the table.”

Helping lowest earners

Economists said the slow wage growth was a result of low productivity in the UK, rather than austerity policies.

Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said: “The key issue is that the economy hasn’t grown and the economy hasn’t grown because productivity hasn’t grown.

“That means that the amount we produce for each hour we work is basically the same as it was in 2008. If we’re not producing any more, we’re not in the end going to be able to earn any more.”

A Treasury spokesperson said wages were forecast to grow faster than inflation in each of the next five years, and that government policies were helping British workers.

“Our National Living Wage has boosted pay for the lowest earners by over £2,000 already; we are cutting taxes to help people keep more of what they earn; and we are making sure people have the skills they need to secure high-quality, well-paid jobs by investing in technical education and boosting apprenticeships.”

The TUC said its figures were based on annual average weekly earnings for total pay (including bonuses) adjusted with the CPI measure of inflation, which were then compared with long-run back data published by the Bank of England.

The forward-looking ones were based on the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast to 2022, and then a projection to 2025 using the average forecast growth rate for the 2018-22 period.

Democrats demand answers on AT&T’s $600,000 payment to Trump’s lawyer

Democrats demand answers on AT&T’s $600,000 payment to Trump’s lawyer
Enlarge
/ Michael Cohen, longtime personal lawyer and confidant for President Donald Trump, arrives at the United States District Court Southern District of New York on April 26, 2018 in New York City.

Getty Images | Spencer Platt

Congressional Democrats are asking US regulators for information on whether AT&T payments to President Trump’s personal lawyer were made in order to influence the government’s review of AT&T’s merger with Time Warner Inc.

AT&T paid $600,000 to Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants, “the same vehicle he used in October 2016 to direct $130,000 to the adult-film actress known professionally as Stormy Daniels to stay silent about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump in 2006,” The Wall Street Journal wrote yesterday.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) yesterday asked the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division for answers.

“Although AT&T has stated that the payments were for ‘insights into understanding the new administration,’ the amount and timing of the payments suggest that they may have been part of an attempt to influence the outcome of the AT&T/Time Warner merger investigation,” Klobuchar and Cicilline wrote to Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim.

AT&T failed to convince DOJ

Any effort by AT&T to obtain DOJ approval of its merger was a failure. The DOJ filed a lawsuit to block AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner in November 2017, though AT&T could still complete the merger if it gets a favorable court ruling.

AT&T’s payments “continued until just after the Antitrust Division sued to block the deal,” Klobuchar and Cicilline wrote.

AT&T has tried to prove that Trump influenced the DOJ’s decision to file the lawsuit, given that Trump promised to block the deal when he was campaigning for president.

AT&T has benefited from other Trump administration decisions, such as its moves to end net neutrality and broadband privacy rules.

The Democratic lawmakers asked Delrahim to “disclose any information that you may have concerning payments made by AT&T that may have influenced the Administration, White House, or transition regarding the AT&T/Time Warner transaction.” They also urged him to “oppose any attempt by the White House or any adviser to the President to interfere with antitrust law enforcement actions.”

Cohen has been Trump’s personal attorney since before he became president. The FBI raided Cohen’s office last month as part of a criminal investigation for “possible bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations,” The Washington Post wrote at the time.

Contract ended in December 2017

AT&T acknowledged the payments to Cohen publicly, while drugmaker Novartis admitted it paid Cohen $1.2 million. “Both spent shareholder money on Mr. Cohen, who appears to have produced little help,” the Journal wrote. “Yet if evidence later surfaces that he materially assisted them, the companies will face further scrutiny.”

AT&T has told media outlets that it paid Cohen’s company starting in early 2017 to “provide insights into understanding the new administration.” The company “did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017,” AT&T said.

“It was not until the following month in January 2018 that the media first reported, and AT&T first became aware of, the current controversy surrounding Cohen,” AT&T told employees in a memo yesterday, the Journal wrote.

We asked AT&T about the concerns raised in the Congressional Democrats’ letter and will update this story if we get a response.

“[P]olitical influence in antitrust law enforcement is unacceptable,” Klobuchar and Cicilline wrote. “And the [Trump] Administration has not provided details on AT&T’s reported payments to Essential Consultants LLC or the President’s Inaugural Committee despite our repeated inquiries for information into whether any White House, Transition, or Administration officials may have attempted to exert influence over the AT&T and Time Warner transaction.”