Washington (AFP) - Former president Barack Obama has launched a scathing attack on Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, calling it an "absolute chaotic disaster."In a leaked web call Friday night with former members of his administration, Obama also said the Justice Department's decision to drop charges against Michael Flynn, the former Trump national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russia probe, endangers the rule of law in the US.In the audio, first obtained by Yahoo News, Obama urges former staffers to join him in rallying behind Joe Biden as h...
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has evidently been living the high life when he's at work in Washington. But back in his home district in Bakersfield, California, McCarthy leads a far less glamorous existence, posing the question of how he affords his luxurious digs in the nation's capital.
McCarthy's home in Bakersfield home is a modest, middle-class residence, a 1,571-square-foot tract house built in 1987, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, that the congressman and his wife purchased in 1996. According to Zillow, the home has an estimated market value around $300,000, and according to McCarthy's 2019 financial disclosure he has a mortgage on the home of between $50,001 and $100,000. Salon is not publishing the precise address but has independently verified the location through public records.
An extensive search of media records suggests that McCarthy rarely or never conducts interviews or poses for photographs at his Bakersfield home. In 2014, when The Brody File sat down for an "at home" interview with McCarthy and his wife in Bakersfield, the conversation was actually filmed at McCarthy's mother's home a few miles away.
Photos that McCarthy has posted on social media, mostly focused on his dogs, suggest that his Bakersfield property is not in optimal condition, depicting chipped tiles, scuffed walls, dirty glass and matted or stained carpeting — the condition of many American homes, no doubt, but a world away from the luxury penthouse where McCarthy has been living in Washington.
For at least the past two months, McCarthy has stayed in Republican pollster Frank Luntz's 7,000-square-foot condo in the Clara Barton at Penn Quarter development in downtown Washington, an immaculate, gilded showplace with soaring marble columns and a sweeping staircase.
As the Washington Post reported last week, "Besides the 'room' he rented, McCarthy would have had access to a 24/7 concierge, a rooftop pool, a fitness center, a media room, a business center, and a party room with a bar and pool table. The homeownership association fees alone on the units are $4,976 per month, according to Redfin.com."
A McCarthy spokesperson said the lawmaker paid "a fair market price" for a room in Luntz's condo, but that claim has come under scrutiny, since the minority leader is not a wealthy individual. The Los Angeles Times notes that McCarthy reported a negative net worth in 2015, but by the following year, "he'd gotten rid of a $100,000 mortgage, and his net worth was up to at least $80,000. Along with a mortgage of at least $50,000, McCarthy owed at least $50,000 on a student loan he took for his children."
The Campaign for Accountability, a nonpartisan watchdog organization, wants to know more and is asking the Office of Congressional Ethics to look into whether McCarthy really paid Luntz for his "room" while staying at his luxury apartment, since such an arrangement would likely have violated the Clara Barton condo complex's rules.
"A top GOP political insider would have violated his building's bylaws by renting a room in his luxury condo to Rep. McCarthy, so we wonder if McCarthy even paid," said Campaign for Accountability executive director Michelle Kuppersmith, in a press release obtained by Salon. "It's time for the Office of Congressional Ethics to take a hard look at this arrangement."
Neither McCarthy's Washington nor California offices returned Salon's request for comment on this story.
McCarthy told CNN in a 2011 interview, "You know what? I came from the wrong side of the tracks. ... I needed to have a different family." Perhaps McCarthy now has that new family, as his kids reportedly refer to Luntz as "an uncle." In any event, a multimillionaire pollster who also owns luxury properties in California, Nevada and Virginia — and who has distanced himself from the current Republican Party — has been providing housing under mysterious circumstances for the top Republican in the House.
In February, McCarthy told the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that he'd bet his home on the prospect that the GOP would win a congressional majority in 2022. "I would bet my house. My personal house. Don't tell my wife, but I will bet it," he said during his speech to the pro-Trump crowd.
On Friday, longtime Trump campaign adviser Steve Cortes hinted at ousting McCarthy as House Republican leader, following the purge of Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming for speaking out against the 2020 election fraud claims pushed by Trump. "Great news that Cheney is no longer in GOP leadership. Next up? Frank Luntz's roomie," Cortes tweeted.
Questions about McCarthy's living arrangements in Washington first surfaced after Fox News host Tucker Carlson reported that the minority leader had been living in Luntz's luxury condo.
"Over the weekend, we got a call from a source who said that, in fact, Frank Luntz and Kevin McCarthy are not simply friends; they're roommates," Carlson said in a monologue at the beginning of May. "Kevin McCarthy lives in Luntz's apartment in downtown Washington. That's what we were told, and honestly, we did not believe it. The top Republican in the House lives with a Google lobbyist? Come on. Even by the sleazy and corrupt standards of politics in Washington, that didn't seem possible. In fact, it sounded like a joke."
As it turns out, Carlson's report was correct. After the news broke, McCarthy said he would leave Luntz's apartment and head back to the couch in his Capitol Hill office. Defending his decision to rent a room from Luntz, McCarthy said this during a May 4 Fox News segment: "I met him [Luntz] with Newt Gingrich back when they were working on the 'Contract for America.' As the Democrats took over, they started changing the House around, so, yeah, I rented a room from Frank for a couple of months, but I'm going back to my couch in my office."
Navy pilot tells '60 Minutes' US government sees UFOs all the time: 'Every day for at least two years'
In a report from "60 Minutes," former military pilots explained some of the UFO or UAP (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) sightings have been seen or followed for a very long time.
Former Navy pilot Lt. Ryan Graves' voice is the one that was heard on the now-infamous video captured by U.S. military pilots that still can't be identified. In an interview with co-host Bill Whitaker, Graves said that he saw UAPs almost daily for two years.
He explained that the unidentified objects could easily be U.S. technology still in development, secret spy technology from another country, or "something otherworldly." He noted that his biggest concern is that it's a national security issue because it could be Russian or Chinese. He noted that if they were tactical jets, the military would take it seriously. But as a UFO or UAP, they're unwilling to investigate.
"Because it looks slightly different, we're not willing to actually look at the problem in the face, we're happy to just ignore the fact that these are out there watching us every day," said Graves.
In a 2004 incident, radio, photos and two Naval Aviators saw a UAP that led them to believe it was something otherworldly.
"Your mind tries to make sense of it, like maybe it's a helicopter or a drone," said Alex Detrich, who was training about 100 miles off the coast of San Diego. A nearby ship, the USS Princeton, detected something they couldn't quite figure out and sent Detrich and "Top Gun" flight school grad and commanding officer David Fravor to look at the object. They were joined by their backseat weapons system officer.
The object descended 80,000 feet in less than a second, they explained. They saw a bubbling of white water about the size of a 737 in an otherwise smooth sea.
"So, we're looking at this," Fravor says, laughing uncomfortably. "And about that time, her back-seater says, 'Hey, Skipper, do you...?' And about the time that got out, I said, 'Do you see that down there?' And we saw this little white tic-tac object and it's moving right above the white water area."
Fravor got closer and Detrich circled. It then began mimicking their moves, circling with them. The object then disappeared, taking off in another direction. Seconds later it was seen again near the ship, 60 miles away, captured on camera and radar again.
They both agreed that if they'd seen it "solo" they'd be afraid to report it because it would sound so crazy.
"There's definitely something, I don't know who's building it, who's got the technology or whose got the brains but it's out there," said Fravor.
Next month, the Senate is supposed to release the UAP report, but Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said that it could miss the June 1 deadline.
While speaking to Lou Dobbs on Fox Business during his presidency, Donald Trump promised that he would release all of the information available about UFOs. He never did.
See the shocking report below:
Navy pilots recall “unsettling" 2004 UAP sighting www.youtube.com
Levy was part of the legal team representing the father of a girl who'd died the previous month in the custody of the Border Patrol, which is part of CBP. “There was so much hate for immigration lawyers at that time," she recalled. “I thought that somebody had put in an anonymous tip that I was a terrorist."
The truth was more troubling. Newly released records show that Levy was swept up as part of a broader than previously known push by the administration of President Donald Trump to use the federal government's expansive powers at the border to stop and question journalists, lawyers and activists.
The records reveal that Levy and attorney Héctor Ruiz were interrogated by members of CBP's secretive Tactical Terrorism Response Team. The lawyers were suspected of “providing assistance" to the migrant caravan that was then the focus of significant attention by the administration and right-wing media. Officials speculated in later reports that immigration lawyers were seeking to profit by moving migrants through Mexico, and that “Antifa" may have been involved.
The records were provided to ProPublica by the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, a public interest law firm and advocacy group that received them after filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit about the stops of Levy and Ruiz at the border in El Paso.
Following revelations two years ago by NBC 7 San Diego that some journalists and others were targeted for questioning when crossing from Tijuana, Mexico, the Trump administration maintained that the incidents were limited to San Diego and a handful of U.S. citizens. But the new documents prove the operation went further — and raise questions about how many others were targeted.
While the records are heavily redacted, they provide a window into exactly how the targeting worked. They also show that the push was based in part on claims that were simply wrong — for example, that Levy met with members of the caravan in Mexico while they were traveling towards the border.
“This whole thing is COINTELPRO for dummies," said Mohammad Tajsar, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, referring to a notorious domestic spying program from decades ago. Tajsar is representing some of the San Diego activists who were stopped. An “intel-gathering apparatus was shared and deployed through a number of different agencies and resulted in a dragnet that ensnared a whole bunch of people."
Responding to questions from ProPublica, a CBP spokesperson said in a statement: “In response to incidents in November 2018 and January 2019, which included assaults against Border Patrol Agents, CBP identified individuals who may have information relating to the instigators and/or organizers of these attacks. Efforts to gather this type of information are a standard law enforcement practice." The statement does not address the targeting of Levy and Ruiz or what role investigators suspected two lawyers in El Paso of playing in attacks on federal agents that were in San Diego.
The administration of President Joe Biden is continuing to fight several lawsuits filed against the Trump administration over the operation. The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general promised to investigate the allegations in 2019, as the CBP spokesperson noted to ProPublica, but it has not published its findings. The current head of U.S. Border Patrol is a career agent who was in charge of the San Diego sector when agents there were helping lead the surveillance effort.
Neither Levy nor Ruiz were told why they were being questioned. What they were asked about didn't give them many clues. Both were questioned about their activities in Mexico — specifically, if they had been to Tijuana recently. They were questioned about their jobs and educational backgrounds; Ruiz was asked about the funding of the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, where they work as an attorney.
Both lawyers also recall being asked about their beliefs. Levy remembers an agent asking her why she worked for a Catholic aid organization if she didn't believe in God, while Ruiz told ProPublica they were asked about their opinions of the Trump administration and the economy. Government notes of their interviews provided as part of the suit don't reference those questions, but they do cite comments from both Levy and Ruiz criticizing Trump's border policies.
Ruiz ultimately agreed to a phone search, despite their concerns about agents reading privileged attorney-client communications, which is exactly what the agents did. The records note the use of WhatsApp to communicate with people described as “foreign national" — Ruiz's clients.
Ruiz didn't tell anyone about their late-night interrogation for weeks after it happened. When they learned the same thing had happened to Levy, and when the NBC 7 story appeared two months later showing that similar episodes in San Diego had been part of a deliberate targeting effort, the El Paso lawyers sought to find out if they had been on the same watchlist. So Ruiz's then-colleague Allegra Love filed a Freedom of Information Act request followed by a lawsuit.
This spring, they finally got a complete-enough set of documents to piece the truth together.
In late November 2018, writing up an interview with a migrant who'd traveled with the “caravan," San Diego-area border agents identified Levy and Ruiz as two of “three attorneys/legal assistants that most likely traveled to meet with the caravan." The redacted notes leave it unclear whether the migrant identified the two by name, or whether agents made the connection on their own. Either way, by the time that email was forwarded to San Diego's Border Intelligence Center, the two were identified as “ASSOCIATED TO THE MIGRANT CARAVAN DEC 2018."
In fact, Levy had not only never met with people in the caravan, colleagues recall she'd vocally criticized the caravan at the time. Ruiz had conducted some legal workshops for caravan migrants weeks before their arrival in Tijuana, when they'd been staying in a soccer stadium in Mexico City. Ruiz and Love told ProPublica they had encouraged migrants with tenuous asylum claims not to attempt to come to the U.S. and didn't have any further involvement with the group.
According to emails obtained in the lawsuit, agents were instructed to flag Levy and Ruiz (as well as three others whose information is redacted) in the system for screening people coming through U.S. ports of entry.
When Ruiz came back to El Paso after a night out in Ciudad Juarez in December, and when Levy returned from that January dinner, the port officer checking their passports saw an alert that they should be interrogated by a member of CBP's Tactical Terrorism Response Team.
The team's stated mission is to stop suspected foreign terrorists from entering the country. But the government has expanded powers at the border that allow it to stop and question civilians entering the U.S. Records produced in an ongoing ACLU Freedom of Information Act lawsuit about the unit have shown that its members frequently question American citizens. (CBP did not respond to questions about the role of the terrorism teams.)
What exactly the interrogations of Levy and Ruiz were trying to uncover still isn't clear. Levy and Ruiz both got the impression that they were being accused of “coaching" asylum-seekers to lie to border agents. The newly disclosed records don't include anything about that, at least not in the unredacted text, but they do say that Ruiz “admitted to facilitating the migrant caravan by providing legal guidance free of charge and educate the migrant's with the Asylum process."
The accusation that telling asylum-seekers about how U.S. law works is “facilitating" their entry reflected a broader suspicion that asylum-seekers were trying to subvert U.S. law rather than accessing a legal right. One Border Patrol email from the San Diego side of the targeting operation, obtained in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by NBC 7 and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and shared with ProPublica, referred to crossing the border to claim asylum as exploiting “a loophole."
A Border Patrolintelligence reportfrom El Paso, written several months after Levy and Ruiz were interrogated and included in the newly released documents, cast further aspersions on asylum lawyers. The report states, “Mass migration from South America into the United States is said to be coordinated at some level by non profit organizations who wish to line their pockets with proceeds deriving from migrants transportation fees up to the U.S Mexico border, and ultimately proceeds deriving from the migrants paying for their asylum case lawyers once they have arrived to the United States." It goes on to associate this effort with “other groups such as Antifa."
The report also asserts, inaccurately, that Levy and Ruiz were “seen in Tijuana assisting with the migrant caravan."
Now that the lawyers know more about why they were stopped — and by whom — they are all the more concerned it could happen again. Levy has since moved to California but told ProPublica she fears retaliation for this article.
Ruiz still crosses the border multiple times a week for work. “I'm still super fearful," they told ProPublica. “I don't know if this is the day they're going to detain me again." The caravans and Trump are both gone, but “I'm still doing this work. And I don't know what sort of false accusations they can throw going forward."
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