Showing posts with label Trump-Corruption. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Trump-Corruption. Show all posts

July 14, 2020

Rosemary's Baby Is Bill Barr Attorney General Not of The U.S. But For "The Donald"



                                   I Finally Watched Rosemary's Baby . . . | My Geek Blasphemy



It was a stunning display that capped off a head spinning four months at the Department of Justice. Sitting before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, two current federal prosecutors, Aaron Zelinsky and John Elias, claimed under oath that on Attorney General William Barr’s watch the department had effectively become a tool to advance the political and personal interests of Donald Trump and his administration. “It’s remarkable for a sitting career assistant U.S. attorney not only to assess that their work has been politically corrupted and that they must withdraw from a case or even resign from the department,” David Laufman, a former Justice Department official, told me. “But to take the extraordinary step of serving as a whistleblower and provide testimony to Congress about the wrong doing they’re seeing at the Justice Department.”

Under oath, Zelinsky described a pressure campaign from the highest levels of the DOJ to curtail the sentencing recommendation for Roger Stone, a veteran of the Trump administration and longtime ally of the president who was convicted of lying to Congress and witness tampering. “In the United States of America, we do not prosecute people based on politics, and we don’t cut them a break based on politics,” Zelinsky, who worked on Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s team and is currently serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland, told the committee. “But that wasn’t what happened here. Roger Stone was treated differently because of politics.”

Elias struck a similar theme, testifying that Barr’s personal biases influenced antitrust investigations. Specifically, Elias alleged an abuse of power in probes into the marijuana industry and an agreement between the state of California and four automakers at the behest of the attorney general. “Personal dislike of an industry is not a valid basis upon which to ground an antitrust investigation,” Elias asserted.

The testimony of Elias and Zelinsky had the effect of completing the legal portrait of Barr—a person for whom there is no essential difference between belief in a strong executive and personally serving Donald Trump. It’s breathtaking in its completeness. There’s no bulwark against corruption—seemingly in Barr’s theory, the executive branch, of which the Department of Justice is a part, can take what it wants.


When Trump tapped Barr to lead the Justice Department, the pick drew praise from some, though he was viewed with skepticism from others. Having previously served as attorney general under George H.W. Bush, Barr was painted as an institutionalist who would hold his ground against Trump and restore the reputation of the department, tarnished under his predecessor Jeff Sessions. While there was widespread acknowledgment that Barr held an expansive view of executive power, few predicted his evolution into one of the president’s top defenders and loyalists. But it would be more apt to describe Barr as an opportunist who found in Donald Trump the perfect vehicle to empower the executive branch than a Trumpian lackey—even if in practice the outcomes might seem indistinguishable. Barr’s ideology just so happens to match Trump’s politics.

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement that Zelinsky “did not have any discussion with the Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney, or any other member of political leadership at the Department about the sentencing” and his testimony was “based on his own interpretation of events and hearsay (at best), not firsthand knowledge.” The Office of Professional Responsibility did look into the antitrust division’s probes of the marijuana company mergers and found no wrongdoing.

Barr set the tone for an unexpected Trumpian tenure in his handling of the Mueller report last year, when he chose to release a four-page letter effectively absolving the president and his campaign of wrongdoing. To many, the Mueller report moment marks when Barr crossed the Rubicon. The letter drew a rebuke from Mueller and his team. At the time, Barr was cast as doing Trump’s bidding and whitewashing the Russia investigation. But in hindsight, his motives appear more insidious. His message wasn’t that Trump didn’t obstruct justice, but a president can’t obstruct justice. 

A series of decisions in the ensuing months have contributed to a narrative that Barr and Trump have politicized the Justice Department to pursue their own ends. It has become clear that Barr’s approach is no-holds-barred and seeks to make the presidency stronger; Trump just happens to be president. Between their accounts on Wednesday, Zelinsky and Elias added heft to these criticisms and provided evidence of a growing rot within the Justice Department as a result. “We’re now seeing continuous, unbridled, and apparently shameless effort to corrupt the Department of Justice and undermine its governing principles by manipulating cases and installing pliable officials for political purposes,” Laufman said. (A Vanity Fair request for comment was not returned by press time.)

In the Trump era, Barr critics charge, there is no longer one rule of law. “The worst part is the Department of Justice has long been able to pride itself on being above politics and on the notion of equal justice before the law. Instead, Attorney General Barr seems to be running the place as if equal justice applies to some people, but just not to Trump’s friends,” Bennett Capers, a former SDNY prosecutor, told me. “We all recall Trump telling an audience of law enforcement officers on Long Island a few years ago that when they throw ‘thugs’ into the back of ‘a paddy wagon,’ ‘Please, don’t be too nice.’ He was talking about the rest of us. For his friends, it’s the red-carpet treatment.”

Along with Zelinsky’s claim that the upper echelons of the Justice Department pushed for a more lenient sentence for Stone because of politics, many see former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s case as further evidence of politics infecting cases. Last month, Barr instructed the DOJ to drop the prosecution against Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the former Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. In a major victory for Flynn, a federal appeals court sided with the Justice Department and ordered U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to abandon the Flynn case. (The ruling can still be overturned.) Both examples certainly benefit Trump, but a critical through line is the executive branch trumping the courts.

“Barr is doing enormous damage to the reputation of the Justice Department for evenhanded and nonpartisan law enforcement,” Washington, D.C., defense attorney William Jeffress, who worked on the Valerie Plame leak case, told me. “Reading Zelinsky’s opening statement, together with the motion filed in the Flynn case, makes me think of how many career prosecutors must be disappointed and ashamed at how far and how often DOJ has gone to protect the president and his friends in cases where ordinary people would get the book thrown at them.”

Barr defenders say he is course-correcting and push back on the argument that the attorney general is politicizing the department. “The politics was in the previous administration,” Republican Congressman Jim Jordan said during the Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday. “Bill Barr is doing the Lord’s work trying to clean it up so that it doesn’t happen again.”

To achieve his goal of expanding the powers of the presidency, Barr has effectively relied upon removal precedents and a key authority bestowed on the executive branch in Article II of the Constitution: the Appointments Clause. A string of personnel decisions have prompted concerns that Barr is strategically installing loyalists in key positions throughout the Justice Department. Earlier this year, Barr broke with standard department practice when he named Timothy Shea, then his counsel at the department, as acting temporary U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia when Jessie Liu left the post. (Shea notably recommended on the lighter sentence for Stone and filed a motion to dismiss the charges against Flynn.)
Then on Friday, Barr announced that Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, was leaving his post and Jay Clayton, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission would be appointed to lead the powerful office. But Berman refused to resign his post. The resulting standoff ended when Trump officially fired Berman. Questions have since been raised as to whether Berman’s ouster was due to ongoing investigations involving individuals with ties to Trump, including the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. (“I recognize that the nomination process is multifaceted and uncertain, and it is clear the process does not require my current attention,” Clayton said Thursday during previously scheduled testimony before the House Financial Services Committee.)

“They don’t want good Republicans,” former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman, told me, noting that Berman is a registered Republican who had reportedly donated to Trump’s campaign. “They want loyalists and loyalists here means people who will distort the facts and the law in order to serve the president. They want Roy Cohn and many Roy Cohns.” As career prosecutors are either purged or flee from the Justice Department, Litman likened the dynamic to Rosemary’s Baby. “Like, holy shit, you go to the top and the guy is with the devil. You’re completely trapped and you know, it’s not supposed to be that way,” he told me. “It’s so disheartening. It’s also damaging to the root and branch and DNA of everything the department stands for.”

Democrats and Barr critics see little recourse to address what they see as the politicization of the Justice Department. A Barr impeachment has largely been written off as a politically viable option. Barr, through a spokesperson, did agree to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on July 28. If Barr does appear—a major if—it would mark the first time the attorney general will have testified before the House since his appointment early last year and will likely devolve into little more than a partisan bickering match. But it is clear Barr, leaving a politicized and hollowed-out Justice Department in his path, seeks to empower the presidency, not genuflect before Congress. The only real remedy is to elect a different president who won’t allow or encourage their top lawyer to run roughshod over America’s system of checks and balances.

“The president’s sacred duty is to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” Neal Katyal, who served as acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, said. “[Trump] has completely fallen down on the job and is taking the Justice Department down with him. It’s disgraceful.”


February 20, 2020

Bernard Kerik, Sidekick of Giuliani who kept his Secrets and Now The Payoff Time



              
 Bernie Kerik Former Police Commissioner and Sidekick of who made Him a made man



 
I followed this man's career because I knew he came from not much. Not from being interested in knowledge or studies he split high school and became what someone who needs to support himself but can't work for a big company, a driver. 

One day he hit it off by picking up a customer by the name of Rudy. Heavy drinker and smoker of smelly cigars, a womanizer who was always looking for the type of man that could see and never open his mouth.  An academic with all types of recommendations will not do anything for Rudy.  Rudy came from the justice dept with a record of convicting Mafiosos's that the FBI had already wire typed everything from their toilets to where they sat down at Prospect Park in Brooklyn. 
The FBI had taken advantage of the new electronic medium like never before. Now they had mini microphones powerful enough to have their signal go through any wall up to the roof of the building or the white van park outside on the street. 

All the prosecutor had to do was, know the law and secondly have someone to type indictments. Easy if you are not afraid these guys are going to come after your wife and family. But Rudy only had one kid, And a wife he did not care about and was cheating on her as much as he ate his pastrami on Rye no pickles most days. If they hit on her, it will solved what could be(and the divorce did happen that way) very open break up and divorce down the road. For the kid? Who kills an 8-year-old fat smart ass kid? No one. Not in New York.

All you have to do in New York is have lady luck smile on you and connect you with someone who will make you. Make you an individual that is respected and earn plenty of money and works for someone people hate but are afraid of. It happens. 

I happened to work for a midsize company that had a buyer who happens to have a similar background except he was a jew who used to live in Egypt before he was kicked out. He left and had to invent itself all over again. He became Mr. Knowledge in France and just by working by an international company as a salesman, he was able to use that to come to New York. He understood when someone had the knowledge he needed in the job and could be trusted, that was the man he wanted by him. Had it not been for him I might have gone back to be a Patrolman which I never finished after the exam and interviewed, because I was gay and felt people would find out. But my promotions in the company we both worked brought us together. And later to become his assistant put me in the path to finish my career in a good ending if it wasn't that I got sick. Thank that experience I was able to ask for my salary and become on exec in the other companies I worked. 

This was Bernard Kerik. When Rudy when up so did Kerik. He was everything Rudy needed. Except the man was dirty, which Rudy had to know. Everything was kept a secret until Rudy left as mayor. No more with a  protector so the leaks started coming out. From the time He was made by Rudy Corrections commissioner to be Rudy's sidekick, there was stuff coming out. 

This man disappointed many but many people already knew, just by reading the papers in the stuff he was involved with. I don't think he ever disappointed Rudy and we can see it now Rudy intervening with Trump to let him loose. 


Bernard B. Kerik, a onetime New York police commissioner and close ally of former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, was one of 11 people to receive executive grants of clemency from President Trump on Tuesday.

Mr. Kerik was granted a full pardon for his 2010 conviction on eight felonies, including tax fraud and lying to White House officials.

After the pardon, Mr. Kerik, 64, said on Twitter: “There are no words to express my appreciation and gratitude to President Trump.” 

“With the exception of the birth of my children,” he added, “today is one of the greatest days of my life.”

Bernard B. Kerik
@BernardKerik
 Thank you President @realDonaldTrump.
View image on Twitter

Mr. Kerik began his rise to prominence as Mr. Giuliani’s bodyguard and chauffeur during the 1993 mayoral race.

When Mr. Giuliani won, Mr. Kerik’s ascent was swift. His eventual fall was swifter.

Here is a full list of the 11 people receiving pardons or commutations from President Trump Tuesday.]

A swift ascent

A detective at the time of the 1993 campaign, Mr. Kerik had joined the New York Police Department six years earlier after serving as warden of the Passaic County, N.J., jail.

Mr. Giuliani’s victory over the incumbent mayor, David N. Dinkins, vaulted Mr. Kerik, a high school dropout with a scruffy charm, into a series of high-ranking positions in the city’s Department of Correction. 

Eventually, Mr. Giuliani named Mr. Kerik correction commissioner in 1997, and Mr. Kerik won praise for reducing violence in the city’s jails. As evidence of his clout, Mr. Kerik had a city jail in Lower Manhattan named after him. (The name was later changed.)

In 2000, Mr. Giuliani, having been re-elected to a second term, appointed Mr. Kerik as police commissioner. His role as the Police Department’s leader at the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks raised Mr. Kerik’s national profile.

After Mr. Giuliani left office, Mr. Kerik joined the former mayor’s security consulting firm and earned millions of dollars over several years.

A stunning fall

In December 2004, at Mr. Giuliani’s urging, President George W. Bush nominated Mr. Kerik to become homeland security secretary. But within a week, Mr. Kerik had withdrawn his name from consideration, citing what he said were questions about the immigration status of a nanny he had once employed.

The nomination’s collapse was the beginning of the end of Mr. Kerik’s career. It also raised questions about what Mr. Giuliani knew about Mr. Kerik’s background as he pushed him for the cabinet position — and when he named him police commissioner.

In June 2006, Mr. Kerik pleaded guilty in State Supreme Court in the Bronx to two misdemeanors tied to renovations done on his apartment in Riverdale by a New Jersey construction firm suspected of being linked to organized crime. He paid $221,000 in fines and penalties but avoided jail time.

According to a grand jury transcript of Mr. Guiliani’s testimony in the case, he recalled that a prosecutor had told him that the city’s Investigation Department had compiled substantial evidence of Mr. Kerik’s ties to the firm before he was picked to lead the Police Department and that Mr. Giuliani had been briefed on the agency’s findings. 

But Mr. Giuliani testified that he did not recall such a briefing, although he did not deny that it had taken place.

In 2010, in the federal case that yielded the conviction at issue in President Trump’s pardon, Mr. Kerik pleaded guilty to two counts of tax fraud, one count of making a false statement on a loan application and five counts of making false statements to the federal government while being vetted for senior posts. Some of the federal charges stemmed from the apartment renovations.

The judge in the case, Stephen C. Robinson, sentenced Mr. Kerik to four years in prison — more than either the prosecution or defense had recommended. He was released after serving three years.

“I think it’s fair to say that with great power comes great responsibility and great consequences,” Judge Robinson said at the sentencing. “I think the damage caused by Mr. Kerik is in some ways immeasurable.”

Mr. Kerik, a regular guest on Fox News programs, has more recently been in the news for his connection to Lawrence Ray, who is charged with extortion and the sex trafficking of his daughter’s classmates at Sarah Lawrence College. Mr. Ray was the best man at Mr. Kerik’s wedding in 1998.

According to a White House statement, supporters of a pardon for Mr. Kerik included Mr. Giuliani, the Fox News host Geraldo Rivera, the musician Charlie Daniels and Representative Peter King, a Long Island Republican.

William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.

January 8, 2020

Trump'sTrade War Making him Richer with His Lobbyist But Slamming Small Business. Its OK




I can make you rich, just take my University Subject on being a good business person and becoming rich> The  People that hate me say I failed as a rich man, but Can they say that now? I have more money and less than ever in my life. I am have succeeded in being the top person in the world and I made my self getting there.





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Mike Elrod voted for Donald Trump in 2016, hoping for a break from tight government oversight that his business had endured for years, which he often found unreasonable.
“There was a time when every day I dreaded opening the mail,” said Elrod, who founded a small firm in South Carolina called Eccotemp that makes energy-efficient, tankless water heaters. “The Department of Energy would put in an arbitrary rule and then come back the next day and say, ‘You’re not in compliance.’ We had no input into what was changing and when the change was taking place.”
Elrod also thought that big businesses had long been able to buy their way out of problems, either by spending lots of money on compliance or on lobbyists to look for loopholes and apply political pressure. Trump, of course, had promised to address that — to “drain the swamp.” Elrod is in his mid-60s, tall with a white beard and deliberative drawl. He trusted the president even as Trump started a trade war with China, where Elrod manufactures his heaters. The administration said U.S. companies that could prove they had no other source for their imports and whose business would be gravely injured could be spared the punishing tariffs that Trump was imposing. They would simply have to file for an exemption.
“I had every reason to believe they were talking about us,” Elrod said. Eccotemp had spent 15 years developing different models of tankless heaters with manufacturers in China. Simply finding new factories in other countries seemed impossible.
So in the summer of 2018, Elrod settled in at his desk, strewn with brass valves, a pressure tester and a smiling jade Buddha from a Chinese supplier, and began typing. He and his dozen U.S. employees — designers, engineers, salespeople and customer service representatives — operate out of a squat cinder block building in a woodsy suburb of Charleston that used to be a film studio and now doubles as a distribution warehouse.
In letters to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Elrod asked that gas-powered water heaters be exempted from the administration’s 25% tariffs, writing that the cost would be “devastating” for the company’s balance sheet. “We had all the boxes checked,” Elrod said. “Or so I thought.”
The process didn’t go as he expected. It’s the stuff that libertarians like Elrod dread: Low-level staffers with limited industry knowledge issuing seemingly arbitrary decisions that can save or smash a company’s bottom line.
Every few weeks, a list comes out with a new batch of lucky winners, and losers. “Non-electrical wall candelabras, of wood, each with 3 wrought iron candle holders” received a pass, for example, but none with one or two candles.
There is no mechanism for appeals. 

“Devastating to Our Company”

In a letter beginning “Dear Sirs,” Eccotemp founder Mike Elrod requests tariff exclusions, making the case that Asian multinational companies with overseas relationships and production hubs win from tariffs while small businesses and American consumers lose. Read the entire letter. Overall, Trump’s tariffs have not had the effect that the self-described “Tariff Man” promised. Companies have moved to manufacture out of China — and it has mostly gone to Vietnam, Taiwan, and Mexico. Tariffs are chiefly behind a months-long decline in domestic manufacturing, Federal Reserve researchers have found. The total loss of jobs across the economy may be as high as 300,000.

But constantly up-in-the-air trade agreements and the byzantine, opaque exclusion process has been a blessing for one set of players: Washington’s influence industry, including the firms of former Trump officials and allies like inauguration committee chief Brian Ballard, former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and Trump fundraiser Marc Lampkin.
Ballard was once Trump’s lobbyist in Florida. He’s since been dubbed “the most powerful lobbyist in Trump’s Washington.” A cancer therapy firm, Varian Medical Systems, paid Ballard and a colleague $540,000 to lobby the White House, the trade office and Vice President Mike Pence on trade issues, filings show. The outreach included a meeting with Trump’s director of trade and manufacturing policy, Peter Navarro.
Since then, four of Varian’s five exclusion requests have been approved — which, the company said in an SEC filing, boosted revenues by $23 million. (Navarro said he doesn’t intervene in the exclusion process.)
Priebus’ firm, Michael Best Strategies, was hired by a Wisconsin company, Primex, to handle exemptions for its timekeeping and temperature measurement devices. “You’re not gonna do it on your own,” Primex CEO Paul Shekoski said in an interview. “It’s suicide actually.”
Shekoski said he wanted help understanding the process and making sure all the requests were filed correctly. With Michael Best’s guidance, he personally wrote letters to and met with his representatives in Washington.
The collective effort may have made it all the way to the Oval Office. Shekoski said in an email last fall that he heard from his lobbyist at Michael Best, Denise Bode, that Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. cited Primex as an example of a Wisconsin company suffering from tariffs when the senator took the issue to the president. “He not only called USTR, but he was also able to bring our specific case up to Trump directly,” Shekoski said. Bode did not respond to a request for comment, and a Johnson spokesman did not respond to questions about the Trump contact, saying only that Johnson had advocated for many Wisconsin companies.
Days before this story was published, Shekoski denied knowing whether Johnson brought up the issue with Trump. He said he was just trying to give his elected representatives concrete stories about small businesses struggling with tariffs that they could use to advocate for tariff relief.
Lobbying records show that Primex paid Priebus’ firm, Michael Best Strategies, $85,000 in 2018 and 2019 for its services. “I’m not selling access,” Priebus once told Politico. “I’m merely providing strategic advice and helping them handle their problems.” (Neither Priebus nor the White House responded to requests for comment.)
Primex got mixed results, with about half of its 205 exclusion requests granted and half denied.
Disclosure rules don’t require companies to say how much money they’ve spent lobbying on exclusions specifically. But records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show that the number of clients lobbying on tariffs and other trade issues is higher than any year on record. In 2018, the number jumped by 28% to 1,372, and 2019 will significantly exceed that once final figures are in.




Number of Clients Lobbying on Tariffs and Trade Nearly Highest on Record












There is also no comprehensive picture yet of how companies that have hired lobbyists have fared compared with those that haven’t. But there is evidence that agencies have bent the rules. In October, a government watchdog found that Commerce Department officials had secretly changed the rules for one exclusion category after “off-the-record” discussions with a favored company, creating a “perception of undue influence.”
Companies with enough resources and savvy can not only push their own cases, but they can also work to undermine those of competitors. Elrod began to understand that in early August. He had been on the trade office’s website, waiting to see if he would get his exclusion and watching for requests from competitors when he noticed that an industry giant had formally objected to his application.
Rheem Manufacturing Company is a Japanese-owned conglomerate and one of the world’s largest producers of water heaters, including in the United States. It challenged Elrod and a handful of other companies that had claimed they couldn’t find alternative sources for their products outside of China, arguing that Elrod could find suppliers in Japan, Germany and South Korea — or buy from Rheem itself.




“The Allegation Is Unsupported”

Rheem’s response objecting to Eccotemp’s request is written in formal language, complete with citations, and addressed directly to “the Honorable Robert E. Lighthizer,” the U.S. trade representative. Rheem, a Japanese-owned conglomerate, lists several international manufacturers Eccotemp could do business with outside of China, noting Rheem itself also has spare capacity. Read the entire letter.

Elrod quickly fired back with another letter, laying out how difficult and expensive it would be in practice to move production to another country. Amid a rush out of China, factories in Vietnam are holding out for enormous orders and shunning the relatively small quantities that Eccotemp imports. Plus, after developing his heaters over more than a decade with a handful of suppliers, finding one that could meet his exacting standards would require months of tests and new certifications.
That did not sway the government’s trade office, the USTR, which in late September posted a one-page form letter saying that Elrod had failed to demonstrate his products weren’t available outside of China. Thinking that his original ask for exclusions might have been too broad, Elrod then filed individual requests for several of his models, hoping the government might exempt at least a few of them.




“My Company Must Compete With Multinationals”

Elrod fights back, saying that mimicking the supply chain of a company like Rheem is “financially impossible” for Eccotemp. Read the entire letter.

But Rheem had reinforcements. New comments in opposition arrived on the letterhead of King & Spalding, a law firm with sleek offices across the street from the White House and a complement of former government officials. Stephen Vaughn had left the firm in 2017 to serve on the administration’s “beachhead team” at USTR, served as the agency’s general counsel — where he oversaw the exclusion process — and then rejoined the firm in 2019.
Fees paid for legal services aren’t public, but records show that Rheem spent $610,000 on lobbying on all federal issues in 2018. Neither Rheem nor Vaughn responded to requests for comment.
“I don’t have anyone on Pennsylvania Avenue,” Elrod said. “That letter probably cost them more than we’ve spent on legal expenses in the last five years.”




“Therefore, Should Be Denied”

Attorneys from King & Spalding, a law firm with offices across the street from the White House, argue to Lighthizer that Eccotemp’s individual requests contain no new evidence that it can’t source its products outside of China. Read the entire letter.

His concern growing, Elrod met a staffer in the district office of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and asked for a letter of support. He inquired with USTR about testifying at one of the agency’s multiday hearings on its sweeping tariff action.
Nothing worked. He didn’t make the witness list for USTR’s hearings, but the head of Rheem’s air conditioning division did. South Carolina’s Department of Commerce wrote letters on behalf of large employers like the fiberglass manufacturer China Jushi, but for the first few rounds of tariffs, no letters for small companies appear in the public record. (A spokeswoman said the state had written letters for “companies of various sizes and with varying numbers of employees.”)
Graham, who had filed seven letters supporting companies with a presence in South Carolina — several of them multinational or foreign-owned — also didn’t help.
“Lindsey Graham really did kick it to the curb,” Elrod said. (A spokesman for Graham did not respond to a request for further explanation.)
Finally, in November, the trade office rejected all of Elrod’s requests for relief in the same terse fashion it had the first. “After careful consideration, your request was denied because the request failed to show that this particular product is available only from China,” the letter read.
As a result, Eccotemp would get back none of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in duties that it had already paid out, and the bleeding would continue. Its profit margins vaporized and its employee headcount sank by about 30%, as the company opted not to replace departing staff.




 It’s not often that K Street gets handed the type of business development 
opportunity that Trump’s volatile trade policy offers.
With new tariffs being announced and lifted on a few days notice and trade agreements constantly being renegotiated, companies have scrambled to protect themselves. Tariff exclusions are highly sought after because they offer a huge competitive advantage — especially if a rival still has to pay. The review of exclusions is happening on a compressed time schedule, with little warning before tariffs and a complex set of rules that few people understand go into effect. And there are no second chances.
“When you’re running a process that has no appellate review, there’s a lot of room for questionable behavior because there’s no one really checking the process,” said one former USTR official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s common knowledge in town that the best way to get a leg up on an exclusion request is to get a Republican House or Senate member to call the White House.”
Members of Congress frequently work the bureaucracy on their constituents’ behalf, but there’s a particularly large pile of money on the line with trade. So far, Trump’s new tariffs amount to an $88 billion annual tax increase for U.S. companies, according to the Tax Foundation.





Just understanding the complexities of the process can require a specialized trade lawyer. Often, multiple importers will request exclusions for similar products. A reviewer at USTR’s Washington office might grant one company’s request and reject another’s, but anyone may take advantage of the resulting exclusion and request a refund of all the duties it paid on that product, which means keeping a close eye on the Federal Register. (The Commerce Department runs the exclusion process for steel and aluminum tariffs, and under its rules, exclusions are company-specific.)
Companies that can’t afford their own lobbyists often go through their trade associations, which can help open doors on the Hill on behalf of an industry’s interests. Still, even the trade groups are often baffled at why decisions come down the way they do. The National Marine Manufacturers Association has seen confoundingly mixed results — a fish finder is excluded while a depth finder isn’t, for example.
“We can’t make heads or tails out of why that happens,” said John-Michael Donahue, the association’s communications director. “I don’t think there’s a lack of help from Congress being loud about this issue, it’s more getting through to the administration and figuring out what the next step is in their mind.”
Some companies don’t need members of Congress or trade associations to make their case. Apple, for example, got 10 out of the 15 exclusions it asked for on items like computer chargers and mice, with 11 yet to be decided. The company spends more than $6 million on lobbying overall each year. Its CEO, Tim Cook, has met with Trump several times and the president cited Apple’s exclusion approvals during a public event at its Texas production facility.
“It’s difficult for me to see how this is a fair and transparent process,” said Nicole Bivens Collinson, head of the international trade and government relations practice for Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg. “When you’ve got Tim Cook who’s able to go in and meet with the president and get an exclusion, and someone who’s a very small company trying to submit through the regular process, and this is going to have a huge impact on their business.”
The federal government last set up an exclusion process in 2001, when George W. Bush imposed tariffs of up to 30% on $15 billion worth of steel imports in an attempt to bolster flagging mills. About half of the goods originally covered by the measure were exempted, which was one reason why the tariffs ultimately didn’t arrest the steel industry’s decline.
Trump’s tariffs are much less discriminate. Hefty new duties now cover about $364 billion worth of imports or 12% of the overseas products Americans buy in a year. The tariffs don’t just fall on finished goods, like toasters or water heaters. They also cover many of product components, from motherboards to heat exchangers.




Samples of Eccotemp’s tankless water heaters, which are manufactured into finished goods in China. Moving production to another country would require months of tests and new certifications. (Leslie McKellar for ProPublica)

Because they’re so sweeping, the Commerce Department and USTR have been flooded with clemency pleas. As of mid-December, steel and aluminum users had requested exclusions on about 152,000 specific products. With two-thirds of the requests decided, about 79% had been approved. Importers of goods from China had requested about 44,000 exclusions, of which 43% had been decided and 35% approved, with a final round of exclusions underway.
For the first two rounds of China tariffs, which are worth about $50 billion in imports, the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated that USTR had excluded products worth about $12.8 billion, in what it called “a substantial off-budget concession to lucky firms.”
Many of those affected simply submitted no requests, figuring they had slim chances of success. A handful of businesses submitted thousands, especially industrial suppliers that globally source tools and parts and distribute them to U.S. manufacturers since a separate application was needed for every possible product variation. A single company — AEP Holdings, a private equity-owned supplier of aftermarket car parts — filed more than 10,000 exclusion requests. So far, about 2,600 have been denied and only a handful approved.
Adjudicating each request is an enormous undertaking, and the federal government was ill-prepared.
The Commerce Department at first had projected that it would see only about 4,500 applications — a threshold that was passed almost instantly. According to a regulatory filing, USTR estimated that each exclusion request would take applicants two hours to prepare, at a cost of $200 each, and two and a half hours for USTR to process. For the China tariffs, adjudicating cases is expected to take 175,000 staff hours over the course of a year, at a cost of $9.7 million.
To keep up, agencies have had to borrow staff from other departments and brought on dozens of contractors, giving them a crash course in tariff codes. (“The internet is useful to research the product,” reads one set of instructions for reviewers obtained by ProPublica.) There is no hard completion deadline, and companies can only track their applications’ progress via an online portal.
Very often, at least with the steel and aluminum process run by the Commerce Department, it was hard to believe that parties were being considered equally.
Christine McDaniel, an economist and a senior fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, has found that requests are rarely granted if objections are filed. A handful of steel producers have objected to thousands of applications, claiming that the importers should get no relief because U.S. manufacturers could make the necessary items. But McDaniel poked a hole in their argument: Added together, the producers’ claims far exceed what they’re really able to produce.





“It’s nearly costless for these guys to file objections, but the objection can prevent a company from getting its steel,” McDaniel said.
Capitol Hill has noticed. In early 2018, after receiving complaints from steel importers, Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., sent letters to the Commerce Department detailing problems with evaluations. The process had been a “masterclass in government inefficiency and plagued by maddening inconsistency,” she wrote in April. After receiving no formal responses, on Oct. 17 she wrote in exasperation, “It is difficult not to believe that there is a finger on the scale favoring objectors.”
In one letter, Walorski cited the case of National Tool & Manufacturing Company, a 45-person firm based in East Dundee, Illinois, that found itself in a fight with a multinational metals titan.
National Tool requested an exemption on a specialty grade of steel it buys in Italy and distributes to companies that make injection molds. EDRO Specialty Steels, which is owned by the Austrian conglomerate Voestalpine AG, objected on the grounds that it could produce the steel National Tool needed in the U.S. National Tool’s request was denied, so it had to keep eating the 25% tariff.
Then, EDRO itself requested exclusions for the raw material it imports from Slovenia to produce its proposed substitute — showing that the product it said it could supply wasn’t entirely American-made after all. (EDRO said this summary was “incomplete,” but declined to comment further.)
National Tool President Eric Sandberg suspects his exclusion request never had a chance.
“It truly is one of these big vs. small battles,” Sandberg said. “Because one of those big three companies wrote a letter, done. Without investigation, it was just done. It really feels like the government is working against you.”
In late October, the Commerce Department wrote back to Rep. Walorski, tersely rejecting her complaint. But Walorski’s concern was merited. On Oct. 28, the agency’s inspector general issued an alert finding that steel producers had back-channeled communications with Commerce Department staff that swayed their decisions. For example, the inspector general found that criteria for evaluating exclusions had been changed at an objector’s request before decisions were posted publicly.
That apparent bias has percolated out to some Washington insiders, who see the steel and aluminum exclusion process as so slanted toward U.S. producers that it’s not worth the trouble. “I wouldn’t take anybody’s money against the U.S. steel industry,” said one prominent D.C. lobbyist who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We say no a lot.”
Throughout his career, Mike Elrod has tried to follow the incentives that American trade policy has created for U.S. businesses.
In the 1990s, he owned a factory that made industrial rainwear. After China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, which locked in low tariff rates, Elrod’s biggest client decided to relocate production there. “It killed the company,” Elrod said. “There was nowhere else to go.”
After that, Elrod decided to start importing from China himself, setting up a business that manufactured precision metal components before finding a type of water heater that he thought would sell well in the U.S. Founded in 2006, Eccotemp grew steadily, adding people, new models, and distribution centers overseas, to the point where Elrod started thinking about setting up assembly operations in the U.S. Even if labor is more expensive, not having to wait four months for new orders to ship across the world would allow him to more closely control inventory levels and turn around design changes faster.
Instead of accelerating that plan, however, Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports took it off the drawing board. If the only place to get components is China, the duties would make bringing them into the U.S. for final assembly cost-prohibitive.




Elrod in Eccotemp’s lobby. He has spent 15 years developing the company’s products. 
(Leslie McKellar for ProPublica)  They don’t want to walk away from the brand they’ve built, 
or put their employees out of work. “We don’t have the luxury to say, ‘We’re going out 
of business,’” Bolognue said. “We just don’t make as much money as we used to.”
The tariffs have also created other problems, like Chinese manufacturers selling directly into the U.S. on Amazon or Alibaba rather than going through companies like Eccotemp. They still have to pay tariffs, but they can undercut prices by avoiding one layer of markups.
Since the tariff decisions came down, Elrod has moved to Georgia and isn’t as involved in day-to-day operations. But he’s still heavily invested in the company, financially and emotionally. That’s why it was particularly devastating when the tariffs killed a potential deal to sell Eccotemp to a private equity firm, which would have allowed it to keep growing while ensuring his retirement.
“That’s usually what people see as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” Elrod said. “My net worth, you’re sitting in it. I don’t have a 401(k). Everything that I’ve ever done has flown back into this business. I don’t have enough runway to do it again.”
Elrod says that despite it all, he still plans to vote for Trump in November, citing the administration’s friendlier stance to his company on regulations. As for draining the swamp, Elrod doesn’t blame the president.
“Maybe if Trump moved the capital to Dallas and put everyone with a DC address on the Do Not Fly List, maybe,” Elrod said. “You get all the justice you can afford.”

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