Trump to enter divided Republican Party in battleground Ohio
By STEVE PEOPLES and JULIE CARR SMYTH
Friday, August 24
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — President Donald Trump’s mission is to rally Republicans behind GOP candidates in the nation’s premier swing state. But when he steps into battleground Ohio on Friday, he’s entering a state — and a Republican Party — deeply divided by his presidency.
The Republican president is set to offer the keynote address at a state GOP dinner, an annual fundraiser that traditionally features the region’s Republican royalty. Republican Gov. John Kasich, a fierce Trump critic and 2016 presidential primary opponent, won’t be there. A spokesman said the term-limited governor, who lives in a suburb of the city where the president is speaking, had a personal scheduling conflict.
No state features an uglier public clash between Trump and a sitting Republican governor. And ahead of high-stakes elections for governor, Senate and several House races, the red-hot intraparty feud threatens to undermine the GOP’s chances come November — and could linger into the next presidential campaign.
Trump’s chief Ohio lieutenant, Bob Paduchik, the president’s hand-picked Republican National Committee co-chairman, cast Kasich as “childish” and “insanely jealous” in an op-ed this month. In a subsequent interview ahead of Friday’s dinner, Paduchik repeatedly dismissed any suggestion that Ohio’s GOP is divided.
He added that the governor’s weekly diatribes against Trump on cable news make Kasich “look a little bit foolish.”
“If he wants to spend his last few months as governor the same way he spent the last year and a half, being the antagonist-in-chief, that’s entirely his business,” Paduchik told The Associated Press. “I wrote what I wrote because, like a lot of Republicans in Ohio, just regular Ohioans, I just got tired of it. You just get tired of the constant whining and complaining.”
Kasich, in a recent interview, said “people are getting sick and tired” of the partisan warfare coming out of the Trump White House. And he dismissed Trump’s popularity within the GOP as a byproduct of a shrinking party.
“We’re dealing with a remnant of the Republican Party,” said Kasich, who has not ruled out challenging Trump in a 2020 presidential primary.
As the feud burns deep, Ohio’s Republican candidate to succeed Kasich, Mike DeWine, is caught in the middle.
DeWine, a former senator and the current state attorney general, has tried to use his role as one of Ohio’s longest-serving and best-known politicians to rise above the infighting and embrace endorsements by both Kasich and Trump.
DeWine brought the entire Republican ticket onto the stage at his annual ice cream social in June and made light of the blistering Republican primary against Kasich’s lieutenant governor, Mary Taylor.
Kasich was reluctant to endorse DeWine. He said for the first time that he’d support DeWine earlier this month only after securing assurances that the Republican candidate would preserve Kasich’s expansion of health care coverage for low-income residents as part of the Obama-era health care overhaul.
Trump, like most of his party in Washington, has fought to dismantle the health care law.
The president also has repeatedly jabbed Kasich, describing him this month on social media as “very unpopular” and a “failed presidential candidate.”
Polling suggests, however, that Kasich may be more popular than Trump in Ohio.
A Quinnipiac University poll conducted in June found that 43 percent of Ohioans approved of Trump’s job performance, while 54 percent disapproved. In the same poll, 52 percent of state residents approved of Kasich’s performance and 36 percent disapproved.
That’s created awkward moments for Republican candidates such as Jim Trakas, a former and aspiring state lawmaker, as they campaign in politically divided districts.
“I don’t think any of us want to be associated with any of it, to be honest,” said Trakas, a former GOP chairman in Democrat-heavy Cuyahoga County. “It’s a topic to be avoided. When people ask about it door-to-door, you say, ‘Did you hear about (Ohio State football coach) Urban Meyer?’”
Yet Republican strategists suggest that each Republican leader could be helpful this fall given Ohio’s cultural and socioeconomic diversity — particularly if voters don’t force them to choose.
Kasich is especially popular in the suburbs where some of the most competitive House races will be fought. Trump remains popular among many white working-class voters in Ohio’s many cities, as well as with rural and Appalachian voters elsewhere.
Yet there’s little sign the two are willing to work together.
Each separately took credit for the GOP’s razor-thin lead in this month’s special congressional election in central Ohio and said the other should have just stayed out of it. The final tally, announced Friday, gave the win to Republican state Sen. Troy Balderson.
Kasich told the AP that his decision to endorse Balderson in the race was essential to the win: “We sure needed me involved in the congressional race out here.” Trump, meanwhile, charged on Twitter that Kasich’s endorsement actually hurt Balderson by tamping down enthusiasm.
Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio told reporters this week that the party is unified behind its candidates heading into the fall.
Portman said he was looking forward “to seeing a lot of friends from around the state” at Friday’s dinner.
Notified that Kasich won’t be there, Portman said, “I’ll miss seeing him then.”
Peoples wrote from New York. Associated Press writer Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
Jo-Ann Fabric creates online petition over tariffs
By MARK GILLISPIE
CLEVELAND (AP) — The national retail chain Jo-Ann Fabric wants its customers to sign an online petition and send letters to members of Congress and to the White House urging exemptions from tariffs on hundreds of products the company imports from China. A company official said Thursday that without the exemptions, Jo-Ann customers would “immediately suffer the consequences of these goods being taxed” when the company is forced to raise prices.
Amanda Hayes, a spokeswoman for the Hudson, Ohio-based retailer, said more than 20,000 people have signed the petition since it went online Monday. The biggest “hit” for the 25-percent tariffs, she said, would be fabrics, fleece and yarn the privately-held company sells online and at its 870 retail stores.
“These are the components we sell in our stores that people purchase and make things that are made in America,” she said.
Hayes estimated that around 20 percent of Jo-Ann’s customers are small business owners and charitable organizations that buy material from the company to create handmade products for sale. She added that if those entrepreneurs and charities are forced to raise prices on clothes, blankets, quilts and other items they produce that their customers might opt to buy less expensive imported goods not subject to tariffs imposed during the ongoing trade dispute between China and President Donald Trump’s administration.
The U.S. lacks suppliers capable of providing the quantity and quality of the products Jo-Ann buys from China, Hayes said. She added that around two-thirds of the company’s products are sourced from China. And around 90 percent of what Jo-Ann sells is used by customers to create something, she said.
Ed Weinstein, Jo-Ann’s vice president of tax and public affairs, was in Washington on Monday lobbying against the tariffs. He told The Associated Press he doesn’t understand how fleece and yarn have become part of a trade dispute over high-tech policy.
Hayes said company president and CEO Jill Soltau was in Washington on Thursday meeting with U.S. trade representatives.
Hayes said the company appreciates the intent of the tariffs and supports fair trade with China.
“We’re not seeing this as a political issue, but as an unintended consequence of a well-intended effort,” Hayes said.
Trump vs. Sessions: The feud intensifies
By JILL COLVIN and CATHERINE LUCEY
Friday, August 24
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump pressed Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday to investigate his perceived enemies, as the long-running feud between the men bled into another day.
Responding to Sessions’ declaration that he would not be influenced by politics, Trump tweeted that Sessions must “look into all of the corruption on the ‘other side,’” adding: “Come on Jeff, you can do it, the country is waiting!”
The president’s tweets marked the second day of a highly public smackdown by Trump of his attorney general — the latest in a dispute that has simmered since Sessions recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation.
Earlier this week, Trump, rattled by the legal downfall of two former advisers, accused Sessions of failing to take control of the Justice Department. Sessions punched back Thursday, saying that he and his department “will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.”
Trump’s anger with Sessions boiled over in an interview with Fox News in which the president also expressed frustration with the plea agreement his onetime legal fixer Michael Cohen cut with prosecutors, implicating Trump in a crime that Cohen admitted. Trump said it might be better if “flipping” — cooperating with prosecutors in exchange for more favorable treatment— were illegal because people cooperating with the government “just make up lies” to get a break from prosecutors.
Some of the issues Trump raised with Sessions on Friday have either already been examined or are in the process of being investigated.
He cited two former FBI officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who were sharply criticized in a Justice Department inspector general report in June for trading derogatory text messages about Trump. Strzok, who was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in the summer once the texts were brought to his attention, was fired by the FBI this month. Page has resigned from the bureau.
Trump also mentioned the Russian probe. The inspector general is also investigating potential abuses in the early stages of the FBI’s investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. Trump and other Republicans have complained that the political opposition research used to support a wiretap application on a Trump associate was paid for by Democrats, something the inspector general is expected to look at.
Trump also addressed the five-year sentence given to a former government contractor convicted of mailing a classified U.S. report to a news organization.
Trump tweeted Friday that is “small potatoes” compared with “what Hillary Clinton did.” Prosecutors are calling that sentence handed down to 26-year-old Reality Winner the longest imposed for a federal crime involving leaks to the media.
Earlier he defended himself on Fox against talk of impeachment — “the market would crash … everybody would be very poor” — tried to dissociate himself from Cohen and said anew that he hadn’t known in advance about Cohen’s hush money payments to silence women alleging sexual relationships with the celebrity businessman.
Trump’s latest criticisms of law enforcement came as he appeared increasingly vulnerable to long-running investigations after this week’s one-two punch of Cohen’s plea deal and the conviction of Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort.
Trump has spent more than a year publicly and privately venting over Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the federal Russia-collusion investigation because he’d worked on Trump’s campaign. Trump, who blames that decision for the eventual appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, told “Fox and Friends” host Ainsley Earhardt that Sessions “never took control of the Justice Department and it’s a sort of an incredible thing.”
“What kind of man is this?” Trump asked.
“You know the only reason I gave him the job? Because I felt loyalty, he was an original supporter,” Trump said of Sessions, an Alabama Republican who was the first senator to endorse Trump’s bid.
Sessions has made clear to associates that he has no intention of leaving his job voluntarily despite Trump’s constant criticism. But his tone in his statement on Thursday made clear he is tired of the president’s attacks.
“I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the President’s agenda,” he said. He said that while he’s attorney general the department “will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action.”
In New York, meanwhile, it was reported that federal prosecutors have granted immunity to David Pecker, the publisher of National Enquirer, which bought and killed the stories of two women. And people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that the publication kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Trump leading to 2016 election.
Allies, including Republican members of Congress have long advised Trump that firing Sessions — especially before the midterm elections — would be deeply damaging to the party.
But Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who in March said firing Sessions would “blow up” the Judiciary Committee, has been shifting his tone.
“I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice,” he told reporters on Thursday. “Clearly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions doesn’t have the confidence of the president.”
Others stood by Sessions.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Zeke Miller, Jonathan Lemire, Chad Day, Ken Thomas contributed to this report.
Reports: Trump Organization finance chief gets immunity
By BERNARD CONDON
AP Business Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump’s finance chief, a close confidant who has worked for the family’s real estate business since the early 1970s, was granted immunity in the federal probe of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, media outlets reported Friday.
Depending on the extent of the immunity granted to Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, which was not immediately known, it could be a major development in the ongoing investigations surrounding the president. The 71-year-old Weisselberg is likely to have knowledge of every major personal and business deal Trump has been involved in since his career as a real estate mogul began.
The Wall Street Journal and NBC News were the first to report on anonymous sources that Weisselberg got immunity to talk to federal prosecutors in the investigation of hush money Cohen paid to two women who claimed affairs with Trump.
Cohen pleaded guilty to tax and campaign finance violations Tuesday. And while not named in the Cohen case, Weisselberg is believed to be one of two Trump executives mentioned in the suit who reimbursed Cohen and falsely recorded the payments as legal expenses.
Weisselberg’s deal comes on the heels of several media reports Thursday that Trump’s longtime friend David Pecker, the CEO of National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc., had also been granted immunity in the Cohen probe, as well as the company’s chief content officer, Dylan Howard.
The AP reported Thursday that the tabloid kept a safe containing documents about hush-money payments and damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Trump leading up to 2016 presidential election.
What’s not clear is the extent of Weisselberg’s immunity, whether it was in exchange for his cooperation just on Cohen’s case, or if it extends to cooperation on other investigations. A spokeswoman for the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office declined comment.
Calls and emails to the Trump Organization to reach Weisselberg and general counsel Alan Garten were not immediately answered. An assistant said both were out of the office Friday.
Weisselberg, an intensely private, loyal numbers-man for Trump, was mentioned on an audiotape that Cohen’s lawyer released in July of Cohen talking with Trump about paying for Playboy model Karen McDougal’s silence in the months leading up to the election. Cohen says on the tape that he’s already spoken about the payment with Weisselberg on “how to set the whole thing up.”
In Cohen’s court appearance in Manhattan to enter his guilty plea Tuesday, Cohen admitted to making payments of $150,000 to McDougal and $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels “at the direction” of Trump for the “principal purpose of influencing the election.”
The Trump Organization eventually reimbursed Cohen for that payment, setting up a sham invoices for legal expenses. The court filings, prosecutor say two unnamed Trump Organization employees — “executive 1” and “executive 2” — helped in making the payments.
“Please pay from the Trust,” executive 1 is quoted directing to another unnamed employee. “Post to legal expenses.”
The “Trust” refers to the entity that Trump set up after the election to hold his assets. He put the trust in charge of his two sons and Weisselberg.
Govt acts to stop high-tax states from skirting $10K cap
By MARCY GORDON and GEOFF MULVIHILL
Friday, August 24
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration has laid down rules aimed at preventing residents in high-tax states from avoiding a new cap on widely popular state and local tax deductions. The action under the new Republican tax law pits the government against high-tax, heavily Democratic states in an election-year showdown.
The Treasury Department’s rules released Thursday target moves by states like New York, New Jersey and California — where residents could see substantial increases in their federal tax bills next spring because of the $10,000 cap on state and local deductions. The cap was put in as a compromise to eliminating the deductions completely, as part of the massive GOP tax package pushed by President Donald Trump and enacted late last year. Experts say the issue likely will have to be resolved by the federal courts.
But the new rules’ “dollar-for-dollar” limit also applies to many other states that already have charitable funds offering tax breaks — and those programs too could be hurt by the rules. Those states include solidly Republican ones and others with relatively low taxes. In those programs, donors to schools, hospitals or land-conservation programs can get their state taxes reduced in return — plus a charitable deduction on their federal tax returns.
The limit means taxpayers only can deduct as a charitable contribution the portion of their donation for which they don’t also get a state tax credit.
While the aim of the rules is to challenge the high-tax states’ moves to skirt the cap, “these regulations sweep more broadly than that,” said Daniel Rosen, a tax lawyer at Baker McKenzie who formerly was an IRS official.
A few programs may be protected because of an exception to the rules’ “dollar-for-dollar” requirement, he said.
Steven Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, said he was surprised by the broad reach of the rules, affecting both high-tax states’ “workaround” efforts and existing programs in Republican states to fund private-school tuition.
He also noted the prompt effective-date of the rules, Aug. 27 — which could spur a wave of donations to current programs before the deductions are limited. “I think this is going to cause an unbelievable opening of the pipeline,” Rosenthal said.
Four high-tax states — Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey and New York — already have sued the federal government over the deduction cap, asserting it’s aimed at hurting a group of Democratic states and tramples on their constitutional budget-making authority.
A dozen high-tax states have taken or are considering measures to get around the cap. Most of the workarounds take advantage of federal deductions for charitable contributions — which aren’t capped — in place of the old deductions for paying state and local income taxes. So people’s state and local taxes exceeding $10,000, which can’t be deducted, are turned into deductible charitable donations.
“The Republican tax law is an affront to middle-class Connecticut families and a massive giveaway to the wealthiest individuals and largest corporations, and the (rules) issued by the Trump administration today only make it worse,” Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, said in a statement Thursday.
Treasury said it expects that only about 1 percent of all U.S. taxpayers would see a reduction of their tax credits for donations to private-school voucher funds. Several states — Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Montana and South Carolina — allow taxpayers who donate to private-school funds to get a 100 percent credit against their state taxes, according to data compiled by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
HOW DO THE LIMITS WORK UNDER THE NEW RULES?
Dollar-for-dollar: When a taxpayer receives a benefit in return for donating to charity, the taxpayer should only be able to deduct the net value of the donation as a charitable contribution, Treasury says.
An example: You donate $1,000 to a charity in a state that offers a 70 percent tax credit, so $700 in this case. You would only be able to claim a $300 charitable deduction on your federal return.
There is an exception. If the state tax credits don’t exceed 15 percent of the amount donated, so up to a $150 state tax credit on a $1,000 donation, the taxpayer could claim the full amount as a charitable deduction.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Taxpayers could have less incentive to donate without getting a deduction or if the deduction is reduced.
All states rely on property and income taxes to fund an array of services such as education, health care and public safety. Advocates for restoring the full state and local deductions say the reduced property tax deduction brings a decrease in the value of taxpayers’ homes, possibly spurring residents of high-tax states to move elsewhere and crimping funding for local programs.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE HIGH-TAX STATES?
Measures designed to work around the $10,000 cap have been adopted in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Oregon, and introduced or explored publicly by officials in California, Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, on Thursday called the new rules “politically motivated” and threatened to sue the federal government over them. New Jersey’s Gov. Phil Murphy said the state also is weighing its options for legal action, while California State Sen. Kevin de Leon said he expects the state to sue. Murphy and de Leon also are Democrats.
In some key “blue” states:
—Connecticut has a new law establishing a state charitable fund; donors can get tax credits in exchange for giving.
—In New Jersey, where high local property taxes are the major issue, the state is allowing local schools and governments to use the charitable workaround. But so far, no towns have notified authorities that they’ve set up funds to receive contributions — because state regulators haven’t issued the necessary rules, experts say.
—New York is offering three options: One like Connecticut’s, one like New Jersey’s and another to let employers pay payroll taxes for employees, who would receive credits to cancel out the income taxes they would have paid otherwise.
—In Maryland, about 500,000 residents — over 18 percent of state taxpayers — will together lose $6.5 billion in state and local deductions, according to state estimates.
Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Associated Press writer Michael Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey, contributed to this report.
State politicians say school grants shouldn’t buy guns
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Some Rhode Island politicians are speaking out against a Trump administration plan that would allow schools to use federal funding to buy guns for teachers.
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo says the plan being considered by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is “ill-advised and dangerous,” adding that the funding would be better used on school supplies and professional development.
The Providence Journal reports that the governor’s Republican opponent, Allan Fung, agreed, saying the funding should be used to help students in the classroom.
Democratic gubernatorial challenger Matthew Brown called the idea absurd.
Some Republican and independent politicians spoke out against arming teachers while remaining open to allowing former police officers or veterans to patrol schools.
The Education Department is reviewing legislation to see if certain grants can be used to buy firearms.
2 from Vegas charged with stealing trailer, hundreds of guns
By KEN RITTER
LAS VEGAS (AP) — An ex-felon and a woman accused of being his accomplice have been indicted on federal firearm theft charges after a pickup truck and trailer containing about 375 guns and ammunition was stolen from a Las Vegas-area casino parking lot.
Court documents say the weapons belonged to a licensed firearms dealer attending a gun show.
Samual Lane Donesing, 28, and Jaemillah Eagans, 26, pleaded not guilty Thursday during initial court appearances in Las Vegas, Interim U.S. Attorney Dayle Elieson said.
Attorneys Kathryn Newman, representing Donesing, and Brian James Smith, representing Eagans, declined to comment.
Henderson police and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents found the pickup and trailer in separate places in Las Vegas after the July 31 theft outside Fiesta Henderson.
The cache of weapons, ammunition, holsters and magazines was found at a house in Las Vegas where Donesing and Eagans were arrested Aug. 1.
Authorities also located a white Cadillac parked on a nearby street that had been seen on casino security video in connection with the theft, according to the indictment.
It also said Donesing and Eagans were identified from player loyalty cards that they used in the casino in the hours before the truck and trailer were stolen.
Each suspect could face up to 10 years in federal prison if convicted.
Donesing also faces a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
He had four previous felony convictions in state court in Las Vegas on charges including forgery, auto theft, possession of a stolen vehicle and burglary.
Donesing remained in federal custody pending a trial scheduled Oct. 15. Eagans was put on supervised release including drug treatment.