Nominations & Appointments | Media Matters for America

Nominations & Appointments

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  • The White House press corps should follow up on new communications director’s financial conflicts

    New reports raise questions about Anthony Scaramucci’s promise that his financial portfolio would be “totally cleansed”

    Blog ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON

    According to Politico, Anthony Scaramucci “still stands to profit” from his ownership stake in a hedge fund he founded in 2005 despite his assertion that his financial portfolio would be “totally cleansed” of conflicts of interest before he assumed a full-time role as communications director at the White House.

    During a July 21 press conference in which Scaramucci announced his new role in the Trump administration, he claimed that the position would not be encumbered by conflicts of interest tied to his previous business dealings. However, according to a July 26 report from Politico, Scaramucci “still stands to profit from an ownership stake in his investment firm SkyBridge Capital.” The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) stipulates that federal employees “may be directed to divest” from certain stock or property holdings in order to resolve possible conflicts of interest, but Scaramucci was still listed as SkyBridge’s managing partner as of July 27 and, according to a financial disclosure form published by Politico, Scaramucci still expects to receive significant returns from the upcoming sale of his SkyBridge assets:

    According to a July 25 report from Bloomberg citing “people familiar with Scaramucci’s recent thinking,” the incoming communications director “was eager to take another government post” in part so he could benefit from an agreement with the IRS that allows appointees to defer some capital gains taxes when they are forced to liquidate private business relationships in order to assume federal government roles. However, several ethics experts contacted by Bloomberg believe Scaramucci should be disqualified from that tax arrangement because the terms of the sale of his company pre-dated his assumption of a federal government role by several months.

    CNBC reported last week that Scaramucci’s ongoing attempt to close the sale of SkyBridge Capital “delayed his appointment” to the Trump administration earlier this year, but he has technically been an employee of the federal government since joining the Export-Import Bank last month while the SkyBridge deal remained unfinished.

    The SkyBridge deal itself is increasingly raising questions. Bloomberg reported in January that the Chinese government linked foreign conglomerate lined up to purchase SkyBridge is paying significantly more for the firm than it seems to be worth. On July 24, Business Insider described the purchase agreement for the sale of SkyBridge as “a $180 million conflict of interest hanging over [Scaramucci’s] head” because the sale will eventually have to be approved by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, with whom Scaramucci will work closely in his new role as a senior adviser in the Trump administration. (Rumors that Scaramucci may be in line to replace Reince Priebus as the president’s chief of staff may further exacerbate the financial conflict.)

    Given the Trump team’s extraordinary penchant for misleading the press, reporters should continue digging for proof of Scaramucci’s compliance with ethics regulations routinely flouted by the Trump family and other members of the administration.

  • New Trump hire Anthony Scaramucci to Sean Hannity: "We were separated at birth" because I agree with you "1,000 percent"

    Scaramucci and Hannity repeatedly agree on the White House communications strategy

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    In a July 24 appearance on Sean Hannity’s radio show, Anthony Scaramucci, the newly-minted White House communications director, promised he would go after leakers, “find other ways” beyond traditional media outlets to “deliver information,” and confirmed that he would combat the media’s “double-standard.” This strategy mirrors the rantings from Sean Hannity on his radio program and Fox News show.

    Hunting and purging leakers in the government

    Scaramucci promises to fire "leakers" on his staff.

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Let's talk a little bit about the statement that you made here. "Any leakers are going to be shown the door," does that also include deep state leakers? Because there was one report --

    ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: So, let me -- let me rephrase that for your listeners, it's the leakers that I have control over, okay? So, I sit in the comms shop now, I report directly to the president, had a very crisp meeting with him this morning about some of the things I'd like to do, got his green light. I met with about 40 or so people in the Roosevelt Room, here in the West Wing shortly thereafter, and sort of laid out what i want to do culturally here to make people understand where I'm coming from. And so, very very binary, like I said to Jake Tapper, "You are going to leak, you are going to go outside on Pennsylvania Avenue, and you're going to sell postcards to the tourists." It's just that simple.

    HANNITY: Well, I --

    SCARAMUCCI: If you're not going to leak, you can stay here and work. You gotta make a decision.

    HANNITY: I think one of the harder things to find is gonna be the 125 leaks from within the intelligence community --

    SCARAMUCCI: Yeah.

    HANNITY: -- against the President. I mean, we had one late last week again, and this one was against Jeff Sessions, and it seems like it just never ends.

    SCARAMUCCI: Yeah, so that's a -- totally separate topic, and so unfortunately it is outside of my authority. But what I will say there is that we are going to start a process of bolstering the exposure of those as well. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 7/24/17]

    Hannity: Trump should fire everyone in the executive branch who Isn't loyal to him “because he’s got to end the leaks that are plaguing this administration.

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Let's go back to 1861, President Abraham Lincoln he created a team of rivals, a so-called team of rivals, a cabinet of rivals including adversaries that he ran against the Republican primary. While President Lincoln sought to unify his party through cabinet selections, he also executed an extensive government purge. He fired over 75 percent, nearly 1200 people. Out of 1500 bureaucrats that worked in the executive branch that President Lincoln feared could be disloyal. It's time now for President Trump to follow Abraham Lincoln's example and fire anyone and everyone who was actively working against him in government.

    [...]

    Because he’s got to end the leaks that are plaguing this administration.[Fox News, Hannity, 3/9/17]

    Circumventing traditional press to get better news coverage

    Scaramucci: “If I can’t get the help from the mainstream media,” “we’ll find other ways” to “deliver information to the American people.”

    ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: We’re going to try to keep this as transparent as we can, and as open. I don’t think we’re going to be able to fight through a lot of the mainstream media nonsense, I think they’re just going to go off the hook into the direction they’re going in, but we’ve got very sharp people here on the comms team. We’re going to reinvent the way we deliver information to the American people, and if I can’t get the help from the mainstream media, of giving the president a fair shake, we’ll find other ways to do that. On -- certainly, the president does that with his social media situation.

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): I honestly have seen a shift and a change just before you came onboard, and then we saw a lot of it this weekend, I mean -- I think the exchange we just played with you and Jake Tapper is a really good one, “Well Jake, I know you’re trying to come up with analogies on the fly, but good try, it doesn’t work here,” or Kellyanne was on CNN, and Doctor Gorka’s two appearances, Anderson Cooper and Alisyn Camerota went viral. I do think that they have gotten away with way too much, and I think there has been far too little pushback, in my humble opinion. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 7/24/17]
     

    Hannity led the charge to get Trump to abandon traditional media. Sean Hannity has devoted himself to promoting the notion that Trump should not have a press office in his White House and should use other methods of reaching out to the American people outside of the mainstream media. [Media Matters, 12/14/16]

    Scaramucci echoed Hannity’s claim that Trump’s communication strategy should combat the media’s “double standard”

    “You and I were separated at birth”: Scaramucci tells Hannity he agrees completely with his comments on combating the media’s double standard.

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): How do you combat all of -- all of this double standard at one time? Are you going to -- are you going to take these issues to the media?

    ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI: Yeah, so you know you and I were separated at birth, you just happen to be Irish, right? You know that about yourself, right? So, everything you just said, you know, I 1000 percent agree with.

    But what I said from the podium on Friday was that, you know, the Navy SEALs have a great line, that the only way that you can eat an entire elephant is to take one bite at a time. So, the first thing that I’ve got to do, Sean, is I’ve got to clean up the culture here in the comms shop, and I have to stop the internecine civil warfare among the personalities and the egomaniacs.

    Once they stop shooting at each other, we can subordinate all of that to the president’s message. Once we get that under control, we can start dealing with the stuff that you’re referencing -- but I 1000 percent agree with you that we’ve got to start going in that direction. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show, 7/24/17]

  • Trump is reportedly considering fulfilling a months-long right-wing media fantasy to fire Robert Mueller

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump and his legal team “are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest,” according to a Washington Post report. The president’s right-wing media allies have waged a months-long campaign against Mueller and his team, calling for Mueller to be fired or his investigation “to be shut down,” and citing supposed “conflicts of interest” among members of Mueller’s investigative team and even of Mueller himself.

  • Fox Favorite And "Trump Loyalist" Sheriff David Clarke Appointed To DHS Role

    ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump's administration has chosen former right-wing talk radio host and Fox News favorite Sheriff David Clarke to serve as the acting assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security for partnership and engagement. Not only is Clarke’s record as Sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin questionable, he has repeatedly appeared on Fox News to spout racially-charged rhetoric, including comparing Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance to the Ku Klux Klan and calling Black Lives Matter a “subversive movement.”

  • Trump's Baseless Smear Of Susan Rice Follows Two Days Of Right-Wing Speculation

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    President Donald Trump pushed a claim hyped by right-wing media that former President Barack Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice may have committed a crime and could face legal jeopardy for “unmasking” Trump associates caught in surveillance.

    On April 2, “alt-right” leader Mike Cernovich originally wrote that the White House Counsel’s office had “identified Rice as the person responsible for the unmasking [of Trump transition officials incidentally captured in legal surveillance] after examining Rice’s document log requests.” Cernovich’s post, which cited no other source for the claim other than the White House, noted that Rice would have been “authorized” to request that the names be unmasked, and did not claim she broke any laws. Cernovich’s post was amplified by fringe “alt-right” outlets, conservative media, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, and the president’s son Donald Trump Jr.

    But some right-wing media figures, including Rush Limbaugh, have taken the still unconfirmed claim a step further, suggesting that Rice’s actions were illegal. However, that claim has been debunked by numerous national security experts who explained that nothing reported so far indicates that Rice violated the law, and that if she did unmask these officials, she would have been carrying out her duty as national security advisor. Former National Security Director Michael Hayden said it was “absolutely lawful. Even somewhat routine,” and, “There are very plausible, legitimate reasons why she would request such information.” Former CIA Acting Director John McLaughlin also defended Rice, saying, “she was doing her job. That’s what national security advisors are expected to do.”

    But Trump has now parroted the claim that Rice may have acted illegally, commenting on the issue in an April 5 interview with The New York Times. The president said “‘I think’” Rice had committed a crime "by seeking the identities of Trump associates who were mentioned on intercepted communications," adding that “‘it’s going to be the biggest story’” for “our country and the world.’” From the article:

    President Trump said on Wednesday that he thought that the former national security adviser Susan E. Rice may have committed a crime by seeking the identities of Trump associates who were mentioned on intercepted communications and that other Obama administration officials may also have been involved.

    “I think it’s going to be the biggest story,” Mr. Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office, declining repeated requests for evidence for his allegations or the names of other Obama administration officials. “It’s such an important story for our country and the world. It is one of the big stories of our time.”

    He declined to say if he had personally reviewed new intelligence to bolster his claim but pledged to explain himself “at the right time.”

    When asked if Ms. Rice, who has denied leaking the names of Trump associates under surveillance by United States intelligence agencies, had committed a crime, the president said, “Do I think? Yes, I think.”

  • Republicans Threaten To Use Nuclear Option On Gorsuch, Media Blame Democrats

    ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Media figures, many of them conservative, are pushing the false talking point that Senate Democrats are to blame for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s threat to change the rules and allow Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch to be confirmed by a simple majority vote. In fact, past Senate rule changes effectuated by Democrats have not applied to Supreme Court nominees, and they were made in response to historic GOP obstruction of noncontroversial Obama nominees. Gorsuch, on the other hand, is considered to be a highly ideological nominee who falls to the right of Antonin Scalia.

  • Sunday Shows Whitewash Republicans' History Of Obstructionism

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    NBC’s Chuck Todd and Fox’s Chris Wallace failed to explain Republican senators’ unprecedented obstructionism of former President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees when discussing a 2013 rule change made by Senate Democrats to forbid the filibustering of judicial nominees below the Supreme Court level.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) appeared on the April 2 editions of NBC’s Meet the Press and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday and declared that President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, will be confirmed to the court. The hosts questioned McConnell on whether he would invoke the nuclear option -- a rule change that would eliminate the use of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees -- if the Democrats filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. Additionally, the hosts pointed out McConnell’s opposition to the rule change in 2013, which he now appears poised to use on behalf of Gorsuch:

    CHUCK TODD (HOST): Do you have the votes to change the rules among Republicans? Do you have all 52 Republicans ready to stand behind you, that if the Democrats filibuster Neil Gorsuch, you have the votes to change the rules?

    [...]

    TODD: You're somebody, though, that was very concerned when this rule was changed by Harry Reid for judges below Supreme Court. If you regret what Harry Reid did, why continue down this slippery slope?

    CHRIS WALLACE (HOST): You say that he’ll be confirmed one way or the other, so does that mean if you can’t stop a filibuster that you will go to the nuclear option and change the Senate rules so that you can cut off debate with 51 votes and confirm him?

    [...]

    WALLACE: Back in 2013, the Democrats invoked the nuclear option to allow a simple majority, 51 votes, on confirmation of lower court judges. At that time, you said that was a big mistake.

    Both Todd and Wallace failed to explain why Democrats changed the rule in 2013. As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer explained later on Meet the Press, Senate Republicans “had been holding back on just about all of so many lower court judges, including the very important D.C. Circuit,” by refusing to allow votes on the nominees, so Democrats changed the rules to address the emergency and fill vacant seats. However, the Democrats left the filibuster intact for Supreme Court nominees.

    Republicans’ refusal to hold a vote on Obama’s nominees was unprecedented. In 2013, political science professor, Dr. Sheldon Goldman, calculated the level of Republican obstruction of Obama’s circuit court nominees and declared it “the highest that’s ever been recorded,” adding, “it approached total obstruction or delay.”

    Republicans continued their obstruction of Obama’s judicial nominees after they took control of the Senate following the 2014 elections. As Mother Jones reported in May 2016:

    Since taking control of the Senate in early 2015, Republicans have confirmed only 17 federal judges, a historically low number. The Senate confirmed just 11 judges in 2015, the fewest since 1960. There have been only two appellate court judges approved since Republicans took control, with seven appeals court nominations left pending. If the Senate doesn't confirm any appellate judges this year, it will have confirmed the fewest since the 1897-98 session, when there were just 25 circuit court judges nationwide, compared with 179 now. "Historically, we're in nearly unprecedented ground here," says Kyle Barry, director of justice programs at the liberal Alliance for Justice. "What's happening with Judge Garland is really part and parcel with how the Senate has been treating judicial nominees generally. The pace has been so historically bad, we've been seeing what amounts to outright obstruction."

    Senate Republicans obstructed until the very end of the Obama presidency. After the Mother Jones article was published, Republicans allowed the confirmation of only three district court judges. In total, the GOP Senate allowed just 20 confirmations -- two appellate judges and 18 district court judges -- during the 114th Congress. By comparison, during the 110th Congress -- the last session of Congress during the George W. Bush presidency -- a Democratic majority confirmed 68 nominations -- 10 appellate judges and 58 district court judges. And Republicans completely blocked Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, from having any public hearings or votes for 293 days.

    Todd and Wallace whitewashed history by not presenting the proper context for the debate over Gorsuch’s nomination and the possible implementation of the nuclear option.

  • Report: Breitbart Editor-Turned-Trump Official Is A "Sworn Member" Of "Nazi-Allied" Hungarian Group

    Sebastian Gorka Has Denied The Report

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Jewish news publication The Forward reported that Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka is a “formal member” of the Vitézi Rend, a far-right nationalist Hungarian group that, according to the State Department, operated under the direction of Nazi Germany during World War II. Gorka, a top counterterrorism adviser to President Donald Trump and former national security editor for “alt right” website Breitbart.com, denied that he was a member of the group when contacted by another publication.

    The Forward spoke to two leaders of the Vitézi Rend, Gyula Soltész and Kornél Pintér, who said Gorka is a sworn member of their organization. From the March 16 article:

    Gorka, who pledged his loyalty to the United States when he took American citizenship in 2012, is himself a sworn member of the Vitézi Rend, according to both Gyula Soltész -- a high-ranking member of the Vitézi Rend’s central apparatus -- and Kornél Pintér -- a leader of the Vitézi Rend in Western Hungary who befriended Gorka’s father through their activities in the Vitézi Rend.

    Soltész, who holds a national-level leadership position at the Vitézi Rend, confirmed to the Forward in a phone conversation that Gorka is a full member of the organization.

    “Of course he was sworn in,” Pintér said, in a phone interview. “I met with him in Sopron [a city near Hungary’s border with Austria]. His father introduced him.”

    The Forward explained that the Vitézi Rend “is listed by the State Department as one of many groups in Germany and the countries it occupied as collaborationist ‘criminal organizations’ with the Nazis as determined by the post-war International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.” Soltész also told BuzzFeed that Gorka is a current member of the Vitézi Rend. Gorka denied these ties to Tablet magazine, telling a reporter, “I have never been a member of the Vitez Rend. I have never taken an oath of loyalty to the Vitez Rend. Since childhood, I have occasionally worn my father’s medal and used the ‘v.’ initial to honor his struggle against totalitarianism.” (Foward’s article described how Gorka has signed testimony submitted to Congress and other documents with a “v.,” which “is an initial used by members of the Vitézi Rend” after they have taken a sworn oath.)

    Tablet added that Gorka’s father was “a dedicated member of the anti-Communist underground, and had risked his life to organize the Hungarian resistance and deliver vital information about the Soviets to western intelligence agencies, including the MI6. He was eventually arrested, badly tortured, spent two years in solitary confinement and some more in forced labor in the coal mines before eventually escaping to England.”

    Back in February, foreign policy blog LobeLog confirmed with an expert that a medal Gorka had worn to an inaugural ball was from the Vitézi Rend. Breitbart.com editor Joel Pollak defended Gorka in a February 14 article, calling claims about his connections to the Vitézi Rend a “smear” and defending the group by calling it “anti-communist.”

    USA Today reported that following Forward’s report, Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, said in a statement that “Sebastian Gorka must resign -- and President Trump must make it happen,” and that the National Jewish Democratic Council also urged Trump to fire Gorka. BuzzFeed quoted Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) calling the reports “deeply disturbing” and saying: “It’s shocking that with these revelations he’s not already fired by the president.” Representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Muslim Advocates, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Southern Poverty Law Center also told BuzzFeed that Gorka should resign or that Trump should fire him if the reports about his membership are further substantiated.

    A reporter for Talking Points Memo later tweeted a statement from the Anti-Defamation League, which stated "If true, [Gorka] needs to renounce his membership immediately and disavow their exclusionary message of hate. At a time of rising anti-Semitism around the world, it is essential for Mr. Gorka to make clear that he rejects the policies of far-right and nativist organizations such as Vitézi Rend and Jobbik, which have a long history of stoking anti-Semitism and intolerance in Hungary."

    Before he was hired by the Trump administration, Gorka worked for Breitbart.com as a national security editor and was a paid adviser to the Trump campaign. In the past he has used anti-Muslim rhetoric and backed conspiracy theories. For example, after the Washington National Cathedral hosted an event with two Muslim groups in 2014, Gorka wrote an article for Breitbart.com with the headline “Muslim Brotherhood Overruns National Cathedral In DC," arguing that “if a place of worship is used by Muslims for their prayers, that territory subsequently becomes part of Dar al Islam, sacred muslim (sic) land. Forever.” Gorka also defended Trump’s false campaign claim that former President Barack Obama was the “founder of ISIS,” saying he “is absolutely right” if he meant the Obama administration “facilitated the growth of ISIS.”

  • US Attorney Preet Bharara Was Investigating Fox News When Trump Fired Him

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    President Donald Trump’s decision to fire U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara happened as Bharara’s office was reportedly probing Fox News over its alleged failure to inform shareholders about repeated settlements for allegations of sexual harassment and assault by former Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes and other executives against female employees. Reports indicate Trump may pick one of Ailes’ former lawyers to replace Bharara.