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Consumers beware — Trump is muzzling federal watchdogs

Director of the Office of Management and Budget

Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney during a news briefing at the White House in January. Photo Credit: AP / Mulvaney

Shark tank

Donald Trump vowed to be business-friendly, and that’s a promise the president is keeping. But consumers are at risk of being unfriended by the federal government.

Regulators he has appointed are taking a far less aggressive approach to consumer protection than their predecessors, The Washington Post finds.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos revoked Obama-era directives that sought to enforce standards for student loan servicing companies and has also delayed forgiving the loans of students defrauded by for-profit colleges.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is also lightening up on business. It hasn’t issued any penalties for at least five months.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau used to take three to five enforcement actions a month. Since November, under a Trump appointee: Zero.

The fair lending office has lost its enforcement powers, and the CFPB ended a suit against payday loan companies that charged poor borrowers interest rates up to 950 percent.

How cozy is the industry with the new CPFB? The former CEO of a company the bureau previously investigated sent an email to the personal email of its acting boss, Mick Mulvaney, to apply for the top job there, The Associated Press reported.

More foreign Trump intrigue

An adviser to the United Arab Emirates with ties to current and former aides to Trump is cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller and gave testimony last week to a grand jury, according to The New York Times.

Mueller is allegedly exploring the possibility that this adviser, George Nader, funneled money from the Emirates to help the campaign. He attended a meeting in the Seychelles after the election that brought together a businessman close to Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who advised the Trump team during the transition.

No chaos! You’re the chaos!

Trump joked at the Gridiron dinner last Saturday that “I like chaos,” but the constant, credible, deeply reported accounts of chronic disarray set off this Tuesday morning tweet:

“The new Fake News narrative is that there is CHAOS in the White House. Wrong! People will always come & go, and I want strong dialogue before making a final decision. I still have some people that I want to change (always seeking perfection). There is no Chaos, only great Energy!”

Before the day was over, top economic adviser Gary Cohn — who opposed Trump’s tariff plan — announced his resignation. That followed an Oval Office meeting in which Trump demanded Cohn’s cooperation, but didn’t get it, Bloomberg News reports. Last week, communications director Hope Hicks gave notice.

Not to worry, Trump told reporters at a news conference with Sweden’s prime minister earlier. “Believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House. They all want a piece of that Oval Office ... it’s just a great place to work,” he said.

What a lovely war

“Trade wars aren’t so bad,” Trump said at the news conference, defending his plan to scale back his plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Weirdly casting it in hearts-and-flowers language, he said, “We’ll do it in a very loving way.”

Trump seemed unmoved by calls from Capitol Hill Republicans to ease up. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin called for a “more surgical approach” to combating unfair trade practices.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said there’s “a high level of concern” hindering a growing economy.

Janison: The Kushiest job

At best, Jared Kushner gets an incomplete for the missions his father-in-law has given him, such as forging an Israeli-Palestinian peace and reinventing government.

At worst, there are questions over whether he knows what he’s doing, except creating multiple grounds to raise suspicions of conflicts of interest between his business interests and White House policymaking.

See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.

Stormy, steamed, sues Trump

Porn star Stormy Daniels sued Trump Tuesday, asserting her agreement not to tell her story about an affair with him in 2006 and 2007 is not valid because he never signed it.

Early Wednesday, her lawyer definitively told the “Today” show she had a sexual affair with Trump and “is looking to disclose the truth about what happened.”

The suit said Daniels — whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — went to court because Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, is trying “to intimidate Ms. Clifford into silence and ‘shut her up.’” Cohen has admitted arranging the $130,000 hush-money payment.

Speaking of fake names, the hush agreement revealed in the suit refers to Trump throughout as “David Dennison” and Clifford as “Peggy Peterson.” A side letter agreement reveals Peterson’s true identity as Clifford. Dennison’s real name is blacked out in the legal papers attached to the suit but Clifford’s lawyer said it was Trump.

Hold the fire and fury

Trump said he believed North Korea was “sincere” in announcing its willingness to hold denuclearization talks with the U.S., but also cautioned that the announcement could amount to “false hope,” reports Newsday’s Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

On Tuesday, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un met with South Korean officials said he would be willing to give up his nuclear arsenal if military threats against his country were dropped, according to a statement from the South Korea’s government.

Upon sober reflection

On the morning after his wild media blitz, onetime Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg told a Fox Business Network reporter that he now plans to cooperate fully with special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury — and then seek treatment.

FBN reporter Charles Gasparino said Nunberg Monday “admitted to me he was drinking.” Which of course sheds no light on whether he was telling the truth when he spoke.

Trump: Pay your own Gate-way

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao confirmed that Trump personally urged top Republicans in Congress to block funding for the Hudson Tunnel and Portal Bridge between New York and New Jersey, part of the Gateway program for the Northeast rail corridor.

“Yes, the president is concerned about the viability of this project and the fact that New York and New Jersey have no skin in the game,” Chao said. “They need to step up and bear their fair share. They are two of the richest states in the country.”

Chao insisted there was no documented commitment from the Obama administration either. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) retorted none of the current objections were raised when regional officials met with Trump in September.

“Loyalty and keeping your word is a two-way street,” King said. See Tom Brune’s story for Newsday.

What else is happening:

  • Anthony Scaramucci and his wife Deirdre Ball went on “Dr. Phil” to explain to how his 11-day stint as White House communications director nearly ended their marriage. For starters, he neglected to tell her he had taken the Trump job.
  • The Trump administration has decided once again to allow Americans to import the body parts of African elephants shot for sport, despite presidential tweets last November decrying the practice as a “horror show.”
  • A federal watchdog says Kellyanne Conway violated the law barring government officials from using their positions to influence campaigns when she spoke about the Alabama Senate race last year. The White House retorted she did no such thing with such comments as Trump “doesn’t want a liberal Democrat representing Alabama.”
  • A top public affairs aide to EPA chief Scott Pruitt has won permission to make extra money moonlighting for private clients whose identities are being kept secret, The Associated Press reports. House Democrats complained the arrangement “raises serious concerns of potential conflicts of interest.”
  • Chelsea Clinton has been friends with Ivanka Trump, but the former president’s daughter told “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert the two the have “not spoken … in a long time.” and criticism of Ivanka for Trump White House policies is fair game.
  • Trump tweeted with apparent satisfaction that Sunday night’s Academy Awards were the “Lowest rated Oscars in HISTORY. Problem is, we don’t have Stars anymore — except your President (just kidding, of course)!” Host Jimmy Kimmel replied: “Thanks, lowest rated President in HISTORY.”


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