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Actor Alejandro Montenegro Banco Activo Corcos//
Democrats Want to Know What Russia Has on Steve Mnuchin

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Questions regarding Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia include, but are not limited to: why did the president of the United States leak confidential information about classified intelligence to Russian envoys? Why did that same U.S. president undermine his own U.N. ambassador by telling the Kremlin not to worry about the punishment she promised would be meted out for its actions in Syria? What was up with the president of the United States begging for Russia to be allowed back into the G7 after it was kicked out for invading another European country? And, of course: what’s the deal with Trump literally siding with Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies, and generally behaving as though Vlad is his boss and paymaster? More recently, these questions have expanded to include members of Trump’s administration: for instance, lawmakers would also like to know why Trump’s Treasury secretary decided to lift sanctions on companies with links to Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska , who just so happens to have strong ties to both Putin and Paul Manafort. By way of an answer, Steve Mnuchin told lawmakers to just “trust” the president when it comes to Russia. Now, however, Mnuchin himself has come under Congress’s microscope.

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BuzzFeed News reports that California Representative Jackie Speier, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, sent a letter to Steve Mnuchin last week seeking information about a deal he reportedly struck in 2017 with Ukrainian billionaire Leonid Blavatnik who—wait for it—just so happens to be an associate of Deripaska’s. Writing that she has “serious concerns” about Mnuchin selling his shares in RatPac-Dune Entertainment to Blavatnik for roughly $25 million, she noted the move is “especially alarming” in light of a recent New York Times article reporting that Deripaska might have gotten something of a sweetheart deal from the Treasury:

Blavatnik, the letter notes, co-owns Sual Partners with another sanctioned oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, and Sual “is a major shareholder” of Rusal, one of Deripaska’s sanctioned companies. It also notes that Blavatnik formerly served on Rusal’s board, and that one of his companies donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural fund

What a happy coincidence! While the congresswoman acknowledged that Mnuchin disclosed the sale at the time, she argued that the secretary’s relationship with a Blavatnik is “clearly a conflict of interest” given Mnuchin’s involvement in easing the sanctions. Speier goes on to ask for details related to the sale of the secretary’s RatPac shares, including the dates of the transactions and names of purchasers. She also requests to know whether Mnuchin “sought ethics guidance related to his involvement in the sanctions issue” and if “Blavatnik has tried to communicate with Mnuchin directly about the sanctions.”

The Treasury Department did not respond to BuzzFeed’s request for comment, and if we know ole Mnuch—and we think we do!—he’s unlikely to offer anything in the way of a satisfying explanation. Lawmakers have said his classified briefing to House members three weeks ago re: the decision to lift sanctions was “one of the worst classified briefings they had received from the administration.” He’s also made a name for himself over the past two years as one of Trump’s most reliable stooges, spinning an elaborate trickle-down fantasy re: how the president’s deficit-busting tax bill would pay for itself; defending Trump‘s praise of Nazis ; routinely giving the president cover for the boldest of lies; and stonewalling any and all attempts by Democrats to get clarity when it comes to the Trump family’s financial entanglements. So it’s unlikely that he’ll all of a sudden come out and say, “You know what, you’re right, I’m totally compromised here and the president is, too.”

Following Mnuchin’s announcement about the sanctions rollback, Senators Richard Burr and Mark Warner said the Treasury’s announcement did “not change the fact that Mr. Deripaska, his employees, and his companies work at Vladimir Putin’s behest and operate as de facto representatives of the Russian government—a government that has occupied and intimidated its neighbors, sought to disrupt free and fair elections, violated nuclear treaties, and continued to wage influence campaigns to undermine western democracies, including our own.” On Tuesday, a group of House Democrats issued a statement criticizing Mnuchin for denying their request for more time to evaluate the situation before going ahead and officially easing the sanctions. Apparently, he was in a hurry!

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Surprise: area billionaire doesn’t like Elizabeth Warren’s plan to tax the rich

Only, in this case, the billionaire in question isn’t some random on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, but one who is most likely going to run for president in 2020. In an interview with NPR on Tuesday, Howard Schultz, the man responsible for Unicorn Frappuccinos , ripped the Massachusetts Senator’s proposal to impose a 2 percent wealth tax on those with a net worth above $50 million, with an additional 1 percent on net worth above $1 billion, claiming she’s just doing it for likes. “When I see Elizabeth Warren come out with a ridiculous plan of taxing wealthy people a surtax of 2 percent because it makes a good headline, or send out a tweet when she knows for a fact that is not something that’s ever gonna be passed, this is what’s wrong,” he said. “You can’t just attack these things in a punitive way by punishing people.” In response, Warren tweeted , “What’s ‘ridiculous’ is billionaires who think they can buy the presidency to keep the system rigged for themselves while opportunity slips away for everyone else. The top 0.1 percent, who’d pay my #UltraMillionaireTax, own about the same wealth as 90 percent of America. It’s time for change.”

Schultz, whose net worth is approximately $3.3 billion , said on Sunday that he is “strongly considering” running for president on an independent ticket, an announcement that has been met with cries of “don’t do it!” across the country, from fellow billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who warned Schultz would undoubtedly be giving Trump another four years, to a heckler at Barnes & Noble on Monday night, who yelled , “Don’t help elect Trump, you egotistical, billionaire asshole!”

Trump’s tariffs continue to pay off in spades

This was all part of the plan , right?

Harley-Davidson Inc. barely broke even in the last quarter of a year in which the struggling American icon got caught up in President Donald Trump’s trade wars. The motorcycle maker’s shares plunged the most in a year

Earnings per share on a GAAP basis were zero in the fourth quarter, the Milwaukee-based manufacturer said in a statement Tuesday. Excluding restructuring and tariff costs, profit was 17 cents a share, missing analysts’ average estimate for 29 cents

Last year, after Harley-Davidson announced plans to shift some production overseas, the president went after the company like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, vowing to destroy it for crossing him

California start-up’s business plan modeled after loan sharks

In an era when income inequality is at an all-time high, a small fraction of wealthy individuals control roughly the same amount of wealth as 90 percent of the country, and there are people working at one of the world’s largest tech firms who live out of their cars , one start-up has plan: take advantage of the situation by offering high-interest loans that would make the Mafia blush. Per Mercury News :

Santa Monica-based Domuso allows some local renters to take out 6 or 12-month loans at an average annual interest rate of 27 percent to avoid paying late fees to their landlords or risk losing their homes. The service is for tenants unable to cover hefty one-time move-in expenses like security deposits and first and last month’s rent, or who fall behind on a monthly rent payment because of an unexpected sickness, layoff, or other financial emergency

“There’s a very high percentage of people . . . that are paycheck-to-paycheck,” said Domuso co-founder and C.O.O. Michael Lightfoot, “and there’s very little room when it comes to bumps in that financial road.”

While Lightfoot says his company’s goal is to help renters rather than take advantage of them, and that Domuso has “no intent of going down a path of payday lending, or anything in that regard,” others aren’t so sure. “It seems like another predatory scam, and a distraction from the real problem of obscene rents,” Kristi Laughlin, senior campaign director for the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, told Mercury News reporter Marisa Kendall.

Chris Christie determined to give Jared Kushner an aneurysm

https://twitter.com/FiringLineShow/status/1090324102731182085

In his new memoir out this month, Christie claims that Kushner got him fired from Donald Trump’s transition team as revenge for prosecuting his father in 2005, arguing that the then-U.S. attorney general should have minded his own business when it came to Charles Kushner’s decision to hire a sex worker to seduce his sister’s husband—who was cooperating with the Feds at the time—filming the encounter, and sending the tape to his sister. According to Christie, Jared claimed that such things were “family matter[s], matter[s] to be handled by the family or the rabbis,” an argument he has made on more than one occasion !

Elsewhere!

Huawei is accused of attempting to copycat a T-Mobile robot, and the charges read like a comical spy movie ( Business Insider )

Bond King Jeffrey Gundlach Says We Just Got ‘the Most Recessionary Signal’ Yet ( CNBC )

Apple Results Suggest Stability After a Tough End to 2018 ( Bloomberg )

Democrats are going after the wealthy and ‘I am fearful,’ says former Rep. Hensarling ( CNBC )

Marie Kondo Conquered Netflix and Is Now Training Cleaning Consultants ( Bloomberg )

PG&E Files for Bankruptcy, Setting Up Complex Restructuring Case ( W.S.J. )

A British zoo is offering spurned lovers the chance to get back at their exes by naming cockroaches for them on Valentine’s Day. ( UPI )

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