Monday, July 31, 2017

Something to Know - 31 July

We are now at the point of turning the page to Trump's next chapter.  First one did not go so well for him, nor for the country.  The Un-Making of America is more like his Steve Bannon hero's mission.   The Loyal Opposition is now feeling more confident and able to wage an effective campaign to correct the messes.   In the first part of this next chapter, we will see if if in fact the new Chief of Staff runs the operation as some of the more successful predecessors of the past....and if not, we will go directly to the next chapter.  Framing the plot, someone like Paul Krugman, is now ready to narrate the order of business:

Who Ate Republicans' Brains?

 Paul Krugman

When the tweeter-in-chief castigated Senate Republicans as "total quitters" for failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he couldn't have been more wrong. In fact, they showed zombie-like relentlessness in their determination to take health care away from millions of Americans, shambling forward despite devastating analyses by the Congressional Budget Office, denunciations of their plans by every major medical group, and overwhelming public disapproval.

Senator Lindsey Graham on Thursday, speaking about the proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Credit Cliff Owen/Associated Press
Put it this way: Senator Lindsey Graham was entirely correct when he described the final effort at repeal as "terrible policy and horrible politics," a "disaster" and a "fraud." He voted for it anyway — and so did 48 of his colleagues.

So where did this zombie horde come from? Who ate Republicans' brains?

As many people have pointed out, when it came to health care Republicans were basically caught in their own web of lies. They fought against the idea of universal coverage, then denounced the Affordable Care Act for failing to cover enough people; they made "skin in the game," i.e., high out-of-pocket costs, the centerpiece of their health care ideology, then denounced the act for high deductibles. When they finally got their chance at repeal, the contrast between what they had promised and their actual proposals produced widespread and justified public revulsion.

But the stark dishonesty of the Republican jihad against Obamacare itself demands an explanation. For it went well beyond normal political spin: for seven years a whole party kept insisting that black was white and up was down.

And that kind of behavior doesn't come out of nowhere. The Republican health care debacle was the culmination of a process of intellectual and moral deterioration that began four decades ago, at the very dawn of modern movement conservatism — that is, during the very era anti-Trump conservatives now point to as the golden age of conservative thought.

A key moment came in the 1970s, when Irving Kristol, the godfather of neoconservatism, embraced supply-side economics — the claim, refuted by all available evidence and experience, that tax cuts pay for themselves by boosting economic growth. Writing years later, he actually boasted about valuing political expediency over intellectual integrity: "I was not certain of its economic merits but quickly saw its political possibilities." In another essay, he cheerfully conceded to having had a "cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit," because it was all about creating a Republican majority — so "political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government."

The problem is that once you accept the principle that it's O.K. to lie if it helps you win elections, it gets ever harder to limit the extent of the lying — or even to remember what it's like to seek the truth.

The right's intellectual and moral collapse didn't happen all at once. For a while, conservatives still tried to grapple with real problems. In 1989, for example, The Heritage Foundation offered a health care plan strongly resembling Obamacare. That same year, George H. W. Bush proposed a cap-and-trade system to control acid rain, a proposal that eventually became law.

But looking back, it's easy to see the rot spreading. Compared with Donald Trump, the elder Bush looks like a paragon — but his administration lied relentlessly about rising inequality. His son's administration lied consistently about its tax cuts, pretending that they were targeted on the middle class, and — in case you've forgotten — took us to war on false pretenses.

And almost the entire G.O.P. either endorsed or refused to condemn the "death panels" slander against Obamacare.

Given this history, the Republican health care disaster was entirely predictable. You can't expect good or even coherent policy proposals from a party that has spent decades embracing politically useful lies and denigrating expertise.

And let's be clear: we're talking about Republicans here, not the "political system."

Democrats aren't above cutting a few intellectual corners in pursuit of electoral advantage. But the Obama administration was, when all is said and done, remarkably clearheaded and honest about its policies. In particular, it was always clear what the A.C.A. was supposed to do and how it was supposed to do it — and it has, for the most part, worked as advertised.

Now what? Maybe, just maybe, Republicans will work with Democrats to make the health system work better — after all, polls suggest that voters will, rightly, blame them for any future problems. But it wouldn't be easy for them to face reality even if their president wasn't a bloviating bully.

And it's hard to imagine anything good happening on other policy fronts, either. Republicans have spent decades losing their ability to think straight, and they're not going to get it back anytime soon.

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Friday, July 28, 2017

Something to Know - 28 July

Earlier this morning, I started reading my list of stuff from the various sources that usually make up the bulk of the subject matter that enters this space.   The piece on "The Mooch" seemed like a worthy topic, so it went out.  I figured that the collapse of the GOP unHealth Project showcased the chaos that was going on at the White House.  Unsavory, vulgar, and sad....all of it.   So, this afternoon, I came across David Brook's piece on Arizona Senator Jeff Flake.   I pass it on to celebrate the nadir of the GOP's ride into the worst period of its existence, and hopefully cleans up its act so as to act responsibly so that we can again have a two-party system that works for the American People.   For too long there has been an absence of moral integrity and leadership in the Republican Party.  Hopefully Jeff Flake can sparks some sense into them.  I just hope that Trump does not push the envelope and make things worse than they are now.


Jeff Flake Plants a Flag
 David Brooks

Do you ever get the feeling we're all going to be judged for this moment? Historians, our grandkids and we ourselves will look and ask: What did you do as the Trump/Scaramucci/Bannon administration dropped a nuclear bomb on the basic standards of decency in public life? What did you do as the American Congress ceased to function? What positions did you take as America teetered toward national decline?

For most of us, it's relatively easy to pass the test. Our jobs are not on the line when we call out the mind-boggling monstrosity of what's happening. For Republican senators, it's harder. Their consciences pull them one way — to tell the truth — while their political interests pull them another way — to keep their heads down.

Some senators are passing the test of conscience — Ben Sasse, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, Mike Lee and John McCain. And to that list we can certainly add Arizona Senator Jeff Flake. In a few days he comes out with a book called "Conscience of a Conservative," which is a thoughtful defense of traditional conservatism and a thorough assault on the way Donald Trump is betraying it.

Flake grew up in rural Arizona. "Cattle ranching is the hardest work I've ever known and the best people I have ever known have been cattle ranchers," he writes. He was one of 11 children and his family did not dine out, even once, while he was young. He lost part of a finger and learned frontier self-reliance on the ranch. As a Mormon he learned to be wary of the government, and especially the way it can persecute minorities.

He came to Congress in 2001 and earned a reputation as a scourge against federal spending and earmarks and as a champion of tax cuts. But he walked into a Republican Party that was descending from Goldwater and Reagan, his heroes, to Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay. When I had coffee with Flake this week, he spoke about the philosophical and political corruption of the DeLay era with uncharacteristic contempt.

Things got worse. In 2016 the Republican Party, Flake argues in the book, lost its manners. "It seems it is not enough to be conservative anymore. You have to be vicious." And it lost its philosophy. "We become so estranged from our principles that we no longer recognize what principle is."

Flake told me he doesn't want his book to be seen simply as a broadside against Trump. The rot set in long before, but Trump takes the decay to a new level.

On the day in 2015 when Trump endorsed a Muslim ban, Flake tweeted "Just when you think @realDonaldTrump can stoop no lower, he does." Flake attended prayers at an Arizona mosque that afternoon. At the core of this book is a bill of indictment listing the ways Trump has betrayed the Goldwater Creed:

"Is it conservative to praise dictators as 'strong leaders,' to speak fondly of countries that crush dissent and murder political opponents …? Is it conservative to demonize and vilify and mischaracterize religious and ethnic minorities …? Is it conservative to be an ethno-nationalist? Is it conservative to embrace as fact things that are demonstrably untrue?"

Flake told me he didn't even tell his staff about the existence of this book until just two weeks before publication because he didn't want them to talk him out of publishing it.

He began working on it at night during the general election campaign, assuming it would be an autopsy for the party after Trump's defeat. "It matters more now. It would be easier to wait until after the next election," he told me, but he wanted to plant his flag at a time when his political future is at risk, at a time when it matters.

Frankly, I think Flake's libertarian version of conservatism paved the way for Trump. People are being barraged by technology-driven unemployment, wage stagnation, the breakdown of neighborhoods and families. Goldwater-style conservatism says: "Congratulations! You're on your own!" During the campaign, Trump seemed to be offering something more.

But Flake is in most ways an ideal public servant. He is an ideological purist but a temperamental conciliator. On spending and free trade he takes lonely principled stands; on immigration he's crafted difficult bipartisan compromises.

In a time when politics has become a blood sport, he's sunny and kind. "Assume the best. Look for the good," his parents taught him. But he possesses a serene courage that is easy to underestimate because it is so affable.

Most important, he understands this moment. The Trump administration is a moral cancer eating away at conservatism, the Republican Party and what it means to be a public servant.

The 52 Senate Republicans have been thrust by fate into the crucial position of responsibility. They will either accept this decay or they will oppose it. They will either collaborate with the Trumpian path or seek to direct their party and nation onto a different path.

Flake has taken his stand. As the other Senate Republicans look at his example, they might ponder this truth: Silence equals assent.

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Something to Know - 28 July

I turned out the light last night for sleep around 10:25PM (2225 for you military and airline folk).   Unknown to me, at that moment, the vote for the Skinny Crap Sandwich was being taken on the floor of the Senate.  To my wildest Hollywood Movie Dream, the old warrior walked up to the front of the chamber and voted NO.   He and two courageous ladies from the GOP were enough to finish it all off.  This morning, the news is full of stuff about the shambles, especially the beginning of an end.    So, what to pass on - hmmm?   Since I know that most of you do not have access to the New Yorker, I am enclosing this story about the new show in town - The White House Communications Director - "The Mooch".  This guy makes Sneaky Pete look like a saint.  The Swamp is now officially an EPA Toxic Superfund site:

Anthony Scaramucci Called Me to Unload About White House Leakers, Reince Priebus, and Steve Bannon
He started by threatening to fire the entire White House communications staff. It escalated from there.

By Ryan Lizza
July 27, 2017

The new White House communications director has become obsessed with leaks and threatened to fire staffers if he discovers that they have given unauthorized information to reporters.

Photograph by Jabin Bots

On Wednesday night, I received a phone call from Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director. He wasn't happy. Earlier in the night, I'd tweeted, citing a "senior White House official," that Scaramucci was having dinner at the White House with President Trump, the First Lady, Sean Hannity, and the former Fox News executive Bill Shine. It was an interesting group, and raised some questions. Was Trump getting strategic advice from Hannity? Was he considering hiring Shine? But Scaramucci had his own question—for me.
"Who leaked that to you?" he asked. I said I couldn't give him that information. He responded by threatening to fire the entire White House communications staff. "What I'm going to do is, I will eliminate everyone in the comms team and we'll start over," he said. I laughed, not sure if he really believed that such a threat would convince a journalist to reveal a source. He continued to press me and complain about the staff he's inherited in his new job. "I ask these guys not to leak anything and they can't help themselves," he said. "You're an American citizen, this is a major catastrophe for the American country. So I'm asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it."

In Scaramucci's view, the fact that word of the dinner had reached a reporter was evidence that his rivals in the West Wing, particularly Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, were plotting against him. While they have publicly maintained that there is no bad blood between them, Scaramucci and Priebus have been feuding for months. After the election, Trump asked Scaramucci to join his Administration, and Scaramucci sold his company, SkyBridge Capital, in anticipation of taking on a senior role. But Priebus didn't want him in the White House, and successfully blocked him from being appointed to a job until last week, when Trump offered him the communications job over Priebus's vehement objections. In response to Scaramucci's appointment, Sean Spicer, an ally of Priebus's, resigned his position as press secretary. And in an additional slight to Priebus, the White House's official announcement of Scaramucci's hiring noted that he would report directly to the President, rather than to the chief of staff.

Scaramucci's first public appearance as communications director was a slick and conciliatory performance at the lectern in the White House briefing room last Friday. He suggested it was time for the White House to turn a page. But since then, he has become obsessed with leaks and threatened to fire staffers if he discovers that they have given unauthorized information to reporters. Michael Short, a White House press aide considered close to Priebus, resigned on Tuesday after Scaramucci publicly spoke about firing him. Meanwhile, several damaging stories about Scaramucci have appeared in the press, and he blamed Priebus for most of them. Now, he wanted to know whom I had been talking to about his dinner with the President. Scaramucci, who initiated the call, did not ask for the conversation to be off the record or on background.
"Is it an assistant to the President?" he asked. I again told him I couldn't say. "O.K., I'm going to fire every one of them, and then you haven't protected anybody, so the entire place will be fired over the next two weeks."

I asked him why it was so important for the dinner to be kept a secret. Surely, I said, it would become public at some point. "I've asked people not to leak things for a period of time and give me a honeymoon period," he said. "They won't do it." He was getting more and more worked up, and he eventually convinced himself that Priebus was my source.
"They'll all be fired by me," he said. "I fired one guy the other day. I have three to four people I'll fire tomorrow. I'll get to the person who leaked that to you. Reince Priebus—if you want to leak something—he'll be asked to resign very shortly." The issue, he said, was that he believed Priebus had been worried about the dinner because he hadn't been invited. "Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac," Scaramucci said. He channelled Priebus as he spoke: " 'Oh, Bill Shine is coming in. Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci for six months.' " (Priebus did not respond to a request for comment.)
Scaramucci was particularly incensed by a Politico report about his financial-disclosure form, which he viewed as an illegal act of retaliation by Priebus. The reporter said Thursday morning that the document was publicly available and she had obtained it from the Export-Import Bank. Scaramucci didn't know this at the time, and he insisted to me that Priebus had leaked the document, and that the act was "a felony."

"I've called the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice," he told me.
"Are you serious?" I asked.

"The swamp will not defeat him," he said, breaking into the third person. "They're trying to resist me, but it's not going to work. I've done nothing wrong on my financial disclosures, so they're going to have to go fuck themselves."

Scaramucci also told me that, unlike other senior officials, he had no interest in media attention. "I'm not Steve Bannon, I'm not trying to suck my own cock," he said, speaking of Trump's chief strategist. "I'm not trying to build my own brand off the fucking strength of the President. I'm here to serve the country." (Bannon declined to comment.)
He reiterated that Priebus would resign soon, and he noted that he told Trump that he expected Priebus to launch a campaign against him. "He didn't get the hint that I was reporting directly to the President," he said. "And I said to the President here are the four or five things that he will do to me." His list of allegations included leaking the Hannity dinner and the details from his financial-disclosure form.

I got the sense that Scaramucci's campaign against leakers flows from his intense loyalty to Trump. Unlike other Trump advisers, I've never heard him say a bad word about the President. "What I want to do is I want to fucking kill all the leakers and I want to get the President's agenda on track so we can succeed for the American people," he told me.
He cryptically suggested that he had more information about White House aides. "O.K., the Mooch showed up a week ago," he said. "This is going to get cleaned up very shortly, O.K.? Because I nailed these guys. I've got digital fingerprints on everything they've done through the F.B.I. and the fucking Department of Justice."
"What?" I interjected.

"Well, the felony, they're gonna get prosecuted, probably, for the felony." He added, "The lie detector starts—" but then he changed the subject and returned to what he thought was the illegal leak of his financial-disclosure forms. I asked if the President knew all of this.
"Well, he doesn't know the extent of all that, he knows about some of that, but he'll know about the rest of it first thing tomorrow morning when I see him."
Scaramucci said he had to get going. "Yeah, let me go, though, because I've gotta start tweeting some shit to make this guy crazy."
Minutes later, he tweeted, "In light of the leak of my financial info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept #swamp @Reince45." With the addition of Priebus's Twitter handle, he was making public what he had just told me: that he believed Priebus was leaking information about him. The tweet quickly went viral.
Scaramucci seemed to have second thoughts. Within two hours he deleted the original tweet and posted a new one denying that he was targeting the chief of staff. "Wrong!" he said, adding a screenshot of an Axios article that said, "Scaramucci appears to want Priebus investigated by FBI." Scaramucci continued, "Tweet was public notice to leakers that all Sr Adm officials are helping to end illegal leaks. @Reince45."

A few hours later, I appeared on CNN to discuss the overnight drama. As I was talking about Scaramucci, he called into the show himself and referenced our conversation. He changed his story about Priebus. Instead of saying that he was trying to expose Priebus as a leaker, he said that the reason he mentioned Priebus in his deleted tweet was because he wanted to work together with Priebus to discover the leakers.

"He's the chief of staff, he's responsible for understanding and uncovering and helping me do that inside the White House, which is why I put that tweet out last night," Scaramucci said, after noting that he had talked to me Wednesday night. He then made an argument that journalists were assuming that he was accusing Priebus because they know Priebus leaks to the press.
"When I put out a tweet, and I put Reince's name in the tweet," he said, "they're all making the assumption that it's him because journalists know who the leakers are. So, if Reince wants to explain that he's not a leaker, let him do that."

Scaramucci then made a plea to viewers. "Let me tell you something about myself," he said. "I am a straight shooter."

Ryan Lizza is the Washington correspondent for The New Yorker, and also an on-air contributor for CNN.Read more »

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Something to Know - 27 July

As I write this, the Senate is debating (or going through the motions about) the last of Stage 3 of TrumpCare.  The first two stages were knocked down, and the "Skinny" one is left.  It should go down as well, but one never knows.   Something that we who were around for "Watergate" know, and those who need to be learn from past history, is the saga of the "Saturday Nigh Massacre" and how it applies to Trump.   Read on:

The Opinion Pages | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

A 'Saturday Night Massacre' Veteran Offers Trump Some Advice
JULY 27, 2017

On Monday, Oct. 15, 1973, I stuck my head in Attorney General Elliot Richardson's office to tell him I was going to Grand Rapids, Mich., to oversee the F.B.I.'s background investigation into Gerald Ford, President Nixon's choice as his new vice president. I was the deputy attorney general.

Five days earlier, Spiro Agnew had pleaded no contest to a tax evasion charge and had been forced to resign as vice president.

Elliot and I and his immediate staff had spent most of the summer working on the Agnew case. It had been intense and emotionally exhausting. The vice president was facing criminal charges not only for tax evasion but also for taking kickbacks from contractors while governor of Maryland.

As I was about to leave, Elliot said, "We've got an even worse problem than Agnew."

That's not possible, I replied.

"Yes, it is," he said. "The president wants to fire Cox."

Richardson had appointed Archibald Cox, his former professor at Harvard Law School, five months earlier as special prosecutor to investigate the Watergate scandal.

My reply reflected my belief at the time. "Don't worry," I said. "When it comes right down to it, he'll never do it. The American people won't tolerate it."

I was wrong about my first point, but right about the second. As we were about to find out, Americans would not acquiesce to a president firing a special prosecutor chosen by the attorney general to investigate possible presidential misconduct.

When Elliot Richardson was confirmed as attorney general in May 1973 he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would not fire Cox except for "extraordinary improprieties." I made the same pledge in September 1973 at my confirmation hearing. At that time, only the attorney general or his successor could fire Cox.

I was acting director of the F.B.I. on May 25, 1973, when Cox became the Watergate special prosecutor. It was my duty to respond to Cox's request for help by providing F.B.I. agents to follow leads relating to the Watergate case.

My relationship with Cox was very professional. Every time he asked the F.B.I. for help in his investigation, I tried to be as responsive as possible.

Occasionally I would be called by the president, or more often by Al Haig, his chief of staff, complaining that Cox was investigating alleged wrongdoing that had nothing to do with Watergate. I would pass on their concerns to Cox.

In every case, the complaints from the White House resulted in Cox's pulling back from areas of investigative concern outside his Watergate mandate. He was very sensitive to being accused of partisanship. Cox had been the solicitor general in the Kennedy administration. He could not have been more responsive to the White House's complaints, even as he forged ahead with his investigation into Watergate.

After I left for Grand Rapids that October morning, the situation between the White House and Richardson began to rapidly deteriorate. Elliot called to let me know, and I returned to Washington on Wednesday evening. Three days later, Elliot and I resigned after refusing to carry out President Nixon's order to fire the special prosecutor. Cox was then dismissed by Robert Bork, who had quickly been designated acting attorney general.

The resulting public firestorm, which became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre," marked the beginning of the end of the Nixon presidency. Congressional support eroded, the House Judiciary Committee began impeachment hearings and the Supreme Court ordered the release of White House tapes capturing the president and his aides plotting the cover-up. Nearly 10 months after that October night, Nixon resigned.

The events of recent weeks have eerily reminded me of those Watergate days. When accusations of Russian involvement in last year's election first surfaced, I thought President Trump could quickly put them to rest by revealing all he knew and instructing his staff to do the same, just as President Nixon could have done with the Watergate burglary in 1972.

But President Trump hasn't done that, even though he has consistently asserted his complete innocence. Why not lay it all out for the public to judge for itself? Are we headed for another long national nightmare? For the sake of the country, I hope not.

If Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, is left alone, he will conduct a thoughtful and fair investigation. He is universally and justifiably admired and should be supported in his work.

If the president fires him, as he is reportedly contemplating doing, the result might very well be the same as what President Nixon faced when he forced Elliot Richardson and me to resign for refusing to obey his order to fire Cox.

Mr. President, don't worry whether you have the power to pardon yourself. But do consider the wisdom of firing the man charged by your own deputy attorney general with investigating Russian intervention into your election.

William D. Ruckelshaus, a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was the acting F.B.I. director and deputy attorney general under President Richard Nixon.

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Andy Borowitz

Photograph by Remo Casilli / Camera Press / Redux

Satire from The Borowitz Report
Jeff Sessions Urges Melania to Work Harder on Campaign to Stop Cyberbullying

By Andy Borowitz

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Saying that the problem "is far worse than I imagined," Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday urged First Lady Melania Trump to intensify her campaign against cyberbullying.
Speaking to reporters from his office at the Justice Department, Sessions said that, whatever Mrs. Trump had done to eliminate the scourge of cyberbullying, "It clearly has not been enough."
"From my perspective, cyberbullying is very much a growing problem," he said. "And with every passing day it gets worse and worse."
Sessions said that, while he understands that Mrs. Trump has many other responsibilities as First Lady, "anything you can do to get cyberbullying to stop will be very much personally appreciated by me."

"Please help," he said, his voice quavering.

In an official statement released later in the day, the First Lady said that she had "kind of forgotten" about her campaign to stop cyberbullying but that she would "get right on it."

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Something to Know - 26 July

John McCain returned to the Senate yesterday to participate in the process of health care legislation.   He gave a speech, impassioned in one sense, realistic in another, a scolding of his colleagues in another sense, and ....well,  just the views of a badly wounded warrior speaking his mind after  30 years of working to legislate.   If you missed this event, given after the Senate roll call vote on the matter to proceed, but before voting the bill(s), he was granted the time to give his address, here it is.  This is a CNN video of what he said:

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Something to Know - 25 July

To take one's mind off the guy-wrenching incompetence, sleaze, and drama of the Trump character and agenda, we need something of equal ugliness it its place.  Look no farther than your medicine cabinet and prescription drugs.  If there is anything that inspires wrath and anger, there is nothing like the the behavior of Big Pharma and its excuses of free-market capitalism to explain why drugs cost so much.   The underbelly of Capitalism is alive and well, and it may be easier to impeach a sitting president than to fight Big Pharma - you think?

Yes, we can lower drug prices

DAVID LAZARUS - Los Angeles Times

Scott Gottlieb, head of the Food and Drug Administration, wasted no time in his opening remarks at a forum last week on high drug prices.
"The fact is that too many people can't afford the medicines that they need," he declared.
On that, I hope, we can all agree.
The trouble is doing something about it.
In all other developed countries, patients are protected by government authorities overseeing the market for prescription meds, ensuring that prices are reasonable while still allowing drug companies a fair profit.

In the United States, profit comes before public interest. There are no limits to how much can be charged for a prescription drug, particularly specialty drugs intended for the costliest illnesses.
As a result, the U.S. is by far the world's biggest spender on pharmaceutical products, shelling out more than $1,026 annually per person, according to a 2015 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

That's double the OECD average of $515 and considerably more than economic peers such as Germany ($678), France ($596) and Australia ($590).
Total U.S. spending on prescription drugs reached $450 billion last year, according to the research firm QuintilesIMS. It could be as high as $610 billion by 2021.
The FDA has no power to dictate pricing to drug companies. So Gottlieb said last week that the agency will focus on speeding up the approval process for generic meds so consumers have cheaper alternatives to branded drugs. It also wants to encourage greater competition among drug companies to lower prices.
"These moves would help," said Peter Hilsenrath, a healthcare economist at the University of the Pacific. "But I wouldn't expect really big things to come of it."
He pointed out to me that generics already account for about 80% of U.S. drug sales, meaning that faster approval of generic meds wouldn't exactly be a game changer for the marketplace.
"The big problem continues to be the prices of patented drugs," Hilsenrath said.
Case in point: The same day that Gottlieb, a doctor when not running a federal agency, was calling for more affordable drug prices, the FDA gave its blessing to a new hepatitis C medication called Vosevi.

It's the latest such drug from Gilead Sciences, which says Vosevi is for people who may not have seen strong results from the company's other blockbuster hepatitis C pills, Harvoni and Epclusa.
The San Francisco Bay Area company plans to sell Vosevi for nearly $25,000 a bottle, with three bottles required for 12 weeks of treatment — a total cost of about $75,000.
The company is no stranger to envelope pushing when it comes to the cost of its drugs. In 2013, it introduced its first hepatitis C drug, Sovaldi, at a price of $1,000 a pill.
Gilead execs argued at the time that the drug cured 98% of hep C patients who took it, so a thousand bucks a pill was still cheaper than treatment for expensive complications the virus can cause, such as liver failure and cancer.
That may be true. But it's important to remember that Gilead didn't do the bulk of the research on Sovaldi. That was done by a pharmaceutical company called Pharmasset, which estimated in 2011 that a 12-week treatment regimen of its hep C drug would cost patients about $36,000.
Gilead paid $11.2 billion to acquire Pharmasset in 2012 and immediately decided $36,000 was much too cheap for a hepatitis cure. So it raised the price of a 12-week regimen to $84,000.
That's the American way of drug pricing: whatever the market will bear. Even if patients are treated as hostages.
The International Federation of Health Plans said last year that a one-month supply of Gilead's Harvoni pill cost $32,114 on average in the United States. The same amount of the same drug cost $22,554 in Britain, $18,165 in Spain and $16,861 in Switzerland.
How do other countries do it? Simple, said Jason Doctor, an associate professor at USC's School of Pharmacy. "Developed countries keep their drug prices down through price controls," he said.
First and foremost, other nations offer their citizens universal health coverage, achieved through variations of single-payer insurance systems. Basically, that's Medicare for everyone, not just seniors.

This allows the government to keep rising drug prices in check by using its market clout as the biggest buyer of prescription meds.
Incredibly, Medicare has no such negotiating power. The government-run program is forbidden by law from haggling with drug companies over prices.
Other nations also keep a close eye on what pharmaceutical companies charge in drugstores. In Canada, for example, the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board ensures that drug costs "are not excessive," which means companies can't gouge patients just because they can.
Canada also has a law requiring that breakthrough new drugs like Sovaldi can't be priced higher than the median price around the world, ensuring that the price for Canadians is fair relative to what people elsewhere are paying.
Researchers have found that U.S. patients can pay as much as 16 times what people in other countries pay for the same drugs.
Free-market types will counter that price controls stifle innovation.
"If the revenue potential is not there, the company will not take the risk of spending $1 billion getting an early promising molecule to market," said Patrick Sullivan, a pharmaceutical economist at Regis University in Denver.

There's something to that. Then again, how much innovation are big drug companies really responsible for? Pharmasset took most of the risk developing a promising hepatitis C drug. It was only after Gilead acquired the company that corporate greed became the driving force in pricing.
Also, why should we rely so heavily on innovation by the private sector? Why not restore public-sector science to prominence with a boost in grant-making by the National Institutes of Health?
Such grants could be funded via potentially billions of dollars in savings from allowing Medicare to negotiate public-sector drug prices.
Consider this: The discovery of insulin in the early 20th century was one of the most important moments in modern medicine. It wasn't done by a private company. It was primarily the work of a Canadian scientist, Frederick Banting, who would go on to share the Nobel Prize in 1923.
Banting and two colleagues subsequently sold the patent for insulin to the University of Toronto for just $3. The university in turn allowed drug companies to manufacture insulin royalty-free.
It wasn't about profit. It was about what was best for society.
Today, drug companies see the global diabetes epidemic as an enormous business opportunity. Insulin prices have more than tripled in recent years.
It's not about what's best for society. It's about profit.
There's our problem.

David Lazarus ' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz . Send your tips or feedback to .

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Monday, July 24, 2017

Something to Know - 24 July

Without the benefit of an open-to-the-public session this week, we will not have a TV show, and a  sworn-to-oath  testimony by a Kushner, Manaforte, or Don Jr.  There is a new Director of Comms in the White House, who, to me, comes off like an informercial slick selling us underbelly sleaze like a patriotic sycophant.  This article from today's LA Times tries to get at the chaotic mind and tension in the oval office, and lays out a scenario that we should fear.   By the way, Lynne and I are going to Yorba Linda tomorrow to the "revised and relevant" Nixon Library.  In preparation for this, I viewed a recent "20/20" ABC TV program, which was very good because it had all of the film and digital videos of the actual characters in Watergate.   Is there is a connection between this article and the TV program?   

Image result for images of nixon
The president's dangerous endgame
By Paul W. Kahn

President Trump is besieged. He is reportedly looking for ways to close down the Russia investigation by the Justice Department. He already tried at least once, when he fired FBI Director James Comey. He still has the power to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller.

President Nixon fired a special prosecutor, Archibald Cox. It did not go well for him, but he did it anyway. To fire Mueller, Trump probably first would have to fire Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. And to do that, he would have to finish what he's already loudly hinting at: ridding himself of Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions. Nixon, too, had to eliminate his attorney general and his deputy attorney general before he could get rid of Cox. No doubt, Trump will push them out with all the glee that he used to show on "The Apprentice."
Next, the president will want to avoid the pressure that Nixon experienced to hire yet another special prosecutor. Trump reportedly is investigating pardons for all of those involved in his campaign's interactions with the Russians. A presidential pardon need not wait for indictment, let alone conviction. Trump will announce that, with the pardons, he is putting all these "endless, groundless attacks" behind him, clearing the way so he can address the problems the voters elected him to solve. The agenda was "to make America great again," not to waste time and energy defending against baseless charges brought by Democrats who cannot accept the results of the election.
With these two moves, the president will have substantially undermined the federal government's power of criminal accountability. What Trump cannot do, however, is shut down the congressional investigations. He controls the Justice Department, not the House or the Senate. In our system, when law ends, politics begins. The president is ultimately accountable to our elected representatives in Congress.

To avoid impeachment, Trump will have to invoke yet more powers of the presidency. Here, the nation's future looks dark. Trump can divert attention from impeachment to a national security crisis. As president, he has extraordinary power to deploy the military. He already has attacked Syria with no authorization from Congress. In this respect, too, we have a pretty good idea of what he might do: attack North Korea. It would have to involve more than the limited strikes against weapons facilities we saw in Syria, which didn't divert much attention for very long.
Is it really possible that Trump would put the lives of hundreds of thousands of Koreans in jeopardy for the sake of his own position? Would he risk a nuclear confrontation with China for personal reasons? To ask the question is to answer it. A man with no sympathetic imagination, a man whose narcissism knows no bounds, will be guided by only one thing: what is good for the Trump family. Of course, Hillary Clinton was right that such a person should never have control of the nuclear codes. Only willful blindness could keep even his supporters from acknowledging this now. We have no evidence whatsoever of the president exercising self-control. No evidence that he can separate the personal from the political. No evidence that he cares about innocent people abroad.

Is this endgame unavoidable? Surely no one should believe that one or another of his advisors could convince Trump to behave himself. He will always fire the messenger. And it only gets more unlikely that he will simply let the investigation play itself out; far too many secrets may be revealed. Every day, we hear more about Russians, loans, meetings and attempted cover-ups.
By all accounts, Trump is raging within the White House. He will act.
Congressional leadership should be considering all of this long and hard right now. If Trump is to be stopped, legislators need to tell him in no uncertain terms that any move in the direction of this endgame will trigger impeachment. They need to proceed rapidly with their own investigations to make clear that firing Mueller and pardoning members of his family will not stop the truth from coming out. If he cannot face the truth, then Nixon's end should be his as well. He needs to go before the missiles start flying.

Paul W. Kahn is a professor
of law and humanities at Yale Law School.

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Something to Know - 22 July

In matters pertaining to the swirling muck enveloping the president, it is now apparent that facts on financial transactions involving money flowing from shadowy and corrupt Russian Oligarchs, flowing through Deutsche Bank to Trump are now driving the news, and Trump is at least not very happy, or more likely panicked.   The very fact that the subject of Presidential Pardons is not front and center is ample evidence that the end of the road is in sight, and it does not bode well for the Trumps.   In any case, like any crime story, just follow the money.   Trump may attempt to fire Mueller, and may succeed, but the train to Justice is now moving forward, no matter who or what is steering.   For conversations on Pardons, this column from today's NY Times is for your interest:

If Trump Pardons, It Could Be a Crime
JULY 21, 2017

President Trump and his lawyers have discussed whether he could pardon his relatives and aides to undercut, or even end, the special counsel's investigation into charges that his campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported on Thursday night.

There's no question that with a stroke of his pen, Mr. Trump can shield his son Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and other close associates from potential prosecution. Despite the uproar that would set off, we know by now that Mr. Trump loves the grand gesture, whatever the consequences. Besides, his family is at stake.

While his authority to pardon is crystal clear, a crucial, threatening, legal ambiguity should make him think twice about using this authority.

The Constitution gives the president "power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." The framers had sound reasons for bestowing that authority. As Alexander Hamilton explained, criminal law in the late 18th century was so severe that without the pardon power to soften it, "justice would wear a countenance too sanguinary and cruel."

Consistent with the framers' design, the Supreme Court has interpreted the president's pardon power broadly. The president can pardon anyone for any crime at any time — even before a suspect has been charged. Congress cannot withdraw presidential pardons, and prosecutors and courts cannot ignore them.

But could a pardon be a criminal abuse of power? Some would argue that would contradict the founders' vision of unlimited pardon authority. If a president sold pardons for cash, though, that would violate the federal bribery statute. And if a president can be prosecuted for exchanging pardons for bribes, then it follows that the broad and unreviewable nature of the pardon power does not shield the president from criminal liability for abusing it.

The Justice Department and the F.B.I. proceeded on this premise in 2001 when they opened an investigation into possible bribery charges arising out of President Bill Clinton's pardon of the fugitive financier Marc Rich, whose former wife had donated $450,000 to Clinton's presidential library. The investigation lasted until 2005, though no charges resulted.

Of course, bribery would not be the relevant crime. No one thinks that Donald Jr. or Jared Kushner — or anyone else involved in the Russia scandal — would pay the president for a pardon.

Yet federal obstruction statutes say that a person commits a crime when he "corruptly" impedes a court or agency proceeding. If it could be shown that President Trump pardoned his family members and close aides to cover up possible crimes, then that could be seen as acting "corruptly" and he could be charged with obstruction of justice. If, as some commentators believe, a sitting president cannot be indicted, Mr. Trump could still face prosecution after he leaves the White House.

There is strong support for the claim that the obstruction statutes apply to the president.

In 1974, when the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach President Richard Nixon, members on both sides of the debate acknowledged that presidential obstruction of justice was not only impeachable but also criminal. A quarter century later, the Senate split 50-50 on whether to remove President Clinton from office on obstruction charges, but senators from both parties agreed that the obstruction laws applied to the president.

There is a broad consensus that a president exercises the pardon power properly — not "corruptly" — when he grants clemency based on considerations of mercy or the public welfare. President Gerald Ford invoked both of those values when he pardoned Nixon: He said that a prosecution of the former president would be too divisive and that Nixon had suffered enough. President George H.W. Bush gestured to both values when he pardoned former Reagan administration officials for their involvement in the Iran-contra scandal.

In Trump's case, the question would be whether he was acting out of the goodness of his heart, or covering up for his family, his associates and himself.

We expect — and hope — that prosecutors and courts would give wide latitude to a president in evaluating his pardon decisions. Only in the most egregious cases should a president face criminal liability for actions taken while in office.

While the law on this subject is unsettled, that in itself should be unsettling to the president as he considers whether to grant clemency. Not only might the pardons constitute obstruction, but the pardoned individuals might be compelled to testify against Mr. Trump without any recourse to the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, since they would no longer have any concern about incriminating themselves.

He could ensure that his family members and aides get off scot-free for any crimes they may have committed during the 2016 campaign. But by extricating those individuals from a legal predicament, he might make his own predicament worse.

Daniel Hemel (@DanielJHemel) and Eric Posner are professors at the University of Chicago Law School.

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Something to Know - 20 July

The news is going to be fast and furious today.  The GOP death throes of TrumpCare and the unfortunate health crisis for John McCain will be overshadowed by the job security and probable firing or resignation of Jeff Sessions.   The big news will be the development of bank records related to Trump's financial dealings are now being looked at by the bevy of lawyers working for the Special Counsel (Robert Mueller).   This is getting the panicked attention of #45.  The reason being is that the Big Bank that he has been dependent on for financing his Big Deals has been the German Deutsche Bank.  Trump has said that he no dealings with the Russians.   The experts in money laundering and criminal activity will be finding that the Russians (the gang of oligarchs) and their very dirty money have been using the same bank to funnel their funds into Trump's projects.  One can assume that the Russians want a nice return on their investment.   This is where the action was going to eventually wind up.  The matter of Russians meddling in our election is just the appetizer for the main meal.   Speculation is that Trump would really like to fire Mueller, and then have the FBI report directly to him.  Interesting times.

Big German Bank, Key to Trump's Finances, Faces New Scrutiny

During the presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump pointed to his relationship with Deutsche Bank to counter reports that big banks were skeptical of doing business with him.

After a string of bankruptcies in his casino and hotel businesses in the 1990s, Mr. Trump became somewhat of an outsider on Wall Street, leaving the giant German bank among the few major financial institutions willing to lend him money.

Now that two-decades-long relationship is coming under scrutiny.

Banking regulators are reviewing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans made to Mr. Trump's businesses through Deutsche Bank's private wealth management unit, which caters to an ultrarich clientele, according to three people briefed on the review who were not authorized to speak publicly. The regulators want to know if the loans might expose the bank to heightened risks.

Separately, Deutsche Bank has been in contact with federal investigators about the Trump accounts, according to two people briefed on the matter. And the bank is expecting to eventually have to provide information to Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the federal investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.

It was not clear what information the bank might ultimately provide. Generally, the bank is seen as central to understanding Mr. Trump's finances since it is the only major financial institution that continues to conduct sizable business with him. Deutsche Bank has also lent money to Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, and to his family real estate business.

Although Deutsche Bank recently landed in legal trouble for laundering money for Russian entities — paying more than $600 million in penalties to New York and British regulators — there is no indication of a Russian connection to Mr. Trump's loans or accounts at Deutsche Bank, people briefed on the matter said. The bank, which declined to comment, scrutinizes its accounts for problematic ties as part of so-called "know your customer" banking rules and other requirements.

And with one of its most famous clients headed to the White House, the bank designed a plan for overseeing the accounts of Mr. Trump and Mr. Kushner and presented it to regulators at the New York State Department of Financial Services early this year. The plan essentially called for monitoring the accounts for red flags such as exceptionally favorable loan terms or unusual partners.

Additionally, the New York regulators recently requested information related to the hundreds of millions in loans Deutsche Bank's private wealth management division provided Mr. Trump, one of the people said, paying particular attention to personal guarantees he made to obtain the loans. Those guarantees have declined as the loans were paid down and the property values increased, but it remains a source of interest to the regulators.

While there is no formal investigation of the bank — and personal guarantees are often required when people receive big loans from their wealth managers — the New York regulators have questioned whether the guarantee could create problems for Deutsche Bank should Mr. Trump fail to pay his debts. To collect, the bank would either have to sue the president, or risk being seen as cutting him a special deal.

It is not a hypothetical concern: Mr. Trump sued the bank in 2008 to delay paying back an earlier loan.

Mr. Trump has had a complicated relationship with the bank over the past 20 years, which has included more than $4 billion in loan commitments and potential bond offerings, a majority of which were completed, according to a New York Times review of securities filings and interviews with people with knowledge of the deals. Despite all the risk-taking — and a brief loan default that spurred the 2008 litigation — Mr. Trump's business has made the bank money, the people said.

A spokesman for the New York regulators declined to comment, and the White House did not respond to requests for comment.

A few years after Mr. Trump sued the bank in 2008, he moved his business from the bank's commercial real estate lending division to its private wealth division, where executives were more willing to deal with him, according to the people briefed on the matter.

In the past six years, the private wealth unit helped finance three of Mr. Trump's properties, including a golf course near Miami and a hotel in Washington, according to Mr. Trump's most recent financial disclosures and the people with knowledge of the loans.

The size of the loans — totaling about $300 million — is somewhat unusual by Wall Street standards, according to former and current Deutsche Bank executives and wealth managers at other Wall Street firms.

While it is not unheard-of for real estate developers to obtain large wealth management loans for projects deemed too risky for an investment bank, it differs from bank to bank, and those that do issue loans of that size typically do so for top clients known to pay their bills.

Mr. Trump's wealth manager at Deutsche Bank, Rosemary Vrablic, has specialized in real estate lending and is known for taking risks on clients, two of the executives and wealth managers said. And her relationship with Mr. Trump is close enough that Ms. Vrablic attended Mr. Trump's inauguration, according to a person who attended.

Mr. Kushner has established his own relationship with the bank. He and his mother have an unsecured line of credit from Deutsche Bank, valued at up to $25 million, and the family business he ran until January, Kushner Companies, received a $285 million loan from Deutsche Bank last year.

Mr. Kushner's dealings at the bank have included Ms. Vrablic. In 2013, he ordered up a glowing profile of her in the real estate magazine he owned, The Mortgage Observer, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The piece concluded with a disclaimer that her "past clients" included Mr. Kushner.

In an interview with The Times last year, Mr. Trump suggested reporters speak with Ms. Vrablic about his banking relationships.

"Why don't you call the head of Deutsche Bank? Her name is Rosemary Vrablic," he said. "She is the boss."

A Relationship Is Born

It was 1998, and Mike Offit, fresh off the trading floor of Goldman Sachs for a new job at Deutsche Bank, was hired to put Deutsche Bank's real estate lending business on the map. To do that, Mr. Offit knew he had to snag big name developers.

That moment arrived when Rob Horowitz, with the real estate firm Cooper-Horowitz, approached him with an idea: Would he work with Mr. Trump, who at the time had a tarnished reputation after several of his casinos landed in bankruptcy?

"My reaction was, why wouldn't I?" Mr. Offit recalled in a recent interview.

To Mr. Offit, there was little downside to hearing Mr. Trump's pitch. A short time later, Mr. Trump came by Mr. Offit's Midtown Manhattan office to discuss a loan for renovations at his 40 Wall Street building. Unlike other developers who arrived with their entourages, Mr. Trump showed up alone, Mr. Offit said, and despite a reputation for bluster, he knew the financials of the deal cold.

"There was some resistance from management because of Donald's reputation, but I told them that our loan would be wildly overly collateralized even in the worst-case scenario," Mr. Offit said.

More deals followed. Later in the year, Mr. Trump needed $300 million to build Trump World Tower near the United Nations. But he required a construction loan, which, at the time, Deutsche did not have the right staff to manage. Determined to get the deal nonetheless, Mr. Offit found another German bank to make the loan with the commitment that Deutsche Bank would take possession once the building was constructed.

But as the deal was being finalized, the other German bank had second thoughts because of worries of a labor strike. Just as the deal seemed to be falling apart, Mr. Trump produced a signed commitment from all the major construction unions promising not to strike.

"We were all amazed he managed to get that," said Mr. Offit, who retired from the bank in 1999.

In the mid 2000s, Mr. Trump was in need of another construction loan. But this time, the loan — up to $640 million to build Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago — did not go as well.

A few years after the project began, the 2008 financial crisis upended the global economy and Mr. Trump fell behind on loan payments. According to a person briefed on the deal, Deutsche Bank was discussing a possible extension, when Mr. Trump sued it to avoid paying $40 million that he had personally guaranteed.

His argument, as detailed in a letter to the bank, was novel: "Deutsche Bank is one of the banks primarily responsible for the economic dysfunction we are currently facing," Mr. Trump wrote.

With the help of a lawyer — Steven Schlesinger of Garden City, N.Y. — Mr. Trump argued that the financial crisis allowed him to invoke the extraordinary event clause in his contract with the bank. Mr. Trump argued Deutsche Bank should pay him $3 billion in damages.

The bank filed its own action against Mr. Trump, demanding he make good on the loan. In a legal filing, Deutsche Bank, which had distributed the loan to a number of other banks, called the lawsuit "classic Trump."

The standoff culminated with a meeting in Trump Tower, Mr. Schlesinger said.

At the meeting, Mr. Trump threatened to remove his name from the building if he did not get more time to pay. That move, Mr. Trump suggested, would reduce the value of the building.

Ultimately, the bank granted Mr. Trump additional time to repay. And when he did, it was through the Wall Street equivalent of borrowing from one parent to repay the other.

Mr. Trump received a loan from Deutsche Bank's wealth management unit to pay off the debt he owed the bank's real estate lending division, according to two people briefed on the transaction. The wealth management unit later issued another loan for the Chicago project that is valued at $25 million to $50 million.

Ms. Vrablic, who helped facilitate the wealth management unit's loans to Mr. Trump, has built a career lending to the rich and famous.

She got her start on Wall Street at Citibank's private bank in the late 1980s and later worked at Bank of America before joining Deutsche Bank in 2006.

Ms. Vrablic, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has a reputation for being an aggressive advocate for her clients, according to two executives familiar with her work and profiles written in The American Banker and The Mortgage Observer.

In a 2013 Mortgage Observer article, one of her clients, Herbert Simon, owner of the Indiana Pacers, remarked that "when she came into the picture, it was a tough time to get money, and she was able to be very creative and get us what we needed."

In a 1999 American Banker article, Ms. Vrablic described her clients as having "many homes, ex-wives, and many children."

Mr. Trump fit that mold, but he was far from her only client in the rarefied world of New York real estate. Others included Stephen Ross, the chairman and founder of the Related Companies in New York.

Mr. Ross extolled Ms. Vrablic's ability to make deals happen. "She brings knowledge — and the fact is that if she tells you something, you know it's going to get done," he told The Mortgage Observer.

Ms. Vrablic was quoted in the same article as saying that real estate is her "deep dive."

While Mr. Kushner has never disclosed the exact nature of his business with Ms. Vrablic, his financial disclosure shows a line of credit worth between $5 million and $25 million. And according to securities filings, Deutsche Bank provided a $285 million mortgage to Kushner Companies to help it refinance the loan it used to purchase several floors of retail space in the former New York Times building on 43rd Street in Manhattan.

Mr. Kushner's company bought the space from Africa Israel Investments, a company owned by Lev Leviev, which has a sizable real estate portfolio in Russia.

Deutsche Bank, other securities filings show, is also involved in loans the Kushner Companies received for the Puck Building in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood and a property on Maiden Lane near Wall Street. The bank was responsible for either pooling those loans into mortgage-backed securities that were sold to investors, according to Trepp, a data and analytics firm, or distributing payments to the investors.

In the autumn of 2014, Ms. Vrablic and Mr. Kushner attended the Frick Collection's dinner, a black-tie event where patrons dined among famous works of art by Manet, El Greco and Turner.

A picture of the pair appeared in the New York Social Diary. Mr. Kushner, dressed in a tuxedo, had his arm around Ms. Vrablic.

The Russia Question

There is no indication that federal investigators suspect a Russian connection to Mr. Trump's dealings with Deutsche Bank, according to people briefed on the matter.

Mr. Horowitz, of the real estate firm Cooper-Horowitz, also saw no Russian ties in his many years of working with Mr. Trump.

"I've arranged financing for the majority of Mr. Trump's transactions, and I've never once seen any money coming to him from Russia," he said. Mr. Horowitz was not involved in any of the private wealth management loans from Ms. Vrablic.

But separate from Mr. Trump, the German bank has a host of Russian connections.

Soon after Mr. Trump took office, the bank settled allegations that it helped Russian investors launder as much as $10 billion through its branches in Moscow, London and New York. In May, the Federal Reserve reached its own settlement with the bank over the money laundering violations.

Deutsche Bank also had a "cooperation agreement" with the Russian state-owned development bank, Vnesheconombank, which has been swept up in the investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election. And it had ties to VTB Bank, a far larger Russian bank facing sanctions in the United States and the European Union. The Russian firm's investment banking arm, VTB Capital, was created by hiring dozens of bankers from Deutsche Bank's Moscow office.

Some ties are less direct. Josef Ackermann, Deutsche Bank's former chief executive, is now chairman of the board at the Bank of Cyprus. A large shareholder of that bank was Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Russian oligarch who purchased Mr. Trump's estate in Florida.

And in May, federal prosecutors settled a case with a Cyprus investment vehicle owned by a Russian businessman with close family connections to the Kremlin.

The firm, Prevezon Holdings, was represented by Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who was among the people who met during the presidential campaign with Donald Trump Jr. about Hillary Clinton.

Federal prosecutors in the United States claimed Prevezon, which admitted no wrongdoing, laundered the proceeds of an alleged Russian tax fraud through real estate. Prevezon and its partner relied in part on $90 million in financing from a big European financial institution, court records show.

It was Deutsche Bank.

Adam Goldman and Sharon LaFraniere contributed reporting from Washington, and Steve Eder from New York. Kitty Bennett contributed research.

Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
- Adlai Stevenson