(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE USA TODAY NEWSPAPER)
(Yesterday the Attorney General William Barr Proved to the American people that he, Our Nation’s Top Cop is totally bought and paid for as well as proving himself to be an habitual liar, just like his boss. The DOJ needs to change its call letters to DONJ, STANDS FOR DEPARTMENT OF NO JUSTICE, but of course it could mean Donald, as in Teflon Don’s Justice) (oldpoet56)
William Barr proved himself to be Donald Trump’s lawyer, not America’s: Today’s talker
USA TODAYPublished 2:01 p.m. ET May 2, 2019
‘Barr was now fully invested in portraying Trump as its innocent victim,’ says Brian Dickerson.
Attorney General William Barr was a no-show on Thursday, skipping a second congressional hearing into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Barr writes his obituary — and it’s not flattering
By Brian Dickerson
Attorney General William Barr snookered me.
Back in January, testifying before senators considering whether to confirm him as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, Barr was at pains to dispel suspicions that he would use his office to undercut the work of special counsel Robert Mueller, then nearing the conclusion of his investigation.
Senators who opposed Barr’s confirmation had ample reason to question his bona fides as an honest broker. Half a year before his nomination as attorney general, in a 19-page memo mailed to Department of Justice leaders, Barr had asserted that Mueller’s inquiry into the allegations that the president had broken the law by obstructing DOJ investigators was “fatally misconceived” because the president’s authority over the department was absolute.
But at his confirmation hearing, Barr insisted the memo was merely a summary of his disinterested legal judgment, not a veiled pledge of unquestioning loyalty to the president who had nominated him. He had already served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, he reminded senators; he wanted to restore confidence in the DOJ, not use it as a shield for presidential misconduct.
The prospect that Barr had misled senators about his independence emerged on March 24, when he released a four-page summary of Mueller’s report that eerily echoed the language of the White House propaganda machine. Barr confirmed his critics’ worst suspicions on April 18, when he preempted the release of the redacted report with a news conference in which he portrayed White House efforts to derail the investigation as the reasonable reaction of a president “frustrated and angered” about the allegations against him.
Along with his assertion that the FBI had spied after obtaining a warrant to monitor the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian agents, Barr made it clear that contrary to his promise to defend Mueller’s investigation, he was now fully invested in portraying Trump as its innocent victim.
Mueller made plain his dismay at Barr’s metamorphosis from attorney general to chief defense counsel in a March 27 letter, made public just before the attorney general’s testimony Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which the special counsel protested that Barr had distorted “the context, substance and nature” of his investigators’ work and threatened to undermine public confidence in their findings.
In his Senate testimony, Barr dismissed Mueller’s circumspect letter as “snitty,” brushed off previous sworn testimony in which the AG denied any inkling of the special counsel’s displeasure, and insisted, with the Trump White House’s characteristic disdain for candor, that he had meant to telegraph “no negative connotations” with his insinuations about FBI “spying.”
Yet it is impossible to imagine that Mueller, his investigators, or the FBI agents and DOJ lawyers working on the 14 criminal investigations Mueller’s team referred to other U.S. attorneys came away from Wednesday’s hearing with the confidence that Barr has their backs.
Contrast that with the almost reverent appreciation Justice Department officials expressed for Barr’s predecessors, the late Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus, when they resigned rather than enlist in President Richard Nixon’s campaign to co-opt the Justice Department.
Barr won’t lose any sleep over my own disappointment, and he won’t be around to see how historians remember the cause for which he sacrificed, in a few short months, his reputation for integrity.
But he is quickly rewriting the obituary that might have appeared if he had demurred when Trump enlisted him as the White House’s principal propagandist. The updated version is unlikely to be one he or his children will take much pride in.
James Comey, The New York Times: “Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them. … More often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Attorney General William Barr and former acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive President Donald Trump, and that adds up to something they will never recover from.”
The Wall Street Journal,editorial: “This trashing of Bill Barr shows how frustrated and angry Democrats continue to be that the special counsel came up empty in his Russia collusion probe. He was supposed to be their fast track to impeachment. Now they’re left trying to gin up an obstruction tale, but the probe wasn’t obstructed and there was no underlying crime. So they’re shouting and pounding the table against Bill Barr for acting like a real attorney general.”
Dana Milbank, The Washington Post: “Barr continued undermining Mueller on Wednesday, calling Mueller’s letter to him ‘a bit snitty’ and saying Mueller should have ended the investigation if he didn’t think it in his purview to say whether Trump committed a crime. And Barr eagerly played Trump’s defense lawyer. … Repeatedly, Barr said it didn’t matter that Trump had deceived the public. ‘I’m not in the business of determining when lies are told to the American people,’ he said. But now Barr, by misrepresenting his dealings with Mueller, has gotten himself into the business of lying to the American people.”
What our readers are saying
Attorney General William Barr is not America’s lawyer, he’s President Donald Trump’s private counsel hired to lie to Congress and Americans. Barr lied to Congress on Wednesday regarding former special counsel Robert Mueller’s letter and said it was probably written by a subordinate. He has no shame and will do anything to protect our “dictator.”
— Russell E. Glass
I’m glad Barr told them to stick it on a second congressional hearing. Barr was ready to testify until the House Judiciary Committee agreed to add an hour of questions by staff lawyers — a nonsensical demand. Democrats just wanted another day of theatrics.
— Gerd Eysser
So many people don’t understand the true danger in this administration and their lawlessness. It sets the dangerous precedent that money and power mean you are above the law, and their total disregard for the Constitution and our laws is deplorable and putting us all at risk.
— Eileen Carlson Sierra
The Mueller report is done. There was no collusion! Liberals need to get over themselves and quit spending all this money.
— Pamela Hyder Lewis
To join the conversations about topics on USA TODAY or provide feedback to this newsletter, email [email protected], comment on Facebook, or use #tellusatoday on Twitter.
(OPED: PEOPLE LIKE APPLE’S TIM COOK WHO GO BEFORE CONGRESS AND LIE HIS -SS OFF SHOULD BE ARRESTED AT ONCE AND HELD WITHOUT BAIL. IF THE AVERAGE PERSON DID THESE SAME CRIMES THEY WOULD BE THROWN UNDER THE JAIL. IN MY OPINION, IT SHINES A LIGHT ON THE REAL WORLD OF POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS, IF YOU ARE A BIG MONEY GIVER TO THE POLITICIANS (BUYING THEM), YOU ARE ALLOWED TO BREAK THE LAWS AND STEAL BILLIONS THROUGH TAX FRAUD.) (TRS)
Apple’s cash mountain, how it avoids tax and the Irish link
Paradise Papers: Elite tax advisers help Apple and others skirt effects of ‘double Irish’ crackdown
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), use the example of a fictional fast-food chain, Snax Haven, in explaining how offshore tax avoidance systems work. Video: ICIJ
It was May 2013, and Apple Inc’s chief executive, Tim Cook, was angry. He sat before the United States Senate’s permanent subcommittee on investigations, which had completed an inquiry into how Apple avoided tens of billions of dollars in taxes by shifting profits into Irish subsidiaries that the subcommittee’s chairman called “ghost companies”.
“We pay all the taxes we owe, every single dollar,” Cook declared. “We do not depend on tax gimmicks . . . We do not stash money on some Caribbean island.”
Five months later Ireland bowed to international pressure and announced a crackdown on Irish firms, like Apple’s subsidiaries, that claimed that almost all of their income was not subject to taxes in Ireland or anywhere else in the world.
Now leaked documents shine a light on how the iPhone maker responded to this move. Despite its CEO’s public rejection of island havens, that’s where Apple turned as it began shopping for a new tax refuge.
Apple’s advisers at one of the world’s top law firms, the US-headquartered Baker McKenzie, canvassed one of the leading players in the offshore world, a firm of lawyers called Appleby, which specialized in setting up and administering tax-haven companies.
A questionnaire that Baker McKenzie emailed in March 2014 set out 14 questions for Appleby’s offices in the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey.
One asked that the offices “Confirm that an Irish company can conduct management activities . . . without being subject to taxation in your jurisdiction.”
Apple also asked for assurances that the local political climate would remain friendly: “Are there any developments suggesting that the law may change in an unfavorable way in the foreseeable future?”
In the end Apple settled on Jersey, the tiny island in the English Channel that, like many Caribbean havens, charges no tax on corporate profits for most companies. Jersey was to play a significant role in Apple’s newly configured Irish tax structure set up in late 2014. Under this arrangement, the MacBook maker has continued to enjoy ultralow tax rates on most of its profits and now holds much of its non-US earnings in a $252 billion mountain of cash offshore. The Irish Government’s crackdown on shadow companies, meanwhile, has had little effect.
The inside story of Apple’s hunt for a new avoidance strategy is among the disclosures emerging from a leak of secret corporate records that reveals how the offshore tax game is played by Apple, Nike, Uber and other multinational corporations – and how top law firms help them exploit gaps between differing tax codes around the world.
The documents come from the internal files of the offshore law firm Appleby and the corporate services provider Estera, two businesses that operated together under the Appleby name until Estera became independent in 2016.
The files show how Appleby played a cameo role in creating many cross-border tax structures. The German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung obtained the records and shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and its media partners, including The Irish Times, the New York Times, Australia’s ABC, the BBC in the United Kingdom, Le Monde in France and CBC in Canada.
These disclosures come as the White House and Congress consider cutting the US federal tax on corporate income, pushing its top rate of 35 percent down to 20 percent or lower. President Donald Trump has insisted that American firms are getting a bad deal from current tax rules.
The documents show that, in reality, many big US multinationals pay income taxes at very low rates, thanks in part to complex corporate structures they set up with the help of a global network of elite tax advisers.
In this regard, Apple has led the field. Despite almost all design and development of its products taking place in the US, the iPhone maker has for years been able to report that about two-thirds of its worldwide profits were made in other countries, where it has used loopholes to access ultralow foreign tax rates.
Now leaked documents help show how Apple quietly carried out a restructuring of its Irish companies at the end of 2014, allowing it to carry on paying taxes at low rates on the majority of global profits.
Multinationals that transfer intangible assets to tax havens and adopt other aggressive avoidance strategies are costing governments around the world as much as $240 billion a year in lost tax revenue, according to a conservative estimate in 2015 by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Documents reviewed by ICIJ and other media partners provide insight into how those strategies work. They show the creative methods that advisory firms devise in response to attempts by regulators to crack down on tax shelters.
“US multinational firms are the global grandmasters of tax-avoidance schemes that deplete not just US tax collection but the tax collection of most every large economy in the world,” said Edward Kleinbard, a former corporate lawyer who is now a professor of tax law at the University of Southern California.
The Trump administration and the United States Congress are considering whether to grant a one-time tax holiday that would allow big multinationals to bring home, at a sharply reduced tax rate, more than $2.6 trillion they have stowed in offshore subsidiaries.
Kleinbard said the prospect of a big corporate tax holiday “simply begs companies to ramp up their tax-avoidance strategy still further in anticipation of more holidays in years to come. And it removes pressure for genuine reform.”
An Apple spokesperson declined to answer a list of questions about the company’s offshore tax strategy, except to say it had informed US, Irish and European Commission regulators of its reorganization at the end of 2014. “The changes we made did not reduce our tax payments in any country,” the spokesman said.
He added: “At Apple, we follow the laws, and if the system changes we will comply. We strongly support efforts from the global community toward comprehensive international tax reform and a far simpler system, and we will continue to advocate for that.”
By quietly transferring trademarks, patent rights, and other intangible assets to offshore companies, many other global businesses have also been able to cut their tax bills dramatically.
The leaked papers show how the ownership of prized assets – including rights to Nike’s Swoosh trademark, Uber’s taxi-hailing app and medical patents covering such treatment options as Botox and breast implants – could all be traced to a five-story office block in Bermuda occupied by Appleby and Estera.
Ownership of Facebook’s user database for most countries outside the United States, as well as rights to use its platform technology – together worth billions of dollars – has been held through companies at a similarly unassuming address on Grand Cayman used by Appleby and Estera. And Apple’s money trail has been traced to a building used by Appleby and Estera in Jersey, 30km off the coast of northern France.
Addresses shared by the two offshore firms on tax-haven islands have played host to secretive shell companies buried deep within the corporate architecture of many of the largest multinationals. Despite moves by governments to phase out loopholes, tax shelters remain as popular as ever.
Governments around the world have challenged some of the tax structures maintained by Appleby and Estera clients – though not always successfully. Nike triumphed over the US Internal Revenue Service a year ago. A dispute between Facebook and US tax authorities continues to play out in court. Apple, meanwhile, is being pursued €13 billion in Irish back taxes after European regulators ruled that Ireland had granted illegal state aid by approving Apple’s tax structure.
The leaked documents help explain how three small jurisdictions – the Netherlands, Ireland, and Bermuda – have become go-to destinations for big corporations looking to avoid taxes on their overseas earnings. Among them, these three spots hold less than one-third of 1 per cent of the world’s population – but they accounted for 35 per cent of all profits that US multinationals reported earning overseas last year, according to analysis by Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.
Over three decades US multinationals have been growing bolder, shifting vast chunks of profits into tax havens. Concerns about their tactics were largely ignored until government finances around the world came under pressure in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Beginning in the autumn of 2012, the issue came to a head in a welter of government inquiries, tax-inspector raids, investigative reporting and promises of reform.
By the time the US Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations released 142 pages of documents and analysis for its public hearing on Apple’s tax avoidance in May 2013, the world was paying attention. The subcommittee found that Apple was attributing billions of dollars of profits each year to three Irish subsidiaries that declared “tax residency” nowhere in the world.
Under Irish law, most firms incorporated in Ireland are required to pay taxes locally on their profits. But if the directors are able to convince the Irish tax authorities that a company is “managed and controlled” abroad, it can often escape all, or almost all, Irish tax
For more than two decades the directors of Apple’s three Irish companies – including, for many years, Tim Cook – did just that. By running these Irish subsidiaries from group headquarters in California they avoided Irish tax residency.
At the same time, the directors knew that their Irish companies would not qualify for tax residency in the United States because American tax law worked differently. Under US rules a company has American tax residency only if it is incorporated there.
“Apple sought the holy grail of tax avoidance: offshore corporations that it argues are not, for tax purposes, resident anywhere in any nation,” Carl Levin, then a Democratic senator for Michigan, and chairman of the Senate subcommittee, said at the 2013 hearing.
Ireland’s minister for finance at the time, Michael Noonan, at first defended his country’s policies, saying, “I do not want to be the whipping boy for some misunderstanding in a hearing in the US Congress.” But by October 2013, in response to growing international pressure, he announced plans to require Irish companies to declare tax residency somewhere in the world.
At that time Apple had accumulated $111 billion in cash almost entirely held by its Irish shadow companies, beyond the reach of US tax authorities. Each year the pile grew higher and higher as billions of dollars in profits poured into these low-tax subsidiaries.
Company officials wanted to keep it that way.
So Apple sought alternatives to replace the tax-shelter arrangements that Ireland would soon shut down. At the same time, however, the iPhone maker wanted its interest in the offshore world kept quiet.
As Cameron Adderley, global head of Appleby’s corporate division explained in an email to other senior partners: “For those of you who are not aware Apple [officials] are extremely sensitive concerning publicity . . . They also expect the work that is being done for them only to be discussed amongst personnel who need to know.”
For Appleby, Adderley explained, this was “a tremendous opportunity for us to shine on a global basis with Baker McKenzie”.
Baker McKenzie’s role in setting up offshore structures for multinationals, and then defending them when challenged by tax regulators, is legendary. The law firm has also been involved in lobbying against proposals to crack down on tax avoidance by technology giants. It has 5,000 attorneys in 77 offices around the world. Former partners include Christine Lagarde, the former French finance minister and now managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
Behind closed doors, Apple decided that two of its Irish companies should, with the help of Appleby, claim tax residency in Jersey, one of the largest island shelters with strong links to the UK banking system, where Apple’s Irish subsidiaries already held accounts. Jersey is a crown dependency of the United Kingdom, but it makes its own laws, sets its own tax rates and is not subject to most European Union legislation, making it a popular tax haven.
As Apple’s plans to use an offshore tax haven progressed another potential problem emerged. In mid-2014, again under pressure from other governments, Ireland had begun exploring a ban on the tax shelter known as the double Irish, an avoidance strategy used by scores of companies, including Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, other tech companies and drugmakers such as Abbott Laboratories.
The double Irish allows companies to collect profits through one Irish unit that actually employs people in Ireland and is tax resident there, then route those profits to a second Irish subsidiary that claims tax residency in a low-tax island such as Bermuda, Grand Cayman or the Isle of Man.
A crackdown on such arrangements could have interfered with Apple’s plans in Jersey before they had got off the ground. Although it was aimed at double-Irish structures the potential rule change would ban all Irish companies from claiming tax residency in a tax haven.
Although the iPhone maker was not in a position to protest loudly, others spoke up. California-based Terilea Wielenga, who was the international president of the Tax Executives Institute, wrote to Noonan in July 2014, warning that moves that would effectively ban double-Irish structures “may not be prudent”. And if Irish ministers did press ahead, she added, they would be well advised to incorporate “a substantial transition period”.
What her letter did not tell, but leaked Appleby papers now show, was that Wielenga was quietly orchestrating a long-standing double-Irish structure at Allergan, the maker of Botox, where at the time she worked as head of tax. For more than a decade the structure has shifted profits away from Ireland, where Allergan has a Botox factory, to Bermuda.
The ICIJ attempted to contact Wielenga but did not receive a response. Allergan did not answer specific questions about its tax affairs but said: “Allergan abides by all applicable tax laws and accounting rules and pays all taxes owed in all jurisdictions where it does business.”
The lobbying seemed to work.
Ireland included a generous grandfathering clause for Allergan and other multinationals using Irish tax structures. “For existing companies, there will be provision for a transition period until the end of 2020,” Noonan declared on October 14th, 2014.
More precisely, the fine print of policy documents revealed, the grandfathering provisions would apply not just to companies in existence when the finance minister spoke but also any new ones created up until the end of 2014.
That gave Apple just enough time. By the start of 2015, it had restructured its affairs in Ireland, including securing tax residency in Jersey for Apple Sales International and Apple Operations International, two of the three Irish shadow companies highlighted in the US Senate investigation a year earlier.
For the previous five years, Apple Sales International had been Apple’s biggest profit generator, churning out more than $120 billion, or close to 60 percent of Apple’s worldwide earnings.
Meanwhile, much of that profit was transferred as dividends to Apple Operations International, described by Cook as “a company set up to provide an efficient way to manage Apple’s cash”.
Before their move to Jersey, these two subsidiaries had played a leading role in helping Apple accumulate and hold $137 billion in cash – most of which came from non-US profits barely taxed by any government in the world.
The latest figures indicate that since Apple’s reorganization of its Irish companies this sum has increased 84 percent, although Apple won’t confirm which of its foreign subsidiaries own this cash.
This pile of money has inadvertently made Apple one of the biggest investment funds in the world, and its offshore cash reserves have been put to work in a portfolio that includes corporate bonds, government debt, and mortgage-backed securities.
Under the wire
Apple was not the only multinational that moved quickly to grab a final chance before 2015 dawned.
“At the end of 2014 a window of opportunity closes,” advisers from the big US law firm DLA Piper explained to CitiXsys, a retail software supplier based in New York. DLA Piper set out a frenetic schedule of incorporations and intellectual-property transfers to be rushed through before the new year to set up a double Irish.
As DLA Piper explained, this arrangement “must be managed and controlled in [a] 0% or low tax jurisdiction, such as the Isle of Man, where the bulk of profits are recognized”. That way the entire structure “produces a very low effective tax rate, approximately 5% to 7%”.
ICIJ contacted CitiXsys and other multinationals featured in this story. CitiXsys did not respond, and Uber declined to comment. Nike, Facebook, and Allergan declined to answer questions but provided general statements saying they fully complied with tax regulations in countries where they operate.
DLA Piper declined to comment, and Baker McKenzie said it does not discuss client matters. Appleby declined to answer questions but said on its website: “We are an offshore law firm who advises clients on legitimate and lawful ways to conduct their business.” Estera, the corporate-services company that split away from Appleby at the beginning of 2016 and continues to administer many offshore companies on behalf of clients, declined to comment.
While CitiXsys’s rapidly assembled structure mirrored the structures embraced by Facebook, Google and others using the double Irish, Apple’s reorganized Irish companies appear to function very differently.
The iPhone maker has declined to answer ICIJ’s questions about its new setup, but it appears to give a key role to another of Apple’s Irish subsidiaries, a company called Apple Operations Europe.
Together with Apple Operations International and Apple Sales International, the company made up the three Irish firms criticised by US senators in 2013 for being “ghost companies”, tax resident nowhere in the world.
By 2015 tighter Irish laws had caused all three to find a new tax home. But while the other two Irish companies took up residence in Jersey, Apple Operations Europe became tax resident in Ireland, the country of its incorporation.
A clue to why a multinational might want a subsidiary that was liable for taxes in Ireland can be found, once again, in Michael Noonan’s budget announcement in 2014.
While media headlines focused on his decision to crack down on double-Irish arrangements, less attention was paid to measures not mentioned in his budget speech but contained in accompanying policy documents. In particular, the paperwork revealed plans to expand an already generous tax regime for companies that bring the intangible property into Ireland.
The incentive, known as a capital allowance, offered Irish companies big tax deductions over many years if they spent money buying expensive intangible property.
Importantly for multinationals, however, it was also available to an Irish company that bought the intangible property from another company within the same group.
The arrangement was especially attractive to those multinationals that were in a position to sell their intangible property into Ireland from a subsidiary in a tax haven, where the gain from the sale would go untaxed.
In effect, even though the internal sale would cost the multinational nothing, such a move could nevertheless unlock huge tax breaks in Ireland.
Even before Noonan sweetened the terms of this capital allowance tax break, some experts suggested it could be used to achieve tax rates as low as 2.5 percent.
Apple declined to answer questions about whether it has taken advantage of this tax break by selling rights to use its intangible property from Apple Sales International in Jersey to Apple Operations Europe in Ireland.
It’s clear, though, that a large amount of intangible property landed abruptly in Ireland around the period when Apple reorganized its three Irish subsidiaries. In fact, the country’s gross domestic product for 2015 leaped by an incredible 26 per cent, boosted by close to $270 billion of intangible assets suddenly appearing in Ireland’s national accounts at the start of the year – more than the entire value of residential property in Ireland.
The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman called the development “Leprechaun economics”.
The ICIJ showed the findings from its investigation to J Richard Harvey, a Villanova University law professor, and Stephen Shay, senior lecturer at Harvard Law School. In 2013 both of them gave detailed testimony on Apple’s previous Irish structure to the US Senate committee’s investigation. They both told the ICIJ it appeared likely the iPhone maker had transferred intangible assets to Ireland.
“While it is not 100 percent clear how Apple has restructured its Irish operations, one strong possibility is that they have transferred more than $200 billion of valuable intangible assets . . . to an Irish resident company, for example, Apple Operations Europe,” Harvey said.
Shay added: “By using Irish intangible property tax reliefs, Apple likely will pay little or no additional Irish tax for years to come on income at Apple Operations Europe.
The Department of Finance in Dublin told the ICIJ: “The Irish regime for capital allowances . . . is broadly similar to regimes available in other countries and does not confer any additional benefits to multinationals.”
However, in October 2017, Ireland reversed the sweetened terms Noonan had added to the tax break three years earlier.
Apple said that following its reorganization it pays more Irish tax than before. “The changes we made did not reduce our tax payments in any country,” Apple said in a statement. “In fact, our payments to Ireland increased significantly and over three years [2014, 2015 and 2016] we’ve paid $1.5 billion in tax there – 7% of all corporate income taxes paid in that country.”
But the iPhone maker still won’t say how much profit it makes through its Irish companies – making it impossible to gauge whether $1.5 billion is a lot of tax to pay in three years or not.
Reuven Avi-Yonah, director of the international tax program at the University of Michigan Law School, said Apple was “determined not to be hurt” when it had to abandon its previous Irish structure. “This is how it usually works: You close one tax shelter, and something else opens up,” he said. “It just goes on endlessly.”
Jesse Drucker, a reporter with the New York Times, contributed to this story
Sessions discussed Trump campaign-related matters with Russian ambassador, U.S. intelligence intercepts show
Sessions discussed Trump campaign matters with Russian ambassador, according to U.S. intercepts
The accounts from Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to his superiors, intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, contradict public assertions by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Post’s Greg Miller explains. (Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general, according to current and former U.S. officials.Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.
One U.S. official said that Sessions — who testified that he has no recollection of an April encounter — has provided “misleading” statements that are “contradicted by other evidence.” A former official said that the intelligence indicates that Sessions and Kislyak had “substantive” discussions on matters including Trump’s positions on Russia-related issues and prospects for U.S.-Russia relations in a Trump administration.
Sessions has said repeatedly that he never discussed campaign-related issues with Russian officials and that it was only in his capacity as a U.S. senator that he met with Kislyak.
“I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign,” Sessions said in March when he announced that he would recuse himself from matters relating to the FBI probe of Russian interference in the election and any connections to the Trump campaign.
Current and former U.S. officials said that assertion is at odds with Kislyak’s accounts of conversations during two encounters over the course of the campaign, one in April ahead of Trump’s first major foreign policy speech and another in July on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.
The apparent discrepancy could pose new problems for Sessions at a time when his position in the administration appears increasingly tenuous.
Trump, in an interview this week, expressed frustration with Sessions’s recusing himself from the Russia probe and indicated that he regretted his decision to make the lawmaker from Alabama the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Trump also faulted Sessions as giving “bad answers” during his confirmation hearing about his Russian contacts during the campaign.
Officials emphasized that the information contradicting Sessions comes from U.S. intelligence on Kislyak’s communications with the Kremlin, and acknowledged that the Russian ambassador could have mischaracterized or exaggerated the nature of his interactions.
“Obviously I cannot comment on the reliability of what anonymous sources describe in a wholly uncorroborated intelligence intercept that the Washington Post has not seen and that has not been provided to me,” said Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman in a statement. She reiterated that Sessions did not discuss interference in the election.
Russian and other foreign diplomats in Washington and elsewhere have been known, at times, to report false or misleading information to bolster their standing with their superiors or to confuse U.S. intelligence agencies.
But U.S. officials with regular access to Russian intelligence reports say Kislyak — whose tenure as ambassador to the United States ended recently — has a reputation for accurately relaying details about his interactions with officials in Washington.
Sessions removed himself from direct involvement in the Russia investigation after it was revealed in The Washington Post that he had met with Kislyak at least twice in 2016, contacts he failed to disclose during his confirmation hearing in January.
“I did not have communications with the Russians,” Sessions said when asked whether anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign had communicated with representatives of the Russian government.
He has since maintained that he misunderstood the scope of the question and that his meetings with Kislyak were strictly in his capacity as a U.S. senator. In a March appearance on Fox television, Sessions said, “I don’t recall any discussion of the campaign in any significant way.”
But when pressed for details, Sessions qualified many of his answers during that hearing by saying that he could “not recall” or did not have “any recollection.”
A former U.S. official who read the Kislyak reports said that the Russian ambassador reported speaking with Sessions about issues that were central to the campaign, including Trump’s positions on key policy matters of significance to Moscow.
Sessions had a third meeting with Kislyak in his Senate office in September. Officials declined to say whether U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted any Russian communications describing the third encounter.
As a result, the discrepancies center on two earlier Sessions-Kislyak conversations, including one that Sessions has acknowledged took place in July 2016 on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention.
By that point, Russian President Vladimir Putin had decided to embark on a secret campaign to help Trump win the White House by leaking damaging emails about his rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to U.S. intelligence agencies.
Although it remains unclear how involved Kislyak was in the covert Russian campaign to aid Trump, his superiors in Moscow were eager for updates about the candidate’s positions, particularly regarding U.S. sanctions on Russia and long-standing disputes with the Obama administration over conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.
Kislyak also reported having a conversation with Sessions in April at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, where then-candidate Trump delivered his first major foreign policy address, according to the officials familiar with intelligence on Kislyak.
Sessions has said he does not remember any encounter with Kislyak at that event. In his June testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sessions said, “I do not recall any conversations with any Russian official at the Mayflower Hotel.”
Later in that hearing, Sessions said that “it’s conceivable that that occurred. I just don’t remember it.”
In that case, however, Flynn’s phone conversations with Kislyak were intercepted by U.S. intelligence, providing irrefutable evidence. The intelligence on Sessions, by contrast, is based on Kislyak’s accounts and not corroborated by other sources.
Former FBI director James B. Comey fueled speculation about the possibility of a Sessions-Kislyak meeting at the Mayflower when he told the same Senate committee on June 8 that the bureau had information about Sessions that would have made it “problematic” for him to be involved in the Russia probe.
Comey would not provide details of what information the FBI had, except to say that he could only discuss it privately with the senators. Current and former officials said he appeared to be alluding to intelligence on Kislyak’s account of an encounter with Sessions at the Mayflower.
Senate Democrats later called on the FBI to investigate the event in April at the Mayflower hotel.
Military, defense and security at home and abroad.
Sessions’s role in removing Comey as FBI director angered many at the bureau and set in motion events that led to the appointment of former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III as a special counsel overseeing the Russia probe.
Trump’s harsh words toward the attorney general fueled speculation this week that Sessions would be fired or would resign. So far, he has resisted resigning, saying that he intends to stay in the job “as long as that is appropriate.”
Matt Zapotosky and Julie Tate contributed to this report.