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38 posts from July 2018

July 17, 2018

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

IMG_debbie_murcarsel-pow_4_1_3M9KMIAC_L265070303 (3)

@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

Gwen Graham Alex Sink
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

Florida lawmakers blast Trump for not calling out Putin

Donald trump 2

via @learyreports

Florida lawmakers on Monday blasted President Trump over taking Vladimir Putin's word that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election, a conclusion that stands in dramatic contrast to widely held views among the intelligence community and on Capitol Hill.

"I don't see any reason why" Russia would do that, Trump said in Helsinki.

"What the president said today is not accurate," Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said during an Atlantic Council event.

Florida Democrats were the first to react and in sharper terms.

"The president's refusal to acknowledge that Putin interfered in our elections should alarm us all," Sen. Bill Nelson tweeted. "Putin is a threat to our democracy and our upcoming election, that's a fact. The president's unwillingness to stand up to him and defend our nation is unacceptable and embarrassing."

"Today @RealDonaldTrump became an illegitimate president when he showed the world that his loyalty lies more with than the people of the United States," Miami Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson tweeted. 

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio did not directly criticize Trump but did say "Foreign policy must be based on reality, not hyperbole or wishful thinking."

Rubio was more specific during an Atlantic Council event.

"What the president said today is not accurate," the Florida Republican said, adding that "all I can speculate" is that Trump was trying to be nice to Putin to establish a better working relationship.

"The flaw is that Vladimir Putin is not interested in a better working relationship," Rubio said.

Miami Republicans Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen directly criticized Trump. 

"The President's comments in Helsinki were deeply alarming," Curbelo said in a statement. "Russia's meddling in the 2016 election is fact – and the recent indictment from Director Mueller and the evidence it outlines proves that. It is unacceptable that an American President not only stood there and said nothing while Vladmir Putin spewed fiction at that press conference, but also questioned the hard work and findings of American intelligence and law enforcement investigators. The U.S. relationship with Russia has deteriorated to its current state because of Russia's criminal interference in our elections, lack of respect for human rights, and invasive and militant actions against its neighbors and our allies around the world. Blaming it on anything else, is unacceptable."

"No, @POTUS. Mueller investigation on election manipulation by is not 'a disaster for our country,'" Ros-Lehtinen tweeted. "It is law enforcement doing work our country needs it to do. What has 'kept us apart' is failure to condemn Russia, lack of any sign that you’ll stop it from happening again." 

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart avoided directly criticizing Trump in his statement. 

"As our own intelligence experts and the House Intelligence Committee have asserted, Russia interfered in the United States' 2016 election just as it meddles in the elections of its neighbors," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "Throughout the world, Russia is often on the opposite side of U.S. interests in crucial areas such as Ukraine, Syria, and Iran. Under Putin's charge, Russia has become increasingly undemocratic, expelling pro-democracy NGOs from its territory, suppressing independent media, ignoring human rights, and manifesting a perilous environment for journalists. We must remember that Russia is not an ally of the United States, and that those responsible for attacks on our democratic institutions must be held accountable."

A Miami Democrat heads to Cuba on the congressional campaign trail

Richardson (1)

@NewsbySmiley

States and Cuba, a congressional candidate and state lawmaker elected to represent Little Havana is visiting, well, Havana.

David Richardson is in Cuba Monday on a two-day “listening tour” described as a mission to “better connect with a large constituency” of Florida’s 27th congressional district, which he hopes to represent following the retirement of Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The Democrat says he wants to “learn more about economic and societal developments” in Cuba following Barack Obama’s 2014 decision to roll back some trade and travel restrictions set into place nearly 60 years ago following Fidel Castro’s rise to power.

His campaign says he will not visit with anyone from the Cuban government while in the country.

“A half-century of isolation did not achieve progress for the everyday Cuban, so I fully support a position of engagement with Cuban civil society,” Richardson said in a statement. “Despite President Trump’s attempts at reversing his predecessor’s progress on foreign policy, I am going to see firsthand how rolling back travel and trade restrictions has changed the lives of the Cuban people, helped private Cuban entrepreneurs, and strengthened the connection between the residents of Little Havana and Havana.”

Click here to read more.

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

IMG_debbie_murcarsel-pow_4_1_3M9KMIAC_L265070303 (3)

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. 

 

 

12 Russians accused of hacking Democrats in 2016 have plenty of Florida connections

Trump Russia Probe

@alextdaugherty

The Department of Justice’s indictment on Friday that accused 12 Russian military officials of directly meddling in the 2016 election has myriad connections to South Florida, where stolen emails eventually brought down Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, stolen internal documents aired unflattering details about a Democratic primary race and a Florida-based provocateur with connections to President Donald Trump was in contact with the hackers.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller charged 12 Russian military officials with engaging in cyber operations that involved releases of stolen documents from the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, the DNC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The indictment, announced by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, claims the Russian agents were trying to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, and tried to hide their connections to the Russian government by creating false identities and using cryptocurrency to pay for the operation.

Emails stolen by hackers showed that then-DNC chair Wasserman Schultz expressed frustration with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, contradicting claims by Wasserman Schultz that the Democratic Party remained neutral during the presidential primary between Clinton and Sanders. Wasserman Schultz resigned as DNC chairwoman on the eve of the 2016 Democratic convention.

“The Democratic National Committee was the first major target of the Russian attack on our democracy, and I strongly believe that every individual who helped carry it out — foreign or domestic — should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat, said in a statement. “I’m pleased that the Justice Department is following the facts wherever they may lead, despite Donald Trump’s dangerous distortions and his refusal to acknowledge the conclusions reached by the American Intelligence Community.”

Russian government officials using the pseudonym Guccifer 2.0 also released hundreds of internal documents from the DCCC, the organization that seeks to elect Democrats to Congress. The documents included information on former Miami Rep. Joe Garcia and current state Sen. Annette Taddeo, who were running in a primary to unseat Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

The information in the documents was unflattering for Garcia and Taddeo, as Democrats talked candidly about each candidate’s shortcomings, though the information itself was not new. But the indictment said Guccifer “received a request for stolen documents from a candidate for U.S. Congress” on Aug. 15, 2016, the same day that the stolen DCCC documents related to five Florida congressional campaigns and research files on seven Democratic candidates in Florida were released to the public by the hackers. Guccifer hackers later released more documents on congressional races in other states.

In the indictment, the Justice Department did not name the congressional candidate who sought stolen documents.

“The hacks impacted Democrats’ chances, because the information was solely focused on anti-Democrat messaging and no Republican candidates were touched,” said Juan Penalosa, the executive director for the Florida Democratic Party who helped run Garcia’s campaign in 2016. “Democratic candidates had to spend a month responding to the information included in the documents, even when it wasn’t new — while Republicans were able to focus on issues. And today’s information that candidates, most likely Republicans, reached out to Russians for information that would influence American elections is particularly disturbing.”

Read more here.