The Manafort Indictment: one charge is bogus

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The Department of Justice unveiled indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort today (Oct. 30).

The indictment contains 12 counts. conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.

One charge in particular intrigued me, that Manafort acted as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal under the the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), enacted in 1938 to counter Nazi propagandists and amended in 1966 to regulate political and economic lobbyists.

The fact is FARA is a paper tiger, frequently ignored and rarely enforced.

FARA requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities. There are about  2,000 foreign agents registered under the Act representing more than 100 countries.

The Center for Public Integrity released a study, “The hired guns who advocate for the world’s worst human rights abusers” – a research report that highlighted the PR firms that make the most money representing clients that violate human rights.

The study said FARA records revealed that “that the 50 countries with the worst human rights violation records have spent $168 million on American lobbyists and public relations specialists since 2010.”

The fact is, Washington, D.C. is packed with public relations professionals and lobbyists who work for foreign governments, many of them with reputations for corruption and human rights abuses.

Another fact is that the registration process under FARA  is often altogether ignored or treated as an afterthought, with many registrants filing retroactive registrations, or only supplying partial submissions.

An internal DoJ audit of the NSD’s enforcement and administration of FARA, conducted in 2016, found that only 23 percent of filings from 2013 to 2015 were filed on time—62 percent were submitted late.[6] Likewise, only 44 percent submitted their supplemental statements in a timely fashion, and 10 percent did not submit any follow-up supplemental materials.

“The Congress didn’t necessarily want to have a strong enforcement mechanism, ” said Kenneth Doyle, the Senior Editor for Bloomberg’s Money & Politics Report. ” There are principal reasons in terms of the First Amendment and not wanting to be too tough on people’s ability to petition the government, and then there are practical reasons of not wanting to be too tough on lobbyists who are important to the way that Washington works. I think they did it deliberately, saying, ‘Well, we’ll have a disclosure system, but it’s not going to have a strong enforcement mechanism and we’ll see what happens.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wells Fargo is a criminal enterprise

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Wells Fargo is guilty of serial malfeasance, and there’s reason to suspect more down the road.

In 2015, the Department of Justice’s U.S. Trustee Program entered into a national settlement agreement with Wells Fargo Bank N.A. (Wells Fargo) requiring that the bank pay $81.6 million for its repeated failure to provide 68,000 homeowners with legally required notices related to mortgage payments. Wells Fargo’s actions violated federal bankruptcy rules, thereby denying homeowners the opportunity to challenge the accuracy of mortgage payment increases.

“When creditors fail to comply with the bankruptcy laws and rules, they compromise the integrity of the bankruptcy system and must be held accountable.,” said a Department of Justice release on the settlement.

In the summer of 2016, Wells Fargo admitted to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) that it improperly charged customers for collateral-protection insurance on their cars financed through the bank. In July 2017, the bank said it had found 800,000 customers potentially affected by the improper charges, with 274,000 of them forced into delinquency on their car loans as a result and 25,000 cars wrongly repossessed. Wells Fargo said it would refund customers about $80 million in charges.

In Sept. 2016, Wells Fargo settled for $24.1 million with the Justice Department and the OCC over the improper repossession of cars owned by members of the U.S military.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act requires a court order to repossess a vehicle if a service member took out a loan and made a payment before entering military service.

“We all have an obligation to ensure that the women and men who serve our country in the armed forces are afforded all of the rights they are due,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker of the Central District of California told the Los Angeles Times. “Wells Fargo failed in that obligation.”

That same month, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $185 million to settle lawsuits related to the bank’s creation of customer accounts without the customers being aware of the activity. The sham accounts were created by employees under pressure to perform or be fired.

Wells Fargo said initially that the practice involved the creation by employees of up to 2.1 million sham accounts. In Aug. 2017, Wells Fargo said it found 1.4 million more sham bank and credit card accounts, bringing the total up to 3.5 million.

As Bloomberg’s Matt Levine put it, “…the Wells Fargo scandal took a lot of coordinated nefarious effort.”

Wells Fargo also found that thousands of customers were enrolled in online bill pay programs without their authorization. Wells Fargo said it found 528,000 potentially unauthorized online bill pay enrollments. Wells Fargo employees set up the accounts to meet product sales goals. In this case, the bank said it would return $910,000 to people enrolled in those accounts without their permission.

Wells Fargo is guilty of a gross betrayal of its customers’ trust

And Warren Buffet, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, a large investor in Wells Fargo, expects the bad news to keep coming. “There’s never just one cockroach in the kitchen,” he told CNBC on Squawk Alley, a CNBC news program, in August 2017.