Source: U.S. Army National Guard/Col. Steve Rowe
- In a call obtained by Politico, a senior FEMA official said Army National Guard deployment would come to a “hard stop” on June 24.
- This coincides with the expiration of a federal order deploying the Guard in response to the coronavirus, though President Donald Trump did extend that order once.
- Still, many veterans have expressed concern because Trump’s extension is set to expire one day short of when thousands of active duty Guard members would be able to qualify for retirement benefits, as well as educational benefits under the G.I. Bill.
Thousands to Fail to Qualify for G.I. Benefits
More than 40,000 Army National Guard members have been deployed across the United States to provide backup for states fighting the coronavirus pandemic, but now, a scheduled “hard stop” to their deployments could leave thousands unable to access crucial benefits.
Notably, that would include aspects such as early retirement benefits and education benefits granted under the post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
To access those benefits, Guard members must log 90 days of active duty, but the current federal order expires on June 24, meaning thousands of Guard members would have only logged 89 days, one day short of the threshold. That’s because many of these troops were deployed in late March.
According to a call obtained by Politico, there is reason to believe that the order may not be extended to give those troops the ability to access their benefits. In that call, a senior Federal Emergency Management Agency official says the Trump Administration will reportedly put a “hard stop” on deployments on June 24.
This would mean that not only would states see an abrupt loss of crucial frontline workers, but the Trump administration would also likely face questions about withholding access to their benefits. According to Politico, in this call, that FEMA official admits as much, reportedly telling dozens of colleagues that this move would require a delicate messaging strategy.
“We would greatly benefit from unified messaging regarding the conclusion of their services prior to hitting the 90-day mark and the retirement benefit implications associated with it,” the official said.
Currently, Guard members have been deployed across 44 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia to help with testing people for the coronavirus, as well as to trace the spread of infections. Part of their duties also includes decontaminating nursing homes and setting up field hospitals.
In fact, their deployment has been extremely valuable to understaffed and underfunded state public health agencies trying to contain outbreaks. It’s also the largest domestic deployment since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Why Can’t Troops Just Pick Up An Extra Day?
On the surface, picking up an extra day of work to obtain those qualifications doesn’t sound too daunting, but for these Guard members, without federal orders, that would be impossible.
That’s because all 90 days of required active duty need to be from federal deployments.
For example, Guard members must serve twenty years before they can qualify for pension at age 60; however, for every 90 days they’ve served during a federal emergency, they can move up that retirement by three months.
But the key phrase here is “during a federal emergency.” State deployments don’t count, and that’s even if states decide they need to keep troops around after June 24.
All of that then means that to see these benefits, Guard members would have to wait until their next federal deployment. Since federal emergencies obviously aren’t planned, it’s unknown how earlier or how late that could come.
Will the Trump Administration Issue an Extension?
Another major question looming for many Guard members is if the Trump administration will issue an extension so they can see these benefits without having to wait indefinitely.
Multiple governors and lawmakers from other states have asked the White House to extend its federal order, arguing that pulling the National Guard out of states too soon could contribute to a possible second wave of infections.
President Donald Trump’s original order was scheduled to expire on May 31.
In early April, federal lawmakers from states like New Hampshire, Connecticut, West Virginia, and Illinois all sought an extension through the fall. On April 29, Colorado’s entire congressional delegation joined the chorus by asking Trump for an extension through the rest of the year.
While Trump did issue an extension on May 8, it was actually only for 24 days. Very unusually here, that meant this deployment was scheduled to end in the middle of the week.
“It seemed kind of weird to me,” retired Brigadier General and president of the National Guard Association, J. Roy Robinson said to Politico. “It’s a Wednesday. And it also coincides with 89 days of deployment for any soldiers who went on federal status at the beginning. I was getting all kind[s] of calls about it and I said, ‘It’s probably just a coincidence.’ But in the back of my mind, I know better. They’re screwing the National Guard members out of the status they should have.”
U.S. Representative from New York and National Guard captain Max Rose has also intensely criticized of the move, calling it the “definition of heartless.”
“In peacetime, we should never balance our budget on the backs of our soldiers, so why anyone would think this is okay to do in the middle of a wartime effort is beyond human comprehension,” Rose said in a statement.
“This decision must be reversed not only because it is deeply unpatriotic, but also economically unsound and puts our gains against COVID-19 at risk for some short-term, foolish budgetary gimmick.”
While top National Guard and other federal officials on that call didn’t dispute the June 24 cutoff or bring up the possibility of an extension, a spokesperson for the National Guard has said that a decision to extend deployments could still be made in the coming weeks.
At the same time, the National Guard’s Hall has seemingly countered by saying that the 90-day threshold is cumulative and that Guard members can pick up that final day upon the next federal deployment.
An abrupt end to National Guard deployment could also create an expensive hole for states to have to attempt to fill.
Reportedly, it costs $9 million a month to support 1,000 active duty members.
Because of that, the National Guard Association has warned that without federal orders and funding, most states won’t be able to “support significant Guard deployments.”
That would, in turn, potentially create an even bigger problem because for the members that states can’t support, they may actually be taken out of the field before June 24. This is because National Guard members will be required to self-quarantine for two weeks before returning to civilian life.
Pelosi Reverses Course, Signals Openness to Stock Trading Ban for Congress
The move comes as public and bipartisan support for legislation banning Congress members from stock trading has grown in recent weeks.
Pelosi Backtracks on Member Trading
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) on Thursday signaled openness to legislation that would ban members of Congress from trading stocks, reversing her previous position on the matter.
“I do come down always in favor of trusting our members,” Pelosi said at a press conference. “If the impression that is given by some that somebody is doing insider trading, that’s a Justice Department issue and that has no place in any of this.”
“To give a blanket attitude of ‘We can’t do this and we can’t do,’ because we can’t be trusted, I just don’t buy into that. But if members want to do that, I’m okay with that,” she continued.
The speaker’s remarks come as she has faced mounting backlash for voicing opposition to such a ban.
“We are a free market economy,” she told reporters when asked about the matter last month. “They should be able to participate in that.”
While Pelosi herself does not trade, her husband has invested millions in stocks. Those trades have been made public under the 2012 STOCK Act, which has required Congress members and their spouses to disclose when they buy and sell stocks for the last decade.
But the law has a mixed track record. A recent investigation by Insider found that “dozens of lawmakers and 182 senior congressional staff” have violated the law.
The act also came under intense scrutiny after financial disclosures filed by lawmakers exposed that members of both parties made trades in 2020 that benefited their portfolios after receiving early briefings on the seriousness of the pandemic.
The Justice Department reviewed some of the cases, but it ultimately did not bring any charges.
Momentum Grows for Congressional Ban
In recent weeks, pressure to reform the STOCK Act has been growing both among the public and in Congress.
Proponents argue that Congress members should be banned from trading stocks altogether to ensure they do not have conflicts of interest or use their access to classified briefings to make money.
According to a new poll from the progressive firm Data for Progress, 67% of voters support a ban. That number rose to 74% when the respondents were given arguments both for and against the idea.
In Congress, there is widespread bipartisan support for legislation to impose stricter regulations, including among top leadership.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) has reportedly said he is considering banning members from trading if Republicans win control of the House and select him as Speaker in 2022.
“I cannot imagine being a Speaker of the House with the power of what can come before committee, you name them and what can come to the floor and trading millions of dollars worth of options,” he told NPR earlier this month. “I just don’t think the American people think that’s right.”
Members of both parties have already put forth proposals. Last week, Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Mark Kelly (D-Az.) introduced legislation that would effectively ban lawmakers, as well as their spouses and dependents, from buying and selling stocks.
The same day, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) rolled out a very similar bill, though his version would not include dependents.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Hill) (Business Insider)
Supreme Court Allows Release of Jan. 6 Documents in Major Loss for Trump
The high court’s decision initiates the release of White House documents that the former president had attempted to block the Jan. 6 investigation committee from viewing.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected former President Donald Trump’s efforts to block the White House from handing over records to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Trump filed a lawsuit against the panel and the National Archives to prevent the committee from seeing key documents, testimonies, and other evidence lawmakers had requested.
In the suit, he argued that the records were protected by executive privilege, which he said still applied to him even though he’s not president anymore, and despite the fact that President Joe Biden decided not to exercise his executive privilege over the documents.
Trump also claimed that the information has “no reasonable connection to the events of that day” or “any conceivable legislative purpose.”
In an 8-1 decision with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, the Supreme Court rejected the effort to block the records from the committee until the issue is resolved by the courts — a process that could take months if not years.
In their ruling, the justices wrote that there are “serious and substantial concerns” regarding whether a former president can obtain a court order to prevent the disclosure of records, especially when the incumbent president waived their right to exercise executive privilege over said documents.
However, they still agreed with the determination by an appeals court that Trump’s claim of privilege over the documents would fail “even if he were the incumbent.”
Records Handed Over to Committee
According to reports, within just hours of the ruling, the National Archives began sending the roughly 800 pages of documents to the Jan. 6 committee.
The documents have not been made public, and it remains unclear if and when they will be.
What is known is the nature of the content that the committee has requested, including records detailing all of Trump’s movements and meetings on Jan. 6.
Notably, the lawmakers also requested information about plans by the administration to undermine Congress’s confirmation of the electoral college vote and Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn the results of the elections.
Also unknown is what the panel will do with the documents if it finds damning evidence. While the committee’s powers are limited in scope, it could make a criminal referral to the Justice Department, which has its own ongoing probe into the insurrection and the events that preceded it.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Associated Press) (The Washington Post)
NY Attorney General Says Investigation of Trump Business Found “Significant Evidence” of Fraud
The state attorney general’s office accused the former president and his family business of falsely inflating the value of assets and personal worth to lenders, the IRS, and insurance brokers.
New York Attorney General’s Filing
New York Attorney General Letitia James announced late Tuesday she had “significant evidence” that former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization “falsely and fraudulently” misrepresented the value of assets “to financial institutions for economic benefit.”
The allegations mark the first time James has made specific accusations against Trump and his business. They come as part of a nearly 160-page filing asking a judge to order the former president — along with Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — to comply with subpoenas for the investigation after the family sued James to block her from questioning them.
The filing claims that Trump and the company inflated the value of six properties, including several golf courses and Trump’s own penthouse in Trump Tower, on financial statements to obtain favorable loans, tax deductions, and insurance coverage.
The document adds that many of the financial statements were “generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared.”
James outlined several specific examples, such as a financial statement where the value of Trump’s Seven Springs estate in Westchester was boosted because it listed seven mansions on the property worth $61 million that did not actually exist.
That resulted in Trump receiving millions of dollars in tax deductions on that property, as well as another in Los Angeles.
In another notable instance, the attorney general’s office said that the $327 million value of Trump’s penthouse in Trump Tower was calculated off a financial statement that falsely reported his home was nearly triple its actual size.
While the statement claimed the apartment was 30,000 square feet, Trump had signed documents stating it was actually 10,996 square feet.
Alleged Direct Involvement
The allegation regarding the apartment is especially significant because it directly ties Trump himself to the accusations of financial wrongdoing. It is also not the only instance where Trump was implicated.
The filing additionally asserts that Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg — who was indicted last summer on multiple criminal charges relating to the business’ tax dealings — implied the former president was involved in finalizing the false valuations.
According to the documents, Weisselberg “testified that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump discussed valuations with him and that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump reviewed the Statement of Financial Condition for a particular year before it was finalized.”
Another top Trump Organization executive also testified that he was under the impression Trump reviewed the statements before they were finalized.
While the filing provides less direct links to Trump’s children, it does detail their involvement. Specifically, it alleges that Ivanka Trump rented an apartment at Trump Park Avenue and was given an option to buy it for $8.5 million, despite the fact that the property was valued at $25 million.
It also connected Donald Trump Jr. to some of the properties flagged by claiming investigators found evidence he “was consulted” on the Statements of Financial Condition.
Citing these connections, James argued in a series of tweets Tuesday that it is necessary for her inquiry to question Trump and his two children on their alleged involvement.
“We are taking legal action to force Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to comply with our investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial dealings,” she wrote. “No one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them.”
The former president has not yet addressed the matter, but a Trump Organization attorney representing Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump responded by arguing the subpoenas violate the constitutional rights of the family and that the filing “never addresses the fundamental contentions of our motion to quash or stay the subpoenas.”
In a statement Wednesday, the Trump Organization denied James’ allegations as “baseless” and accused her of trying to “mislead the public yet again.”
As far as what happens next, James’ office has said it “has not yet reached a final decision regarding whether this evidence merits legal action.”
Because James’s investigation is civil, she can sue Trump, his company, and his children, but she cannot file criminal charges. However, her probe is running parallel to a criminal investigation into the same conduct led by the Manhattan district attorney, who does have that power.