July 18, 2018

Weeks after allegations surfaced, Ron DeSantis still silent on Jim Jordan

Jimjordan
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is questioned by reporters in a Capitol Hill hallway, in Washington, June 26, 2018. Jordan is facing a slowly-percolating sexual misconduct scandal, as new accusers step forward by the day to say the wrestling coach-turned-politician was aware of allegations that an Ohio State University doctor fondled multiple students, but did nothing to stop it. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

Despite having a history of working together in the House Freedom Caucus, Congressman Ron DeSantis has not offered his take on the allegations against Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, which first arose two weeks ago.

Since July 3, Jordan has been facing a growing list of accusers who allege he of turned a blind eye to sexual abuse of Ohio State wrestlers by a team doctor, while Jordan was a coach nearly three decades ago. The doctor has since died.

Seven former wrestlers have now come forward. But other former wrestlers have defended Jordan. Jordan has denied he had any knowledge of the abuse.

In April, President Trump singled out, by name, four House Republicans whom he considered his "warriors" for their fight against the Mueller investigation: Matt Gaetz, Mark Meadows, Ron DeSantis and Jim Jordan.

Both Gaetz and Meadows have come out swinging in defense of their fellow "warrior."

"How is Jim Jordan supposed to prove that he didn’t know something 28 years ago? Could any of us?" Gaetz tweeted. "This is a deliberate attempt to knock the best oversight member of Congress off his game the week (former FBI agent Peter) Strzok is scheduled to testify."

“I have always known Jim Jordan to be a man of the utmost character, honor and integrity,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said on CNN. “I’m proud to stand by Jim Jordan and support him 100 percent and call on all of my colleagues to do the same.”

Jordan also donated $2,000 to DeSantis's campaign for governor on June 29, just days before the allegations were first published by NBC News.

DeSantis's campaign spokesman, David Vasquez, directed questions about Jordan to DeSantis's Congressional office. The spokeswoman at that office, Elizabeth Fusick, did not return emails seeking comment. DeSantis has not posted about the allegations against Jordan on his Twitter or Facebook pages.

DeSantis and Jordan are both influential members of the House Freedom Caucus, the group of the most far right members of the House that pushed out former Republican Speaker John Boehner.

Jordan is running for the speakership to replace Paul Ryan, who is not running for re-election.

July 17, 2018

Aramis Ayala, Florida’s first elected African-American state attorney, endorses Gillum for governor

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@elizabethrkoh

Aramis Ayala, the state’s first elected African-American state attorney who unsuccessfully sued Gov. Rick Scott last year over her stance to not seek the death penalty, endorsed Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for governor at a campaign stop in Orlando Tuesday afternoon.

Though the Orlando-based prosecutor's stance at the time conflicted with Gillum's — he has said he is not opposed to the death penalty but would use it sparingly — she praised his progressive record in Tallahassee and said she planned to campaign with him ahead of the Aug. 28 primary.

“He’s shown true courage in this race — from speaking truth to power, to standing up for our most important values of inclusion and decency," said Ayala in a statement.

Ayala made headlines just months after she took office last year when she said she would not seek the death penalty in any case — including that of Markeith Loyd, who had been accused of murdering an Orlando police officer and his pregnant ex-girlfriend. Though she did not explicitly campaign against the death penalty, Ayala, a Democrat, asserted it was within her prosecutorial discretion to decide how to pursue punishment for cases in her purview.

Scott disagreed and signed an executive order later that day, taking her off the Loyd case and assigning it to Brad King, state attorney for Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties. Ayala sued King and Scott — who ultimately reassigned away more than two dozen additional cases — in a dispute that reached the state Supreme Court.

But the court in August ruled for Scott, saying he had the constitutional authority to reassign cases from Ayala. Ayala then said she would convene a group of assistant state attorneys that would evaluate future murder cases and determine where the death penalty was appropriate.

Gillum, who is vying for the Democratic nomination against Winter Park businessman Chris King, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, former U.S. Rep Gwen Graham and Palm Beach developer Jeff Greene, touted Ayala's record on criminal justice, though he acknowledged he still believes the death penalty should be used sparingly.

"She’s not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, and I can’t wait to continue campaigning with her throughout the summer and fall," Gillum said in a statement.

Photo via Andrew Gillum for Governor

Republicans say Rubio’s bill is the way for Congress to deter Russian meddling

Mueller

@alextdaugherty

Conservatives are lining up behind Marco Rubio’s plan to automatically sanction Russia for any future election meddling a day after President Donald Trump’s meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin drew widespread derision from the entire political spectrum. 

Trump supporters like Fox News host Laura Ingraham, moderates like Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senate leaders like Mitch McConnell have all expressed support for Rubio’s bill, signaling that Congress could pass substantive legislation that would swiftly punish Moscow if U.S. intelligence determines that the Kremlin tries to meddle in future U.S. elections. 

“There are some possibilities, Senator Rubio, for example, has got a bill that targets the 2018 election cycle we’re right in now which is, as I understand it, is potential penalties if the Russians do it again,” McConnell, who controls the U.S. Senate, said on Tuesday. “So yeah, there’s a possibility that we may well take up legislation related to this.” 

The push by conservatives for a bill that was introduced in January by Rubio and Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland comes a day after Trump and Putin met privately for two hours and the president said he believes Putin instead of U.S. intelligence over the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The joint press conference sparked widespread outrage and condemnation from Democrats and Republicans, though Trump tried to walk back his comments on Tuesday by saying he misspoke. 

Rubio and Van Hollen’s bill, called the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act, is the first bill since the 2016 presidential election that sets specific punishments for the Russian government and other countries that interfere in U.S. political campaigns.

“Congress has already taken various steps when it comes to Russia and its interference in 2016, this will just be one moving forward that hopefully would deter future attacks, which I believe is the real threat here ultimately,” Rubio said on Tuesday. “It’s not what happened, but what could happen in the future. Hopefully we’ll get to a critical mass and momentum that we can get going on it and get it passed.”

Rubio’s bill, if passed, codifies specific penalties for the Russians that must implemented within 10 days if the Director of National Intelligence determines that interference took place.

The penalties include “sanctions on major sectors of the Russian economy, including finance, energy, defense, and metals and mining” and blacklisting every senior Russian political figure or oligarch identified in the Russian sanctions bill that became law in 2017 over the initial objections of Trump after a supermajority in Congress approved it.

The bill lays out specific acts by foreign governments that constitute election interference. Foreign governments are forbidden from purchasing advertisements to influence elections, using social and traditional media to spread “significant amounts” of false information, hacking election or campaign infrastructure such as voter registration databases and campaign emails, and blocking access to elections infrastructure such as websites that provide information on polling locations.

Read more here

Donna Shalala, Maria Elvira Salazar lead the money race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty

With six weeks remaining until the August 28 primary, two women are leading their respective parties in fundraising in the race to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Latina elected to Congress. 

Democrat Donna Shalala and Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, who both have leads over the competition according to multiple polls, also have the most money left to spend in their competitive primaries. Shalala ended the latest fundraising quarter, which spanned from April 1 to June 30, with $1.1 million left to spend while Salazar has $578,000 in the bank. 

Two other Democrats, former state Rep. David Richardson and former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman also have more than $700,000 to spend as they try to upset Shalala. The reports which were finalized on Monday are the final fundraising totals released before the primary. 

Democrats are hopeful they will flip Ros-Lehtinen's district, which voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by over 19 percentage points in 2016, and the five Democrats running have a substantial advantage in combined cash raised over the nine Republicans still in the race. 

Salazar, a broadcast journalist, and Shalala, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services and president of the University of Miami, both entered the race after the other top contenders in their parties. Richardson leads the combined field in small dollar donations while Shalala has a small lead in total money raised over Richardson and Haggman. 

Republicans are hopeful that their nominee will remain competitive in a district that is majority Latino. The top Republican contenders are all Latino while all five Democrats in the race are not. 

The fundraising totals for Ros-Lehtinen's open seat have a different pattern than the two other GOP-held seats in Miami-Dade.

Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, who are both seeking reelection, have maintained a fundraising advantage over their top Democratic challengers though both Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Mary Barzee Flores are raising significant amounts of money.

Mucarsel-Powell has $1.2 million to spend while Curbelo has $2.6 million, one of the highest totals for a House Republican nationwide. Barzee Flores has $642,000 on hand while Diaz-Balart has $1.6 million. 

Congress candidate’s husband has financial ties to scandal-plagued Ukrainian oligarch

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@newsbysmiley @alextdaugherty @nicknehamas

The husband of a Miami Democrat hoping to unseat U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo this November has financial ties to an Eastern European oligarch dogged by allegations of contract killings and embezzlement.

Public records show that Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s husband, Robert Powell, spent much of the last 10 years as general counsel for companies owned at least in part by Igor Kolomoisky, a wealthy Ukrainian businessman involved in banking and mining. In federal financial disclosures, Mucarsel-Powell reported that her husband of 15 years earned most of their household income during the previous two years — at least $695,000 — from a ferroalloys trading corporation associated with Kolomoisky.

Mucarsel-Powell, considered by national Democrats as one of the most likely challengers to defeat a Republican incumbent in November’s midterm elections, says her husband’s work and the companies that employed him are irrelevant to her campaign.

“Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is running for Congress, not her husband. To imply that Debbie has anything to do with an indirect shareholder of a parent company that once employed her husband is an enormous stretch,” said Michael Hernandez, a senior communications adviser for the campaign.

But the financial relationship, first reported Monday by the Daily Beast., could become a liability, particularly at a time of deep suspicion toward Eastern European influences. Joanna Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for Curbelo’s campaign, said South Florida’s voters “deserve a representative with no allegiance to the kind of thuggish corruption described in this report.”

“South Florida immigrant families who have fled corrupt regimes around the world know far too well the kind of violence and corruption an oligarch can wage. It’s incomprehensible and disrespectful to believe someone whose lifestyle has been subsidized by a known contract killer for nearly 10 years could look voters in the eye and allege to fight for them,” Rodriguez said.

Starting about a decade ago, Powell began representing companies in which Kolomoisky has invested. Powell was general counsel for Optima Acquisitions, Felman Trading and Felman Productions, and the Miami-based Georgian-American Alloys, among others.

“I have never worked for, represented, answered to, or received any payment from Mr. Kolomoisky at any time,” Powell said in a statement issued through his wife’s campaign.

But court filings show that Kolomoisky at different times has owned, directly or indirectly, a third of Optima, all of Felman Productions (for which Felman Trading is a distributor), and a piece of GAA. In a 2010 court order, a federal judge in West Virginia, where Felman Trading operates a manganese production facility on the Ohio River, said it appeared that Powell “answers” to Kolomoisky. The same court order states that Felman Productions was a subsidiary of a company owned by a Kolomoisky firm, and that Felman was one of three shareholders in PrivatBank, the largest commercial bank in Ukraine.

Kolomoisky, meanwhile, has been accused of bribery, murder and embezzlement in recent years by business partners and government authorities. The Telegraph of London reported in 2016 that a former partner accused Kolomoisky during a heated lawsuit of threatening him and attempting to have him killed through a murder-for-hire plot in which the hitmen were later themselves killed — a claim Kolomoisky strenuously denied.

Read more here.

Gwen Graham gains support of former CFO and governor candidate Alex Sink

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Gwen Graham and Alex Sink (Gwen Graham campaign)

Gwen Graham is now counting among her supporters the last Democrat elected to Florida's Cabinet, former CFO Alex Sink — a name that still haunts some Democrats.

“It’s an honor to have Alex Sink’s support," Graham said in a statement Tuesday. "She has been a trailblazer for Florida women in business and public service — and I wish I were running today to serve as Florida’s second woman governor.”

Sink served as the state's chief financial officer from 2007 to 2011, the last Democrat to win a seat on the Florida cabinet. But it's her failed campaign for governor that still frustrates some in the party.

Sink, a centrist Democrat, narrowly lost to Rick Scott in 2010 in a race that many felt she should have won. Her failure to turn out Democrats against Scott, a political newcomer with a controversial past, led MSNBC's Chuck Todd and Savannah Guthrie to dub her the worst candidate in the country that year.

Sink made another run for office in 2014, losing a Tampa Bay-area congressional race to Republican David Jolly, but has been out of the spotlight since.

Graham's campaign notes that she has the support of the only other Democratic woman elected to a Cabinet position, Betty Castor, who was education commissioner in the 1990s. (The position has since been eliminated.)

Sink said in a statement that Graham, a former Congresswoman and the daughter of former Governor and Senator Bob Graham, was a "proven dedicated public servant."

“Gwen shares my commitment to investing in public education, protecting our environment and building a diverse economy for Florida,” Sink said. "Now, more than ever, we need a leader who will defend Florida's women and families."

Scott asks court today to end lawsuit demanding that he disclose all his assets

Rick Scott 2015 APTallahassee attorney Don Hinkle's persistent legal battle to force Gov. Rick Scott to disclose everything he has invested in while in office goes before a panel of appellate court judges today.

Hinkle alleges that the governor is violating the state's financial disclosure and blind trust laws by failing to report the assets he controls in partnerships and his wife's revocable trusts. 

A multi-millionaire hospital executive, Scott has shielded his assets from the public and, allegedly himself, by holding them in a blind trust that is managed by a financial advisor who has worked with the governor for decades. 

Scott claims he knows nothing about his investments, including the fact that in 2017 he and his family made as much as $550 million from the sale of a Michigan plastics company that Scott ran for five years before becoming governor. 

Hinkle not only casts doubts on the governor's claim that he knows nothing about his investments, he argues that because the list of of assets provided the governor on his disclosure form is proof he is violating the blind trust law.

The assets "show that Governor Scott has many investments with restrictions on their transfer or sale, or in which transfer of the assets by the trustee would be 'improbable or impractical' without Governor Scott’s knowledge."

Because "such assets are not appropriate for a 'blind' trust,'' Hinkle alleges the governor is violating the law. 

The governor's lawyers argue that the Florida Commission on Ethics is the proper venue to bring a financial disclosure claim and in April asked Leon County Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers to dismiss the case.

Gievers refused to dismiss the case and the governor's lawyer's appealed that ruling. The oral arguments before the three-judge panel will be heard today. 

Hinkle had tried and failed three times to get the Florida Commission on Ethics to investigate the governor's financial disclosures. But the commission, whose members the governor appointed, dismissed the complaints without investigating the federal documents. 

Hinkle wanted commissioners to investigate why Scott signed federal securities documents indicating he was the "beneficial owner" of assets in his wife's trust, but he didn't report them as assets on his own financial disclosure form.

"When reporting his financial interests to Floridians on his financial disclosure, Governor Scott does not include or identify each
asset of the F. Annette Scott Revocable Trust,'' Hinkle wrote in the lawsuit filed in November. "...it would be improbable or impractical for the trustee to sell or transfer assets held in this trust without the Governor’s knowledge or consent."

All of this may be moot for Scott, a candidate for U.S. Senate. In two weeks, Scott's federal financial disclosure report is due and, unlike state law, federal disclosure law requires that Scott disclose all the assets of his wife as well as his own.

But there may be long-term implications of Hinkle's lawsuit. The precedent established by the lawsuit could play out if any of the millionaires running for governor get elected and create a blind trust, as some have said they would. 

Meanwhile, Scott has asked for a 90-day extension to file his disclosure. The clock runs out on July 29. 

Given the governor's recent disclosure that he earned $120 million more in income in 2017 than the year before, and a Herald/Times investigation that found that the governor and his family may have earned as much as $550 million from a single transaction, questions continue to emerge about how blind Scott's blind trust really is.  

 

 

July 16, 2018

Shady oligarch’s firm paid Debbie Mucarsel-Powell's husband $700,000

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via The Daily Beast

The Daily Beast reports that the husband of Debbie Mucarsel-Powell has myriad connections to a shady Ukrainian oligarch. Read more below: 

Last fall, something funny happened in Washington: A pair of American lobbyists put on a fake congressional hearing in the basement of the Capitol, accusing a former Ukrainian central banker of odious corruption. A Ukrainian TV station broadcast the event there, claiming it was evidence that the United States Congress was investigating the accusations (they weren’t). The apparent sponsor of the hearing was a Ukrainian oligarch named Ihor Kolomoisky, whose bank was nationalized by the banker. Kolomoisky, who sicced his own private army on the Russians after they invaded eastern Ukraine, has been accused of sponsoring contract killings.

Now, there’s another apparent connection between the Kolomoisky and American politics. A number of businesses linked to the oligarch have hired the attorney Robert Powell, the husband of Democratic House of Representatives candidate Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Just one of those firms paid Powell at least $700,000 over two years, according to public records. Mucarsel-Powell is challenging Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in one of the most closely-watched congressional races in the country. 

Melvin Félix—a spokesperson for Mucarsel-Powell, who is challenging Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo for his seat in South Florida—said any criticism of her based on this reporting is absurd.

“Debbie is running for Congress because she believes change is urgently needed in South Florida,” he said. “She has spent her career expanding access to quality health care in our community, giving low-income students the opportunity to go to college and protecting our coast. The absurdity of Debbie being attacked over an indirect shareholder to her husband’s former employer, a job he no longer even holds, is exactly why people are tired of politics.”

Read more here

July 13, 2018

Mary Barzee Flores raises $450,000 in first quarter running against Diaz-Balart

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@alextdaugherty

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has a race on his hands. 

Democrat Mary Barzee Flores, who jumped from a crowded Democratic primary in retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's district to run against Diaz-Balart unopposed in May, raised over $450,000 in the latest fundraising quarter from April to June. 

Barzee Flores will likely have less cash to spend than Diaz-Balart, who reported $1.1 million on hand at the end of March, though she will likely have the backing of national Democrats and outside groups that can inject money into the Miami-to-Naples district. Her campaign says they have around $650,000 on hand. Diaz-Balart's campaign did not respond when asked for an updated fundraising total, which must be finalized by Sunday. 

Barzee Flores doesn't have to worry about a contested primary and is seeking to tie Diaz-Balart to President Donald Trump in her campaign. Diaz-Balart was the only member of Congress from Miami-Dade County who voted for Trump during the 2016 campaign, and he worked closely with the president and Sen. Marco Rubio to roll back portions of President Barack Obama's Cuba policies last year. 

Diaz-Balart hasn't faced a competitive election since 2008, and his district which covers Northwest Dade and stretches across the Everglades to suburban Naples, is the most conservative congressional district in Miami-Dade. Trump won Diaz-Balart's congressional district over Hillary Clinton by two percentage points, and Democrats are giddy at the prospect of taking control of all five Miami-based House seats after the 2018 election. 

UPDATE (7/16) 

Diaz-Balart raised $507,000 in the latest quarter and has $1.6 million on hand. 

 

 

Russians targeted by Mueller includes source of leaks against Florida Democrats

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Robert Mueller (Associated Press)

FBI special counsel Robert Mueller's latest round of indictments, against 12 Russian intelligence operatives, has a slew of Florida connections, including naming the source of the 2016 leaks against some Florida Democrats, including Gwen Graham.

The indictment also says that Florida elections officials were targets of the operatives, who worked for the Russian foreign intelligence service, the GRU.

They sent emails that contained malware to more than 100 "organizations and personnel involved in administering elections in numerous Florida counties," the indictment states.

The malware was embedded in Word documents that were contained in the emails. The indictment does not say whether the attacks were successful. In June, Gov. Rick Scott's administration received $19.2 million in election security money to be divvied up to the county elections supervisors.

Mueller's team alleges that the Russians did much of their work under the monicker of a fake hacker called Guccifer 2.0. "Guccifer" hacked into the Democratic National Committee in September 2016.

Among the documents was a 2013 internal research report vetting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Graham, who was then running for Congress. Parties and campaigns often do research on their own candidate, so that they can predict what their opponents might dig up.

When asked about it on Friday, Graham laughed about how little "dirt" was in the documents.

"My oppo research is barely boring," she said after a campaign event in Tallahassee. "It's really boring oppo research, so I don't think people were reading through it thinking, Oh, I got her there, I got her there. They're like, 'Wow, she's led a life that didn't result in much dirt.' But I did skip school once in the seventh grade."

Graham said she supported the work of the special counsel.

"I am supportive of the Mueller investigation, and I believe it should continue until we determine whether the president of the United States needs to be indicted as well," she said.

The indictment also appears to allude to Florida political operative Aaron Nevins, who reached out to Guccifer and asked for "any Florida based information," according to a Wall Street Journal report last year. Nevins also operated HelloFLA.com, a political gossip blog.

The report said that Nevins was given 2.5 gigabytes of information.

Mueller's indictment appears to mention the transaction, mentioning that in August, 2016, "the conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, transferred approximately 2.5 gigabytes of stolen data from the DCCC to a then-registered state lobbyist and online source of political news."

"The stolen data," the indictment says, "included donor records and personal identifying information for more than 2,000 Democratic donors."