Mother Jones Magazine

Who’s Really Behind a $1 Million Donation to Trump’s Inauguration?

The Justice Department on Tuesday announced it had indicted eight men for conspiring to illegally funnel $3.5 million to political committees supporting Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid. Prosecutors say the money came from George Nader—a businessman who was was recently charged with trafficking a child for sexual purposes. Nader was a key figure in the Trump-Russia scandal. According to special counsel Robert Mueller, he helped arrange meetings between Trump advisers and Russian emissaries. But this week’s indictment leaves a key question unanswered: Was Nader also the source of a $1 million donation from one of the defendants to Donald Trump’s inaugural committee?

According to the indictment, Nader conspired with Andy Khawaja, the CEO of an embattled online payment processing company, in a plot to provide massive campaign donations to Democratic groups. Khawaja allegedly made the contributions in his own name and through his wife and his company, and was then reimbursed by Nader. Six Khawaja associates were also charged with acting as straw donors as part of the scheme. It’s illegal to make political campaign donations in someone else’s name. Such charges are among the 53 counts in Tuesday’s indictment.

While arranging the payments to Democratic groups, Nader “reported to an official from a foreign government about his efforts to gain influence,” prosecutors said in a statement Tuesday. They didn’t name that government. According to the Mueller report, Nader “worked for the United Arab Emirates royal court” in 2016. The report described Nader’s efforts during the presidential transition period to help the UAE set up meetings between the Trump team and Russia.

But prosecutors said conspicuously little Tuesday about a $1 million donation that Khawaja’s company, Allied Wallet, gave to Trump’s inaugural committee. According to emails obtained by Mother Jones, Khawaja brought Nader as his guest to the inauguration. In a form apparently sent to the inaugural committee, Khawaja described Nader as an “advisor” to Allied Wallet.

In interviews and electronic messages prior to his indictment, Khawaja denied that Nader was his guest at the inauguration or an adviser to Allied Wallet. Any email suggesting this, he said, “is inaccurate. It’s bullshit. It’s fabricated.”

Tuesday’s indictment contradicted this denial, alleging that Nader had indeed attended the inauguration as Khawaja’s guest. Prosecutors also charged Khawaja with obstructing the investigation, in part by allegedly giving a witness false information in an attempt to downplay Nader’s ties to Allied Wallet.

The indictment, however, did not address an obvious question: Did Nader put up the $1 million that Allied Wallet gave Trump?

Khawaja says Nader had nothing to do with it. “Nader did not give me money for [the] inauguration,” he told Mother Jones Thursday. He also disputed the charges in the indictment. “Nader never gave me any money to give to [Hillary Clinton],” he said, asserting that Nader had instead simply done business with his company.

“Nader was a Trump supporter and never cared about Hillary or her campaign,” said Khawaja. “This is a hit job to make Democrats look bad.”

Lawyers for Nader did not respond to requests for comment.

The charges paint a picture of an effort by Nader to gain influence with Clinton’s supporters, and to hedge his bets by cultivating Trump’s team—all while reporting back to unnamed foreign masters. According to the indictment, in a July 19, 2016, WhatsApp message to an unidentified foreign official, Nader said he was “developing a steady, consistent and constructive relationship with both camps!” After Trump’s electoral victory, Nader appears to have hustled to ingratiate himself with the incoming administration. His attendance at the inauguration came as part of an effort in which he developed relationships with Steve Bannon, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy, and Erik Prince, the Blackwater founder and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. 

The indictment also detailed WhatsApp messages in which Khawaja and Nader allegedly discussed plans for Nader to reimburse Khawaja for his donations, in part through allegedly fake invoices Khawaja sent Nader. Using what prosecutors say was a code, the men referred to funds as “baklava” and to Clinton as “sister.” These messages included hints that Nader may have been obtaining the funds from another source. When Khawaja pressed Nader in early July 2016 about the status of a reimbursement, Nader responded, “I shall pursue it vigorously!” Nader also told Khawaja that he was conferring with someone he called “HH.” In an August 4, 2016, message, for example, Nader told Khawaja he had met with “HH” and “as soon as we get back to [foreign city] prepare something with bakery for the upcoming event.” Nader told Khawaja that in this meeting, he “stressed important and unique role you are playing.”

“HH” was not identified in the indictment. According to the Mueller report and other public sources, Nader in 2016 was in direct contact with Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the effective ruler of the UAE. Bin Zayed, known as MBZ, is referred to by many Emirates as “High Highness.” Press officials at the Emirati embassy in Washington, DC, did not respond to questions about whether the UAE is the unidentified foreign government referenced in the indictment. 

Khawaja’s indictment makes him the second major Trump inaugural donor to be charged with illegally funneling earlier political donations to Democrats. In October, Imaad Zuberi, a California businessman who gave $900,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee, agreed to plead guilty in connection with a nearly 10-year scheme in which he solicited money from foreign people and firms to donate to US political campaigns on the foreigners’ behalf. As with Khawaja, prosecutors have not said if they are investigating whether the funds Zuberi gave to the inaugural committee came from another source. Zuberi told Mother Jones last year that his inaugural donation came from his own pocket.

Even if prosecutors were able to identify straw donations to Trump’s inaugural committee, they might face significant hurdles in bringing a criminal case. That’s because fundraising for presidential inaugurations is “not regulated as strictly as funds raised to influence the election itself,” says Paul Ryan, a campaign finance expert with Common Cause. In particular, the statute that prohibits making a contribution in the name of another person to a political campaign does not apply to inaugural committees. Thirteen of the charges in Tuesday’s indictment relate to violations of that law.

Peter Carr, a spokesperson for the Justice Department’s criminal division, which announced the indictment against Khawaja and Nader, declined to comment when asked about possible investigations related to the inaugural committee.

The charges against Khawaja and Nader come amid other legal problems for both men. Nader, who was convicted in the Czech Republic in 2003 of sexually abusing minors, was arrested in June in New York. He remains jailed on charges that include child pornography and transporting a 14-year-old child for sexual activity. On Monday, six attorneys representing Nader in that case filed motions to withdraw as his counsel. It’s not clear if their withdrawal has anything to do with the new campaign finance allegations. 

In May, Khawaja and his firm agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission $110 million to settle charges that the company knowingly processed payments for online firms—including sketchy debt collection and pornography outfits—that were engaged in fraud. Khawaja also faces an ongoing federal criminal investigation into his company’s conduct, according to people with knowledge of the probe. That investigation is apparently separate from the campaign finance case. Khawaja, who did not respond to questions about this probe, told Mother Jones in October that he had retained a high-powered legal team that includes former FBI director Louis Freeh and two former lawyers for OJ Simpson: Robert Shapiro and Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz, a prominent defender of Trump, said Tuesday that he cannot comment on who he represents. Freeh and Shapiro did not respond to inquires.

Khawaja has said he has been traveling abroad for the past few months. In message sent Thursday, he said that he is in China but plans to return to the US to “deal with these fake accusations.” In a phone call in October, speaking from what he said was Tokyo, he was defiant. He argued that the allegations against him were manufactured by unnamed Republican operatives worried about his support for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. Khawaja said his lawyers will “come down on” his critics “like the hand of God.”

“Tell them Andy is not gonna stop supporting Democrats,” he said. “He’s not gonna stop supporting Joe Biden. And let them go fuck themselves.”

Chart of the Day: Taxes in America

The latest OECD tax figures are out and the United States is continuing its march toward having the lowest taxes among advanced economies anywhere:

This includes all taxes—income, corporate, property, etc.—at all levels of government. It includes everything. Here’s the breakdown:

Look at those nice, low corporate taxes. It’s a good time to be a big corporation in America.

“Don’t Mess With Me”: Nancy Pelosi Fires Back at Reporter’s Question After Impeachment Announcement

Don’t say Nancy Pelosi hates the president.

After the Speaker of the House announced the go-ahead for the House to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump Thursday morning, a reporter shouted a question that caught her attention, just as she was about to leave the weekly news conference:

“Do you hate the president?”

She turned around… and fired back. “I don’t hate anybody,” she said, wagging a finger at the reporter. “I was raised in a Catholic house. We don’t hate anybody. Not anybody in the world. So don’t accuse me—.”

The reporter, Sinclair Broadcast Group reporter James Rosen, said that he was following up on Rep. Doug Collins’ (R-Ga.) accusations that the Democrats are pursuing impeachment simply out of contempt for the president. Pelosi rebuffed that notion.

“I think the president is a coward when it comes to helping our kids who are afraid of gun violence,” she said, having strode back to the podium. “I think he is cruel when he doesn’t deal with helping our Dreamers, of which we are very proud. I think he’s in denial about the climate crisis.”

But that, she said, is for the election to decide. “This is about the Constitution of the United States, and the facts that lead to the President’s violation of his oath of office,” she said. “As a Catholic, I resent your using the word hate in a sentence that addresses me. I don’t hate anyone.”

“I pray for the president all the time,” she concluded. “So don’t mess with me when it comes to words like that.”

President Trump, predictably enough, was quick to tweet:

Nancy Pelosi just had a nervous fit. She hates that we will soon have 182 great new judges and sooo much more. Stock Market and employment records. She says she “prays for the President.” I don’t believe her, not even close. Help the homeless in your district Nancy. USMCA?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 5, 2019

Watch the mic drop below:

“Don’t mess with me”: Nancy Pelosi fires back at reporter’s question after impeachment announcement

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) December 5, 2019

House Democrats to Draft Articles of Impeachment Against Trump

House Democrats are moving forward with articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced in a press conference on Thursday.

“The facts are uncontested: the president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security,” Pelosi said from the Speaker’s Balcony Hallway. 

“Today I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment.”

“Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and a heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment."- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced this morning

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) December 5, 2019

Shortly before the announcement, Trump appeared to taunt Democrats over the investigation. “If you are going to impeach me, do it now, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate,” the president tweeted. “We will have Schiff, the Bidens, Pelosi and many more testify.”

…..trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business. We will have Schiff, the Bidens, Pelosi and many more testify, and will reveal, for the first time, how corrupt our system really is. I was elected to “Clean the Swamp,” and that’s what I am doing!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 5, 2019

This is a breaking news story. We will update as more information becomes available.

Judge Says Thousands of Detainees May Sue a Prison Company For Using Them As a “Captive Labor Force”

Early one morning, Abdiaziz Karim was sleeping in his new dorm in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center when an officer woke him up. The guard pointed out graffiti on the wall and a light fixture smeared with toothpaste and demanded that Karim, a Somali waiting for an asylum hearing, clean them. When Karim protested, the guard got angry.

“He said to me he would write me up, or I’m going to go to segregation or if I don’t clean this, it will affect my case,” Karim recalled during a deposition he gave last month as part of a lawsuit against the GEO Group, the private prison company that operates the detention center in Adelanto, California. So he cleaned the wall. “Because I realize that if I don’t do those things, it will affect my case; I was not going to get bond; I was not going to get released.”

Since 2014, a series of lawsuits filed in federal courts from Washington to Georgia have collected similar allegations of coercive labor practices inside for-profit immigration detention centers run by GEO and its main competitor, CoreCivic. The lawsuits claim that the companies that operate the detention centers are violating minimum wage, unjust enrichment, and anti-slavery laws by coercing detainees to work for free, or, in some cases, $1 per day, by threatening them with punishment and depriving them of basic necessities. These cases have the potential to undercut GEO and CoreCivic’s profits from ICE detention, which accounts for about a quarter of their revenues, according to SEC filings. Northwestern University political science professor Jacqueline Stevens estimates that in 2012, savings from detainee labor accounted for approximately a quarter of each company’s net profits.

Karim, who spent two years in Adelanto before losing his asylum case and being deported to Somalia in August, is one of a group of former detainees who have brought a class-action lawsuit against the GEO Group for allegedly profiting off “a readily available, captive labor force.” Last Tuesday, a federal judge in California allowed the lawsuit to proceed as a national class action, with Karim and his three co-plaintiffs representing the tens of thousands of detainees who have been locked up in GEO facilities since 2007. Andrew Free, a Tennessee-based attorney representing the detainees, none of whom are still in detention, welcomed the ruling as a breakthrough. “For the first time, everybody who’s locked up in a GEO immigration prison, and who’s subject to the allegedly illegal policies, now has someone that they can look to as a voice, to bring their own treatment to light,” he says.

Detainees say refusing to do work may result in loss of recreation or telephone time,  solitary confinement, pepper spray, and other uses of force.

If the detainees win their lawsuit, GEO could be forced to eliminate the Housing Unit Sanitation Policy that allegedly exists in nearly all its immigration facilities. The detainees allege that theses policies require detainees to perform “a wide range of completely uncompensated work for the company’s enrichment”—including cleaning “walls, bathrooms, showers, toilets, microwaves, furniture, windows and floors.” While some housekeeping may be required under the federal standards that are written into GEO’s contracts, those tasks are supposed to be limited to making beds, “stacking loose papers,” and keeping the floor, bunks, and fixtures clear of loose items. But, according to the lawsuits, detainees who refuse to do extra cleaning may face punishments ranging from loss of recreation or telephone time to solitary confinement, pepper spray, and other uses of force.

According to the Adelanto Supplemental Detainee Handbook, which is distributed to everyone booked into the facility, refusing to clean one’s living area is considered an offense of “high moderate” severity, punishable by “disciplinary restriction up to 72 hours” or even criminal prosecution. In his deposition, Karim recounted multiple times that GEO guards confiscated his property or threatened him with solitary confinement for refusing to clean the dorm on demand. Once, he alleges, a GEO guard locked him in a room for hours when he refused to clean the intake area where he had just signed deportation paperwork.

The detainees argue that GEO is violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which prohibits forced labor. In court documents, GEO’s lawyers have claimed that no detainee was ever placed in solitary confinement for failing to work, and that the company’s sanitation policies do not violate the requirements of their contracts. The company may appeal the judge’s decision to authorize the lawsuit as a class action. The case is scheduled to proceed to trial next year.

If the detainees can convince a judge or jury that GEO’s sanitation policies have broken the law, they hope the company will be ordered to start paying detainees for their labor. The detainees are also taking aim at Adelanto’s Voluntary Work Program, in which GEO pays detainees between $1 and $4 per day for kitchen, laundry, janitorial, or maintenance jobs. The program is “not voluntary in any meaningful sense,” the detainees argue, because working is the only way to pay for food, water, hygiene products, and other basic necessities they claim GEO withholds under a “deprivation policy.” And they aren’t aren’t always paid for their work. GEO denies that detainees are deprived of necessities, arguing that its ICE-approved work program is “strictly voluntary.” 

As the lawsuits progress, the issue of detainee labor has drawn the notice of the US Commission on Civil Rights as well as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). In July, Warren asked the Department of Homeland Security’s acting inspector general to investigate whether detention centers use the threat of solitary confinement to coerce detainees to participate in the Voluntary Work Program.

The costs of fighting immigration detainees’ lawsuits them are piling up for the private prison companies. According to documents obtained by Stevens, GEO executives have repeatedly asked ICE for taxpayer money to pay their legal bills. Continuing to fight the lawsuits would cost between $15 million and $20 million, CEO George Zoley wrote in a letter to ICE last year. If the company lost one suit, it could be on the hook for “tens of millions” more in damages—a “potentially catastrophic risk” to its immigration detention operations, as GEO lawyers put it in one court filing. The federal government has declined to chip in.

The Blob Is Going After Iran

A few months ago Donald Trump decided to suddenly yank our troops from Syria. We’d already beaten ISIS, so why not? It was time to get out. But the Wall Street Journal reports today that apparently things have changed:

The Trump administration is considering a significant expansion of the U.S. military footprint in the Middle East, including dozens more ships, other military hardware and as many as 14,000 additional troops to counter Iran, U.S. officials said. The deployment could double the number of U.S. military personnel who have been sent to the region since the start of a troop buildup in May. President Trump is expected to make a decision on the new deployments as soon as this month, those officials said.

Ah yes. To counter Iran. Apparently our current military presence in the Gulf is just too thin to provide us with the ability to respond if Iran were to fire a missile or something:

Hell, this military escalation probably isn’t even Trump’s idea. It’s the blob at work. Still, it was his idea to piss off Iran just because Barack Obama had done the opposite, and now he—and we—are paying the price. We never learn, do we?

Global Carbon Emissions Will Hit a Record High in 2019… Again.

This piece was originally published in HuffPost and appears here as part of our Climate Desk Partnership.

Global carbon emissions will hit a record high once again in 2019, despite climate scientists warning louder than ever of impending environmental disaster, according to a study published Wednesday.

The report, from a consortium of researchers as part of the annual Global Carbon Budget, found countries around the world will spew more than 40.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air by the end of 2019, up about 0.6 percent from last year. The rise was spurred in part by increased output in China and India (though emissions in those countries were lower than expected) and comes despite a series of bleak reports released in recent months urging a dramatic cutback of carbon emissions to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

But the research also included a few silver linings. The year-over-year increase in 2019 will be much slower than past changes; in 2017, there was a 1.5 percent rise in emissions from the previous year, and in 2018 the number was 2.1 percent. Researchers also found a surprising decline in the use of coal around the world—by far the greatest emitter of carbon—due to a rise in the use of natural gas and a smaller uptick in renewable energy.

“The science is clear, CO₂ emissions need to decrease to net zero globally to stop further significant warming of the planet.”

“The science is clear, CO₂ emissions need to decrease to net zero globally to stop further significant warming of the planet,” Pierre Friedlingstein, a professor at the University of Exeter and the report’s lead researcher, said in a statement. The research was published simultaneously in three leading academic journals.

The stark figures come at a time when scientists and world leaders have increasingly warned about the dire state of the planet’s reliance on fossil fuels. Diplomats from more than 190 nations are gathering in Madrid this week to hammer out the final details of the landmark Paris climate agreement.

The United Nations Environment Program released a troubling assessment last month saying countries had largely failed to halt their greenhouse gas emissions, simply calling the findings “bleak.”

“Countries collectively failed to stop the growth in global emissions,” the report found, noting that in order to keep the planet from warming dramatically—and setting off the worst effects of climate change—emissions would need to decline by an average of 7.6 percent annually until 2030.

“The point of no return is no longer over the horizon,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at a news conference Sunday in Madrid. “It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”

But researchers have warned that the Paris accord won’t go nearly far enough to keep the planet from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels (although the ideal target is less than 1.5 degrees). The World Meteorological Organization published its own findings on Tuesday, stating temperatures had already risen about 1.1. degrees Celsius since the late 19th century.

Coal is still the biggest source of carbon emissions around the globe, accounting for about 40 percent, followed by oil and natural gas. But researchers said Wednesday that the planet would need to transition away from fossil fuel sources completely by the end of the century to avoid climate catastrophe.

“Current climate and energy policies are too weak to reverse trends in global emissions,” Corinne Le Quéré, a professor at the University of East Anglia and an author of the report, said in a statement. “We need stronger policies that are targeted at phasing out the use of fossil fuels.”

The United States, one of the planet’s biggest carbon emitters, formally began to withdraw from the Paris Agreement last month after President Donald Trump had repeatedly lambasted the pact as an expensive “disaster.” Trump has regularly cast doubt on the cause of climate change, and his administration has been vehemently anti-environment, rolling back a slew of the nation’s landmark laws.

The Global Carbon Budget did find that US emissions are predicted to fall by 1.7 percent over 2018 levels and coal production will likely decline by about 10 percent. The changes in the fossil fuel industry have come about despite Trump’s efforts to prop up the coal industry, and many left-leaning states have adopted their own pro-environment policies in defiance of the decisions coming from the White House.

A New Federal Judge Appointed by Trump Has Fought Against Abortion, Fertility Treatments, and Surrogacy

Senate Republicans voted Wednesday to confirm Sarah Pitlyk, who has argued against in vitro fertilization and surrogacy and touted the (debunked) “eugenic origins of the birth control movement,” to a lifetime judgeship on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. On Tuesday, Sen. Susan Collins was the only Republican to vote against Pitlyk’s nomination; all Democrats voted no as well. 

The American Bar Association unanimously determined Pitlyk was “not qualified” for the judgeship due to trial and litigation experience in September, yet the Senate Judiciary Committee moved forward anyway, continuing a pattern of selecting young, controversial, and under-qualified judges. The 42-year-old lawyer serves as special counsel for the Thomas More Society, a conservative anti-choice law firm that represented David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist who faced charges after a failed sting operation in which he offered to buy fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood and doctored videos to make it look like the organization trafficked in “baby parts.” In Pitlyk’s bio on the firm’s website, she highlights her work on “a team defending undercover journalists against civil lawsuits and criminal charges resulting from an investigation of illegal fetal tissue trafficking.” (She also touts work against “St. Louis’s unconstitutional ‘abortion sanctuary city’ ordinance,” which was intended to bar discrimination based on pregnancy and reproductive health choices.) 

Pitlyk clerked for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and wrote an opinion piece for Fox News defending him against the sexual assault allegations he faced during his confirmation process. Many reproductive rights advocates have expressed fear that the administration is appointing anti-choice federal judges as a long-term effort to restrict abortion access nationwide and challenge Roe v. Wade through the court system. 

Pitlyk has made a career out of anti-abortion and reproductive health litigation. She’s argued in support of severe abortion restrictions, including Iowa’s six-week ban (which was ruled unconstitutional). In a 2017 amicus brief against the protection of access to fertility treatments and technology, Pitlyk wrote “that surrogacy poses serious medical risks to both the pregnant women and the children they carry” and that “the practice of surrogacy has grave effects on society, such as diminished respect for motherhood and the unique mother-child bond; exploitation of women; commodification of gestation and of children themselves; and weakening of appropriate social mores against eugenic abortion.” And as the Huffington Post noted, she told the National Catholic Register the same year that “surrogacy is harmful to mothers and children, so it’s a practice society should not be enforcing.” She doesn’t appear to have a solid grasp on reproductive health science; in 2015, she wrote that it is a “scientific fact” that “human life begins at the moment when a human sperm fertilizes a human egg.”

Lunchtime Photo

I don’t know what this particular peak is called—or even if it’s big enough to have a name—but I took this picture through the windshield of our car as Professor Marc and I were driving on I80 shortly after leaving Sacramento airport on our way to Chicago. This was the very last instant that the sun was still shining on it. Within a minute or so the entire ridge was in shadow.

October 10, 2019 — Near Truckee, California

Climate Scientists Get an A For Their Warming Predictions

The key metric in all models of the earth’s climate is sensitivity. That is, how much will the globe warm for every ton of greenhouse gases that we dump into the atmosphere? If sensitivity is low, we have little to worry about. If sensitivity is high, we’re well on our way to broiling ourselves to death.

Naturally, then, it’s important to get this right. Today, a new paper was released that reviews how accurate climate scientists have been at determining this, and the answer is that they’ve been remarkably good at it. Here’s the original chart from the paper, which covers 15 models that have been published since 1970:

This is a little hard to follow, so I’ve created an unauthorized version that shows how far off each model has been in percentage terms:

As you can see, once you get past the very earliest crude models, the climate community has done pretty well. With only a couple of exceptions, their models have predicted sensitivity within ±20 percent or so. The average of all the modern models is -11 percent, which means (a) the models have been very close to reality, and (b) if anything, the models have been a little low. The earth is actually warming faster than they’ve predicted.

Moral of the story: listen to the climate scientists. Their models are pretty good, and there’s little reason to think they’ve missed anything important. Keep this in mind when your skeptic friends start going on about urban heat islands or solar cycles or whatnot. Because guess what? Climate scientists know about all these things too! Some of them don’t matter, and the ones that do have already been incorporated into current models. Climate change is real.

A Million-Dollar Donation From Ukraine to the Trump Campaign Would Be Corrupt. So Why Isn’t a Million-Dollar Investigation?

The House is currently hearing from constitutional scholars about whether Ukrainegate constitutes an impeachable offense. I would like to offer up a hypothetical. Consider the following two demands from the Trump team:

Demand #1: The president won’t release military aid until Zelensky goes on TV and commits to opening a serious investigation of Burisma and the Bidens.

Demand #2: The president won’t release military aid until Zelensky commits to spending at least $1 million for an investigation of Burisma and the Bidens.

Practically speaking, these are identical. Both demand an investigation of the Bidens that would benefit Trump personally. Both demand a way of binding Ukraine to carry out the investigation: the first with a public announcement, the second with a budgetary outlay. And both say essentially the same thing since any serious investigation of the Bidens would certainly cost Ukraine at least $1 million.

The only difference is that demand #2 actually states the dollar amount out loud. In demand #1, it’s merely implicit.

And yet, in much of the public’s mind, this minuscule difference seems to be key. As long as you take care never to be caught actually mentioning money, it’s not corrupt. Discuss.

Impassioned Law Experts Testify: If the Ukraine Scandal Isn’t Impeachable, “Nothing Is”

Constitutional law expert Michael Gerhardt warned Congress Wednesday that failure to impeach President Donald Trump could set a dangerous precedent for future commanders in chief.

“If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, nothing is impeachable,” the professor at University of North Carolina School of Law in Chapel Hill said during the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearing. “This is precisely the misconduct that the framers created a Constitution including impeachment to protect against.”

“If Congress concludes they’re gonna give a pass to the president,” he continued, “every other president will say, ‘OK, then I can do the same thing,’ and the boundaries will just evaporate.”

An erosion of those boundaries, he concluded, would be “a danger to all of us.”

Gerhardt’s remarks came during the first day of a new phase of the Democrats’ impeachment proceedings, in which Gerhardt—along with Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman, Stanford Law professor Pamela Karlan, and George Washington Law professor Jonathan Turley—provided the legal and historical basis by which the president may be found guilty of impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Watch Gerhardt’s remarks below:

Constitutional law expert Michael Gerhardt just warned Congress that a failure to impeach President Donald Trump could set a dangerous precedent for future commanders in chief:

“If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, nothing is impeachable.”

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) December 4, 2019

“This Wall Can’t Be Climbed,” Trump Said. A New Video Says Otherwise.

“Me, I don’t want to climb mountains,” President Donald Trump said in September, standing in front of construction of a new portion of his border wall in California. That’s why, he said, he’d hired a team of 20 “world-class mountain climbers” to test the various wall prototypes. “Some of them were champions. And we gave them different prototypes of walls, and this was the one that was hardest to climb. And we’ve all seen the pictures of young people climbing walls with drugs on their back—a lot of drugs. I mean, they’re unbelievable climbers. This wall can’t be climbed. This is very, very hard.”

Fast forward to this: 

This is the newly replaced wall along the US/MEXICO border. #TheWall

— J. Omar Ornelas (@fotornelas) December 4, 2019

Despite the valiant efforts of the president’s crack team of climbers and his careful monitoring of drug-carrying athletes, no one could have anticipated that in just a matter of months, migrants would hit upon an ingenious solution: ladders. What’s more, the idea that humans could slide down a pole had yet to be tested, even by the most skilled of Trump’s completely real, not-made-up elite climbing force. 

Carbon Emissions Are Up in 2019 Yet Again

In news that should shock no one, the forecasters at the Global Carbon Project estimate that carbon emissions increased yet again in 2019:

Needless to say, we are supposed to be cutting carbon emissions if we want to have any chance of preventing the planet from incinerating by the time our grandchildren are grown. But we don’t have the self-discipline to even stabilize emissions, let alone cut them.

It’s hard to find any good news in all this, but I won’t let you say I didn’t try. Here is per-capita carbon emissions for the six largest economic areas:

With the exception of India, which is starting from a very small base, per-capita emissions have mostly stabilized or declined over the past decade. This is largely because we use less energy to accomplish the same tasks, and that really is good news. It’s nowhere near good enough news, mind you, but at least it’s something that’s moving in the right direction.

“President Trump Has Committed Impeachable High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” Expert Testifies

Based on the evidence presented so far, President Donald Trump committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors, Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman—Democrats’ first witness at the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearing—testified Wednesday.

“High crimes and misdemeanors are abuses of power and of public trust connected to the office of the presidency,” Feldman said. “On the basis of the testimony and the evidence before the House, President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency. Specifically, President Trump has abused his office by corruptly soliciting President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to announce investigations of his political rivals in order to gain personal advantage, including in the 2020 presidential election.”

Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman's opening statement:
"On the basis of the testimony and the evidence before the House, President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors…"

Watch the full hearing:

— CSPAN (@cspan) December 4, 2019

After explaining the Framers’ reasoning for including a provision for impeachment in the Constitution, Feldman said that Trump’s solicitation of the president of Ukraine to investigate his political rivals “embodies the framers’ central worry that a sitting president would ‘spare no efforts or means whatever to get himself reelected.'”

“By freezing aid to Ukraine and by dangling the promise of a White House visit, the president was corruptly using the powers of the presidency for personal political gain,” Feldman said. “Here, too, the president’s conduct described by the testimony embodies the framers’ concern that a sitting president would corruptly abuse the powers of office to distort the outcome of a presidential election in his favor.”

Watch Feldman’s full opening statement below:

"President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency."

Watch the full opening statement from Harvard Law School's Noah Feldman:

— ABC News (@ABC) December 4, 2019

It Sure Looks Like World Leaders Had a Great Time Making Fun of Trump

Donald Trump long insisted on the campaign trail that the “world is laughing at us,” a warning that came with the promise that a Trump presidency would bring an end to America’s unfair ridicule. That pledge, of course, has gone unfulfilled; while the world is indeed laughing now, it’s Trump and his family members that have attracted endless mockery, particularly in high profile settings. And on Wednesday, at a NATO reception at Buckingham Palace, the laughter continued.

In a video captured by the Canada Broadcasting Corporation, world leaders, including Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron, are seen appearing to make fun of their American counterpart. “He was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference at the top,” Trudeau says in the clip, to what seems like agreement from the group. It’s not clear what Macron says next but Trudeau responds, “You just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” as he mimics the move with his hands.

No one appears to realize that the conversation, which included Boris Johnson, is being filmed.

.@JustinTrudeau, @EmmanuelMacron, @BorisJohnson and other VIPs shared a few words at a Buckingham Palace reception Tuesday. No one mentions @realDonaldTrump by name, but they seem to be discussing his lengthy impromptu press conferences from earlier in the day. (Video: Host Pool)

— Power & Politics (@PnPCBC) December 3, 2019

The candid recording is likely to infuriate the famously skin-thinned Trump, who just hours before the Queen’s banquet on Tuesday, publicly lashed out Macron over his comments that NATO was “brain dead.” As for his strongest ally in the group, Johnson is reportedly hoping to keep minimal contact with Trump out of fear that their friendship will be toxic for Conservatives ahead of the fast-approaching general election. 

For more on Trump’s visit to London, check out our dispatch here.

The Conservative War on Transgender Rights Has Reached a New Low

Rachel Gonzales has spent the last two years battling Texas lawmakers to protect her kid. She first stepped foot in the statehouse in 2017, to testify against a bill that would bar her 7-year-old, transgender daughter from using the girl’s bathroom. Next came an effort to stop a bill to prohibit family courts from using a parent’s affirmation (or lack thereof) of a child’s transgender identity as a consideration in custody hearings. 

Both bills eventually died, but Gonzales is now gearing up for yet another fight. This fall, two Republican lawmakers in the state vowed to introduce legislation barring trans kids from receiving certain gender-affirming health care and criminalizing parents who allow their children to transition. 

And Texas isn’t the only place where conservatives are trying to make it harder for trans kids to live in accordance with their gender identity. In November, a Republican representative in South Carolina introduced legislation that would prohibit “gender reassignment medical treatment” for people under the age of 18. Doctors who provide such care would be professionally sanctioned and could potentially lose their medical license. A bill that is being drafted in Georgia would make it a felony for medical professionals to aid in a minor’s gender transition. A lawmaker in Kentucky said in a public Facebook post that she is also at work on a similar bill. 

“I really wish that our politicians would stop using young children for their political gain,” Gonzales says. “It’s so frightening to have the people that are supposed to be protecting all kids across the state to be instead picking and choosing who they want to protect and targeting the ones that they don’t.”

All of the bills were spurred by the sensationalized story of a Texas custody battle between two parents with vastly different views on gender identity. The case involved a 7-year-old kid who, according to reports, had been identifying as a transgender girl for years. Her father claimed the feminine gender identity was being forced on the child by her mother, and refused to help cover the costs of therapy or any gender-affirming care. Earlier this year, he made pleas at the state capitol and on several social media pages, claiming his child was being used as a pawn in some socially progressive scheme to revoke his parental rights.

The Daily Caller first picked up the story about the custody fight from a local news website run by a former Republican state senator. Then Fox News and conservative pundits like Matt Walsh joined in the fray. Some warned of “chemical castration,” even though the actual custody dispute revolved around social transitioning—affirming the person’s gender identity by using their chosen name and pronouns—which involves no medical interventions. They published video and photos of the child, supposedly proving their point. Soon, the story had been picked up by Donald Trump Jr.

Shortly after, Texas Rep. Matt Krause promised to introduce a bill in 2021, the next time the state legislature will be in session, to bar minors from using puberty blockers, a gender-affirming medical treatment that allows transgender kids to temporarily postpone puberty so they have more time to explore their gender identity. Another Texas Republican, Rep. Steve Toth, vowed to introduce legislation that would criminalize parents who allow their child to transition. In a tweet, Toth said the legislation would be the very first bill he filed next session. The misconstrued facts of the case were like a dog whistle, rallying troops for the anti-LGBTQ culture war, and soon lawmakers in and out of Texas started to get involved.

Having lost the battle to stop transgender people from using public bathrooms that conform to their gender identity, conservatives have doubled down on trying to control the private lives of trans people. This time, Republican strategists are putting transgender kids, and the people who support them, at the center of an effort to shore up conservative support. According to Andrew Reynolds, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, gender identity remains the most divisive identity issue—more so than race, ethnicity, sex, religion, disability status or even sexual orientation—for American voters, and conservatives in particular. In a recent study from the Public Religion Research Institute, nearly three-quarters of Republicans surveyed believe there are only two genders. Only one third said they would be “somewhat or very comfortable” with having their child come out as transgender. (A little more than half of Democrats said they believe gender exists in spectrum, and 60 percent said they would be comfortable having a trans child.)

And this anti-trans strategy isn’t limited to local politics. An advocacy group called the American Principles Project waded into Kentucky’s gubernatorial elections this year by running a series of inflammatory ads warning that the Democratic candidate would let boys play on girls’ sports teams. The New York Times described the effort as a pilot program to determine how to “use the debate over transgender rights to rally conservative voters in support of President Trump.”

Reynolds says if you look at it from a strictly strategic perspective, rights for transgender people are “the only one of the LGBTQ+ issues that still has some resonance” among voters. “It’s the only lever, I would say, that still can drive conservative, religious, white voters—fearful voters—to Republicans.”

This year, lawmakers in Illinois and New Hampshire tried to pass bills criminalizing parents and doctors who helped kids transition. South Dakota legislators proposed a bill that would allow parents to refuse transition-related health care for their kids. None of them passed. 

Of the upcoming legislation, only the South Carolina bill text has been released so far, so the exact language in the others is unclear. But many of the announcements surrounding the proposals included hyperbolic talk of “castration,” “genital mutilation” and “radical surgery.” A pediatric endocrinologist quoted in the press release announcing the Georgia bill described medical transitioning for minors as “medical experimentation based on wishful social theory.”

Such criticism, says Cathryn Oakley, the state legislative director for Human Rights Campaign, stems from anti-LGBTQ backlash and fear mongering.

“There’s been this incredibly wonderful and impactful rise in visibility of transgender people in the public sphere,” Oakley said. “But at the same time, I think there are many folks who are not educated who have a lot of confusion, who have a lot of questions. Opponents of equality have seized on that gap between visibility and understanding, and they’re trying to exploit that.”

Dr. Izzy Lowell, an Atlanta-area doctor who primarily treats queer patients, says the transition process for young trans kids is often far less dramatic than opponents suggest. Lowell describes herself as conservative when it comes to prescribing hormones, and says for very young patients she tells their parents to “do nothing other than social transition.” She tells them to “affirm that child’s gender, as much as you can, but let them lead—never impose a gender on them.” 

That’s more or less how things went for Gonzales’ family.

“There’s definitely this image put out there that your kid comes to you and says ‘hey, I’m a girl,’ and you’re like ‘fantastic! let’s go change your name at the courthouse,'” Gonzales says. The process looks different for every family, but “by the time we decided to embrace [my daughter’s] social transition, she had been telling us who she is for at least two years, probably longer.”

Gonzales’ daughter is now nine years old and still not at a point where she is considering gender-affirming medical treatment.

“We do nothing, medically, until they start puberty,”  says Lowell, who has treated hundreds of queer kids (but not Gonzales’ daughter). Hormone blockers are only meant to delay puberty, “so that [kids] don’t develop characteristics of the wrong gender for them.” The process is entirely reversible, as are the first few months of hormone therapy for older kids. She starts kids on very low doses of hormones until they’re sure the treatment is making them feel better. “It doesn’t happen very often, almost never,” that a patient asks to stop hormone therapy.

Opponents of medical transition for minors often argue that there hasn’t been enough research into the long-term effects of puberty blockers and cross-hormone therapy on things like brain development and fertility. But Lowell, Oakley and Reynolds all point to the well-established consequences of vilifying trans kids as reasons familial acceptance and puberty blockers are important. Transgender youth have a significantly higher suicide rate than their cisgender peers, and research has suggested that family acceptance and gender affirmation can go a long way toward reducing the risk of suicide attempts. 

“A whole bunch of really dangerous things are exaggerated when the state says you’re not valid or questions your existence,” Reynolds says. “This [political] strategy has significant consequences for individuals and their ability to function.”

Though Gonzales hasn’t put much thought into puberty blockers and hormone therapy yet, she describes them as potentially “lifesaving interventions” for transgender kids. She says when the time comes, she won’t hesitate to start her own daughter on puberty blockers.

“It’s insane that any legislator would suggest that they know better than me and our family medical professionals when it comes to my daughter’s health,” Gonzales says. “They’re writing a death sentence for our children if they pass a law that prevents them from receiving [puberty] blockers.”

One of Spain’s Fastest Runners Has an Urgent Message

Welcome to Recharge, a weekly newsletter full of stories that will energize your inner hellraiser. See more editions and sign up here.

At 14, Kone Yossodjo lost his father, and his mom said she couldn’t take care of him. He made his way from Ivory Coast to Morocco, then to Spain, where, at 19, Yossodjo has become one of the nation’s fastest runners.

“He’s young, but he’s distinct and the fastest I’ve seen in 35 years,” Paco Vallés, his coach, told the Guardian.

In the last running season, Yossodjo won five of 11 races and became Andalusia’s 5,000-meter champion. He’s aiming to represent Spain in the 2024 Olympics in Paris. The teen is running for a reason beyond fame and glory. At a time of growing xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiment across the world, “I want to show the people of Spain that migrants can add to the society.”

As improbable as his journey to Spain was, his move from a juvenile detention center in 2016 to second place nationwide in Spain’s youth 3,000-meter final was less likely, he said: “It was a major shock to go from jail to racing in the championships in just one year.” Yossodjo has a residency card and is studying Spanish while working as an attendant in a nursing home when he isn’t training.

He encourages other migrating teens to pursue competitive sports, and he has another goal in mind: If he can trim 30 seconds from his four-minute mark in the 1,500-meter run, his coach said, Spain will also grant him citizenship.

Here are more Recharge stories to get you through the week:

Keeping a town alive. When Ben Cutler grew up in his Kansas town of Neodesha, families and institutions were strong, providing a springboard for his success in life. His hometown has dwindled to 2,300 people, but the retired businessman has told the town’s 300 middle- and high-schoolers that he’ll take care of their tuition and fees, provided they maintain a 2.5 GPA. “I’m still in shock right now,” said De’Jua Pouncil, a senior hoping to study dental hygiene at Wichita State University. “This is just a real relief off of our shoulders.” (KCUR)

She was there. For hundreds of people dying of AIDS, a compassionate Arkansas woman named Ruth Coker Burks became their final caregiver. Many of them were young men, and most were gay, a point of distinction that led their families to abandon them, which enraged but motivated Burks. She buried more than 40 of them herself at an Arkansas cemetery, and she recently oversaw the creation of a memorial in their honor. Thanks to colleague Dru Sefton for this story suggestion. (A Mighty Girl)

Breaking down shame. Namibia decreased the HIV incidence rate among adults by 50 percent between 2012 to 2017, after expansion of treatment and prevention services. A higher percentage of patients in Namibia know their status, are on treatment, and now can’t pass on the virus than patients in the United States. How did Namibia do it? Partly through a community-centered approach, addressing risk factors like poverty, educational access, and gender inequality. (The Ground Truth Project)

Recharge salutes: Betty X. Davis, who didn’t want presents on her 104th birthday. Instead, the Texan, a former public school speech therapist, asked donors for books for children. Thanks, reader David Plata, for the story suggestion. (GMA)

I’ll leave you with this amazing sky above Maine’s Acadia National Park via the Interior Department’s Twitter feed. Have a great week ahead!

Lighthouses are like family. They warn you of danger & are a beacon in the darkness. @AcadiaNPS Bass Harbor Head Light shows you the way home. Pic by York Chen ( #Maine #FindYourPark

— US Department of the Interior (@Interior) November 28, 2019

How McKinsey Helped the Trump Administration Detain and Deport Immigrants

This story was published in partnership with ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published.

Just days after he took office in 2017, President Donald Trump set out to make good on his campaign pledge to halt illegal immigration. In a pair of executive orders, he ordered “all legally available resources” to be shifted to border detention facilities and called for hiring 10,000 new immigration officers.

The logistical challenges were daunting, but as luck would have it, Immigration and Customs Enforcement already had a partner on its payroll: McKinsey & Company, an international consulting firm brought on under the Obama administration to help engineer an “organizational transformation” in the ICE division charged with deporting migrants who are in the United States unlawfully.

ICE quickly redirected McKinsey toward helping the agency figure out how to execute the White House’s clampdown on illegal immigration.

But the money-saving recommendations the consultants came up with made some career ICE staff uncomfortable. They proposed cuts in spending on food for migrants, as well as on medical care and supervision of detainees, according to interviews with people who worked on the project for both ICE and McKinsey and 1,500 pages of documents obtained from the agency after ProPublica filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act.

McKinsey’s team also looked for ways to accelerate the deportation process, provoking worries among some ICE staff members that the recommendations risked short-circuiting due process protections for migrants fighting removal from the United States. The consultants, three people who worked on the project said, seemed focused solely on cutting costs and speeding up deportations—activities whose success could be measured in numbers—with little acknowledgment that these policies affected thousands of human beings.

In what one former official described as “heated meetings” with McKinsey consultants, agency staff members questioned whether saving pennies on food and medical care for detainees justified the potential human cost.

But the consulting firm’s sway at ICE grew to the point that McKinsey’s staff even ghostwrote a government contracting document that defined the consulting team’s own responsibilities and justified the firm’s retention, a contract extension worth $2.2 million. “Can they do that?” an ICE official wrote to a contracting officer in May 2017.

The response reflects how deeply ICE had come to rely on McKinsey’s assistance. “Well it obviously isn’t ideal to have a contractor tell us what we want to ask them to do,” the contracting officer replied. But unless someone from the government could articulate the agency’s objectives, the officer added, “what other option is there?” ICE extended the contract.

The New York Times reported last year that McKinsey ultimately did more than $20 million in consulting work for ICE, a commitment to one of the Trump administration’s most controversial endeavors that raised concerns among some of McKinsey’s employees and former partners. The firm’s global managing partner, Kevin Sneader, assured them in a 2018 email that the firm had never focused on developing, advising or implementing immigration policies. He said McKinsey “will not, under any circumstances, engage in work, anywhere in the world, that advances or assists policies that are at odds with our values.”

But the new documents and interviews reveal that the firm was deeply involved in executing policies fundamental to the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown. McKinsey’s recommendations for spending cuts went too far for some career ICE employees, and a number of the proposals were never implemented.

McKinsey has faced mounting scrutiny over the past two years, as reports by The New York Times, ProPublica and others have raised questions about whether the firm has crossed ethical and legal lines in pursuit of profit. The consultancy returned millions of dollars in fees after South African authorities implicated it in a profiteering scheme. The exposure of its history advising opioid makers on ways to bolster sales induced the usually secretive firm to declare publicly that its opioid work had ended. Last month, the Times reported that McKinsey’s bankruptcy practice is the subject of a federal criminal investigation. The firm has denied wrongdoing in each case, but it apologized for missteps in South Africa.

“The scope of our work, contractually agreed to during the Obama administration, was designed to help the agency find ways to operate more effectively and cost-efficiently,” a McKinsey spokesman said of the firm’s consulting for ICE. “The focus of our work did not change as a result of these executive orders.”

In a statement, ICE spokesman Bryan D. Cox said McKinsey’s work “yielded measurable improvements in mission outcomes, including a notable decrease in the time to remove aliens with a final order of removal.”

McKinsey responded quickly to Trump’s executive orders on immigration. On Feb. 13, the consultants presented ICE officials a set of “initiatives to improve ICE Hiring and address the Executive Order,” according to an accompanying slide deck.

Hiring 10,000 immigration officers was an immense undertaking, and similar attempts to swiftly ramp up staffing, under the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, ended badly. They resulted in lax hiring standards, according to experts, and a subsequent spike in misconduct and corruption cases among Border Patrol officers.

To expedite the process in 2017, McKinsey proposed hiring en masse, including what the consultants called “super one-stop hiring”: ICE could rent a gymnasium or similar space and compress the recruitment, screening and hiring process into a single day. The consultants, they wrote in a slide deck, aimed “to reduce time to hire by 30-50% (hundreds of days)”—significantly improving ICE’s capability to staff the president’s immigration crackdown.

By the summer of 2017, according to contracting records and a former ICE official, the agency had begun to adopt McKinsey’s proposals to speed up hiring. (ICE has hired only a fraction of the 10,000 officers called for because of budget constraints.)

Within months, McKinsey was making significant strides toward advancing the Trump administration’s policy goals. The firm’s work showed “quantifiable benefits,” ICE officials stated in an October 2017 contracting document, “including increased total removals and reductions in time to remove a detainee.”

As some McKinsey consultants worked on the staffing challenge, others took aim at the logistical hurdles posed by an expected influx of detainees flowing from the Trump administration’s directive to enforce immigration laws more strictly.

The consulting team became so driven to save money, people involved in the project said, that consultants sometimes ignored—and even complained to agency managers about—ICE staffers who objected that McKinsey’s cost-cutting proposals risked jeopardizing the health and safety of migrants.

Cox, the ICE spokesman, denied that McKinsey’s recommendations could harm the well-being or due process rights of detainees. McKinsey’s spokesman said the firm’s work aimed to identify where detention center contractors were overcharging ICE—long a concern of watchdog agencies—and to propose remedies.

McKinsey, the firm’s presentations show, pursued “detention savings opportunities” in blunt ways. The consultants encouraged ICE to adopt a “longer-term strategy” with “operational decisions to fill low cost beds before expensive beds.” In practice, that meant shunting detainees to less expensive—and sometimes less safe—facilities, often rural county jails.

“There’s a concerted effort to try to ship folks ICE sees as long-term detainees to these low-cost facilities run by local sheriffs’ offices where conditions are abysmal,” said Eunice Cho, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union who focuses on issues involving the detention of immigrants. (The ACLU has brought several lawsuits against ICE, including over its detention policies, during the Trump administration.)

McKinsey also looked to cut costs by lowering standards at ICE detention facilities, according to an internal ICE email and two former agency officials. McKinsey, an ICE supervisor wrote in an email dated March 30, 2017, was “looking for ways to cut or reduce standards because they are too costly,” albeit, the supervisor added, “without sacrificing quality, safety and mission.”

The consultants found it difficult to attach a dollar figure to the standards themselves, the former ICE officials said. So they shifted their focus to trimming operating costs at several detention centers and coaching agency officials as they renegotiated contracts with companies managing some of those facilities. The renegotiated contracts saved ICE $16 million, according to Cox, the ICE spokesman, who insisted that no “degradation to service” resulted.

One of Trump’s executive orders had directed immigration agencies to concentrate resources near the southern border, and the consultants prioritized slashing costs at those facilities.

The McKinsey proposals that most troubled agency staffers—like cutting spending on food, medical care and maintenance—were not incorporated into the new contracts, one former ICE official said. Internal project emails point to cutbacks in guard staffing as the source of most cost savings.

But the McKinsey recommendations remain on the books at ICE. The consultants analyzed how the agency could save money at detention centers beyond those where they helped renegotiate contracts—including several near the border, like ICE’s largest family detention facility, in Dilley, Texas—and Cox said these analyses remain reference points for future efforts to curb spending. A report issued this summer by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general raised concerns about food quality and upkeep at several ICE facilities, both categories on which McKinsey recommended ICE spend less.

McKinsey’s work at ICE ended in July 2018. Among agency officials, there was growing dissatisfaction with the consultants’ work, and leadership turnover in the agency had left the consulting firm with few defenders, two former ICE officials said.

But the firm’s work supporting the Trump administration’s immigration clampdown has continued. Just a week after Sneader announced that the ICE engagement was over, McKinsey signed a $2 million contract to advise Customs and Border Protection as it drafted a new border strategy to replace the Obama administration’s approach, and it has since signed still another contract with CBP—worth up to $8.4 million—that will keep the firm at the agency through September 2020 at least.

Among the border strategy priorities listed in McKinsey slide decks for the CBP are: “invest in impedance and denial capability,” “work with partner agencies and components to maximize programs that discourage illegal entries” and, in one instance, simply, “Wall.”