Trump’s Favorite Tabloid Worried Its Saudi Propaganda Was as Bad as It Looked





Last March, shortly before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in America to pitch his younger, hipper brand of authoritarianism, American Media Inc. produced an ad-free, 97-page tribute to M.B.S called The New Kingdom. Boasting of bin Salman’s multi-billion-dollar fortune and 54,000-square-foot palace, promoting his Vision 2030 plan, and dubbing the kingdom “Our Closest Middle East Ally Destroying Terrorism,” the whole thing read like a vintage issue of Tiger Beat. Except, of course, that instead of fawning over young actors and boy bands, the gushing was reserved for a dictator starving the people of Yemen and who, just a few months later, would allegedly order the hit on journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

The $13.99 magazine was presumably a hit in the Oval Office, held up as a piece of real journalism by Donald Trump and his son-in-law, who’d been working to forge a close connection with the Saudis since January 2017, but to the outside world it might as well have been a special issue praising the leadership of Benito Mussolini. In fact, the whole thing felt so bizarre and over-the-top obsequious that A.M.I. apparently had some qualms of its own.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the publisher “sought advice from the Justice Department” last year over whether its obvious propaganda would cross the line between substandard journalism and literally working as an agent of a foreign government. While A.M.I. claimed in the past that Saudi officials had no role in the magazine’s creation, in fact, the publisher gave an adviser to the Kingdom a draft of the magazine and followed the adviser’s editorial advice, per a letter to the D.O.J. However, because there was no official contract stating the company had to follow the adviser’s suggestions—because, in other words, A.M.I. did so simply out of its love for M.B.S., or as a person familiar with the matter put it, in an attempt to “kiss his ass”—the Justice Department ruled that the publisher was not required to register as a foreign agent, a conclusion it warned could change if the facts “are different in any way from those depicted in your submission.”


Of course, last summer’s glossy isn’t the only time A.M.I. has crossed paths with the Kingdom, directly or indirectly:




In recent years, American Media sought Saudi financial backing to finance a failed effort to acquire Time magazine, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, and Money, the Journal reported last year.






American Media confirmed the contacts but said the only deal that has ever been discussed with Saudi investors was the expansion of the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition, which American Media owns, into the Middle East and North Africa.






The lawyer for [publisher David] Pecker, Elkan Abramowitz, on Sunday on ABC said American Media sought financing “from the Saudis, but never obtained any.”




There’s also the matter of A.M.I.’s long-standing ties to Trump, who has gone out of his way to support Saudi Arabia, including (allegedly!) letting its de facto leader get away with the murder of a U.S. resident. That issue came up last week, when Amazon founder Jeff Bezos published a blog post accusing The National Enquirer of attempting to extort him if he didn’t drop his investigation into how his private messages fell into their lap, and publicly state that that he had “no knowledge or basis for suggesting that A.M.I.’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.” As Bezos wrote in his widely praised dick-pic confessional, “the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.”


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Trump wants investigation into his sham charity halted because New York A.G.s were mean to him


Back in December, Donald Trump shuttered the Donald J. Trump Foundation as part of an agreement with the New York Attorney General’s office, which has alleged that the “charity” served as little more than a slush fund for the former real-estate developer’s business and political interests. In addition to allegedly spending $10,000 of the foundation’s money on a six-foot-tall oil painting of Trump, the group’s board, made up of the president’s eldest children, never once held a meeting. (Trump Organization C.F.O. Allen Weisselberg apparently had no idea he was an officer until investigators told him as much.) Unfortunately for the Donald, simply closing the (alleged) sham charity has not stopped the investigation. “We’ll continue to move our suit forward to ensure that the Trump Foundation and its directors are held to account for their clear and repeated violations of state and federal law,” outgoing N.Y. A.G. Barbara Underwood said at the time. So now his lawyers are trying to get it thrown out on the grounds that investigators said mean things about him:




New York’s June lawsuit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation should be barred over comments made by [the state’s new attorney general, Letitia] James, and predecessors Barbara Underwood and Eric Schneiderman, who were both vocal Trump critics, Trump’s attorney Alan Futerfas said in documents filed last week in state court in Manhattan.






James called Trump an “illegitimate president” in the months before her November election and vowed to “use every area of the law” to investigate the real-estate mogul, his businesses, and his family, according to the filing. Statements by all three attorneys general “express clear bias and animus and constitute an unlawful appearance of impropriety.”




Obviously, it’s not surprising that a person vowing to use “the law” to investigate the president would send shivers down Team Trump’s collective spine, though it’s not clear this tack will work after having already failed a first time. Back in November, New York State Supreme Court Justice Saliann Scarpulla rejected Trump’s attorneys’ attempt to get the suit dismissed on claims of “political bias,” saying, “There is no basis for finding that animus and bias were the sole motivating factors for initiating the investigation and pursuing this proceeding.” Or, in other words, these officials might think you’re the world’s slimiest weasel, but that’s not the ONLY reason they launched this probe.


Founding member of the “Trump Caucus” still blowing campaign funds on leisure-time activities


Remember Rep. Duncan Hunter? For those who need a quick refresher, he’s the California congressman and Trump super-fan who was indicted last year, along with his wife, Margaret Hunter, on charges of wire fraud, falsifying records, campaign-finance violations, conspiracy, and “convert[ing] campaign funds to personal use,” the latter of which allegedly included: a 2015 family vacation to Italy that cost more than $14,000; a $6,500 spring-break trip to Hawaii; a $3,700 jaunt to Las Vegas and Boise; $229 at Disneyland’s Star Trader gift shop; $253.62 at SeaWorld’s Aquatica waterpark; meals at fine-dining establishments and fast-food restaurants alike; a $2,000 birthday gift for a family member to attend a Pittsburgh Steelers game; and a three-night, $1,000 stay at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino for a “personal ski trip,” among other things. At the time, the Hunters insisted through a spokesman that the indictment against them was “politically motivated,” with Duncan later trying to blame everything on his wife. Anyway, it appears that the couple is up to their old tricks:




In the last five weeks of 2018, Rep. Duncan Hunter’s campaign reported spending hundreds of dollars at a local amusement park and made $2,000 in charges—now disputed—to a technology company that flies drones. The spending at Belmont Park, [an amusement park] in Mission Beach, and the disputed charges at ByteSignal, a Missouri-based technology company, are among $119,861 in expenditures Hunter’s campaign disclosed to the Federal Election Commission on Thursday, in a financial report covering November 27 through December 31. During the same weeks, the campaign reported raising $2,376.




Obviously, these expenditures are a drop in the bucket compared to the $250,000 in campaign funds the Hunters allegedly misappropriated between 2009 and 2016, but if you’re facing a criminal trial—the couple has pleaded not guilty—maybe just use your own money at the amusement park.


Report: another shutdown would have not-great consequences


In addition to putting nearly 1 million federal employees out of work (or forcing them to work without pay), a second potential shutdown would put the U.S. economy at major risk:




The standoff in Washington that’s increasing the chances of another U.S. government shutdown at the end of the week is also raising the specter of bigger risks as the reinstatement of the debt ceiling approaches in early March.






Moody’s Investors Service analysts have warned that shutdown 2.0 could have a “more severe impact” on U.S. output. And if it were to extend beyond the March 1 end of the suspension of the current cap on America’s statutory debt capacity, “it would complicate negotiations over the debt ceiling.”




Last month, Fitch Ratings’ global head of sovereign ratings, James McCormack, warned that the country’s mounting debt is weighing on the U.S., and the inability to deal with “meaningful fiscal deterioration” with a shut government could put our triple-A rating at risk. (A credit downgrade—which has only happened once since 1941—would make it harder for the U.S. government to borrow money and increase borrowing costs.)


Area man doesn’t understand why Democrats get themselves so wound up over investigations, fascism, the law, etc.


Elsewhere!


Morgan Stanley, in Its Biggest Deal Since Crisis, Courts Future Millionaires (W.S.J.)


Kamala Harris calls for marijuana legalization: ‘I think it gives a lot of people joy’ (Politico)


She Spoke Up About Sexual Harassment At Ernst & Young And Got Caught In A Web of Retaliation (HuffPost)


Millions of Americans could be stunned as their tax refunds shrink (The Washington Post)


The Next Wave of ‘Unicorn’ Start-Ups (N.Y.T.)


Grading the impact of Trump’s China tariffs (Axios)


Fyre Fest founder ordered to pay $2.9M to investment company (N.Y.P.)


Cows Get Own Tinder-Style App for Breeding (Bloomberg)


Does Your Company Need to Know Your Body-Mass Index? (W.S.J.)


Fight over pay and profile torpedoed Andrea Orcel’s move to Santander (Financial Times)


Wildlife center will name salmon for your ex, feed it to a bear (UPI)


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