The Trump administration is planning to repeal Obama-era regulations that prevent doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies from discriminating against transgender people.
Guidelines implemented in 2016 as part of the Affordable Care Act prohibit discrimination based on race, age, color, national origin, sex, or disability for health programs that received federal funds. Under Obama, the Department of Health and Human Services defined Section 1557 of the ACA, which covers sex discrimination, as also including bias based on gender identity. That determination affected nearly every physician and hospital in the U.S., since most accept some form of federal money, be it Medicare, Medicaid, or participation in health insurance marketplaces.
Groups like the Christian Medical and Dental Associations say Section 1557 pressures doctors to violates their religious freedom and independent medical judgment. But overturning those guidelines could leave transgender Americans unable to access hormone replacement therapy, counseling and gender-confirmation surgery, if a healthcare provider decided to turn them away.
In December 2016, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor’ issued a temporary injunction against the Obama-era guidelines, saying they “likely violate” the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because they didn’t carve out protections for religious objections. O’Connor’s ruling, which also blocked a provision regarding abortion services, insisted “Congress did not understand ’sex’ to include ’gender identity.'”
According to Lambda Legal’s Jennifer C. Pizer, that conclusion displays “an excruciatingly narrow and legally incorrect definition of ’sex’ that would jeopardize protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”
A number of courts have sided with the Obama administration’s understanding of “sex” to include gender identity in regards to the ACA, but the Trump administration points to O’Connor’s ruling as reason enough to reexamine the guidelines. The White House hasn’t revealed how it would rewrite them, but has declared its intention to do so.
“The court held that the regulation’s coverage of gender identity and termination of pregnancy was contrary to law and succeeded statutory authority, and that the rule’s harm was felt by healthcare providers in states across the country, so a nationwide injunction was appropriate,” Roger Severino, the director of HHS’ Office for Civil Rights, told The New York Times. “The court order is binding on HHS, and we are abiding by it.”
Dr. James L. Madara of the American Medical Association urged the Trump administration to keep the transgender healthcare protections in place. In a letter to Severino, Madara said the AMA “opposes any modification to the rule that would jeopardize the health and well-being of vulnerable populations.”
The White House hasn’t exactly been shy about targeting protections for transgender Americans: In 2017, Trump rescinded an Obama-era directive to public schools allowing students to use the facilities matching their gender identity, and did away with protections for federal workers claiming employment discrimination because of their gender identity.
In January, the administration announced the creation of a new “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” at HHS, devoted to ensuring doctors, nurses and health-care workers wouldn’t have to facilitate services they found morally objectionable.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday refused to discuss whether President Trump is considering a pardon for his embattled personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
“It’s hard to close a door on something that hasn’t taken place. I don’t like to discuss or comment on hypothetical situations that may or may not ever happen,” Sanders said during Monday’s press briefing.
She referred further questions on Cohen’s case to his and Trump’s personal attorneys. She later added that Trump has "been clear that he hasn't done anything wrong."
Her statement echoes her comments earlier in the day that the White House would not discuss "hypotheticals that don't exist right now."
White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short told CNN on Monday morning that there's "no need" to pardon Cohen "at this point."
Cohen, Trump's longtime personal lawyer, is reportedly under investigation for bank fraud and campaign finance law violations. Federal agents raided his home, hotel room and office earlier this month, seizing financial records, communications between him and his clients and materials related to payments to two women who alleged they had affairs with Trump.
Trump on Saturday attacked The New York Times for a report that the president's legal team is bracing for Cohen to cooperate with investigators and turn on Trump.
The president praised Cohen as a "fine person" and denied that he would "flip."
How Corey Lewandowski ‘F*cked Over’ a David Petraeus-Linked Socialite to Become the Polish Arms Industry’s Man in D.C.
Corey Lewandowski, President Donald Trump’s informal adviser and fired campaign chief, quietly facilitated a highly lucrative deal between Poland’s top military contractors and one of the most elite lobbying shops in Washington, D.C.
In the process, Lewandowski managed to spurn socialite Jill Kelley, a one-time associate of the U.S.’ top military official and a central figure in the 2012 sex scandal that brought down retired general David Petraeus.
The story, which was relayed by four sources familiar with the developments, is a strange chapter in the former Trump campaign manager’s career—a career that now finds Lewandowski consorting with a hub of lobbyists at the periphery of President Trump’s political circle—including some who work out of his Washington, D.C., home. It’s also a cartoonishly Washington tale, involving backstabbing in the city’s notorious influence industry, a glamorous socialite who was at the center of a historic sex scandal, and political operatives who arrived in D.C. pledging to drain the swamp, only to end up pocketing large sums in exchange for brokering multibillion-dollar weapons deals.
Lewandowski did not directly respond to multiple requests for comment.
“Mr. Lewandowski never met with or spoke to anyone” who worked at the defense contractor at the center of his dust-up with Kelley, Lewandowski stated, in the third person. Lewandowski, conspicuously, would not answer additional questions regarding any other Polish contacts that he may have had in pursuit of the lobbying deal.
The origins of the lobbying deal began in 2017, as Poland warily eyed increased Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and began looking to secure U.S.-made missiles for its domestic air defense systems. The Polish government and its state-owned arms contractor, Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa (PGZ), sought assistance in Washington pertaining to Poland’s Wisla and Homar missile defense programs. Known in English as the Polish Armaments Group, PGZ is a conglomerate of 60 Polish defense companies.
In the spring of 2017, Kelley began telling associates that she would leverage a contact at the Polish Embassy to secure a lucrative business deal with the country’s government.
Kelley enjoys strong, and well-documented, contacts in the U.S. defense community. Her relationships played heavily into her role in the scandal that brought down Petraeus and embroiled high-level military officials in tabloid intrigue involving the retired general’s one-time mistress, Paula Broadwell. Kelley also has served as a ceremonial diplomatic liaison to James Mattis, a retired Marine Corps general and currently the secretary of defense, which would have made her an appealing voice in Washington for Poland’s arms industry.
PGZ did not respond to questions about Kelley and its broader D.C. lobbying footprint. But according to two sources familiar with Kelley’s conversations with associates, she said one of her contacts worked as a military attaché in Poland’s embassy in Washington.
“Jill Kelley is someone who has served her country in a number of capacities… [and] she has gained a number of very high-level contacts [with whom] she in the last year has chosen to begin discussions through her firm,” Brett Bruen, her representative said. “And while her work is still very much in the early stages, I think it is clear there are a number of very senior folks who seek her counsel and who are interested in her support. I will say to date she has not engaged in any paid work on behalf of a sovereign nation. She has done what she has done for many years, which is connect people.”
It’s not entirely clear why Kelley turned to Lewandowski for help on the matter. Though part of the reason, a source with direct knowledge says, is that Lewandowski was one of the marquee names within the Trump orbit—a world in which few of the more established D.C. power brokers enjoyed strong inroads.
When Kelley and Lewandowski first began discussing the deal, it was months into the Trump presidency. Lewandowski had already carved out a niche for himself as someone with personal access to the president for potential clients of Avenue Strategies, the lobbying firm he unveiled days after Trump’s inauguration. Four months after starting that firm, he resigned from it, reportedly over differences with his co-founder, fellow former Trump campaign hand Barry Bennett. He went on to start his own firm, Lewandowski Strategic Advisors, which provides political intelligence but does not officially lobby policymakers on behalf of its clients.
Kelley began telling associates in Washington last year that she had introduced Lewandowski to her Polish contacts and that they would be collaborating on a big initiative, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation.
Lewandowski apparently had other plans.
He had already been in touch with another D.C. lobbying giant regarding one of its foreign government clients. In a July 2017 email to Lewandowski, Ed Rogers, the veteran Republican operative and chairman of the firm BGR Group, inquired about Lewandowski’s contacts with the Azerbaijani ambassador to the U.S., whom BGR had represented since March. “Corey, we’re [sic] you able to talk to the Azerbaijan ambassador?” Rogers asked. “Call and let’s catch up for 15 minutes.” Politico later reported that Lewandowski had promised the ambassador, Elin Suleymanov, a personal sit-down with Trump. At the time, Lewandowski denied doing any “foreign work.”
The relationship between Rogers and Lewandowski didn’t end with Azerbaijan. According to sources familiar with their interactions, the two grew closer as the Trump presidency progressed, and talked about potential collaborations.
But by the end of 2017, Kelley had been cut out of the PGZ deal. As she waited to hear from Lewandowski on their plans for Poland, she was taken aback when she started hearing through professional cliques and general gossip that BGR, which previously represented the Polish Embassy in Washington, had swooped in on the deal. It inked a $70,000-per-month contract with PGZ on Oct. 25 (PDF), weeks before Kelley hosted a party at the Trump Hotel in Washington. Kelley and her co-host had listed Lewandowski as a likely attendee on invitations for that party. It’s not clear whether Kelley knew at the time that she had lost out on a major business opportunity thanks to the former Trump campaign manager. BGR’s contract with the company first popped up on the Justice Department’s registry of foreign agents less than two weeks after Kelley’s party.
Once enthused at the prospect of working with Lewandowski, Kelley was cut out of a big-money foreign lobbying deal in which she had initially enlisted Lewandowski’s assistance. As one source familiar with the situation bluntly characterized it, Lewandowski “fucked over” Kelley in the deal. Three knowledgeable sources said that Lewandowski was instrumental in PGZ’s decision to sign with BGR instead of working with Kelley.
Rogers did not respond to messages for comment. But the extent of his ties to Lewandowski were underscored by the email he sent, on which he CC’d another Trump campaign alumnus, Mike Rubino, a former lobbyist at Avenue who left to start the firm Turnberry Solutions, which lists as its address the Capitol Hill house that Lewandowski rents from the conservative nonprofit group Citizens United.
Less than two months after BGR landed PGZ as a client, the firm signed a subcontractor on the account: Jason Osborne, a former Avenue lobbyist and, along with Rubino, a co-founder of Turnberry (PDF). Two weeks later, Osborne also registered to lobby for the Azerbaijani Embassy on BGR’s behalf (PDF).
Osborne is another former senior Trump campaign adviser who remains close to Lewandowski and operates out of his rented home. Osborne also did not respond to questions about his role.
BGR spokesman Loren Monroe declined to comment on PGZ work or any collaboration with Lewandowski, saying only that foreign agent paperwork on file with the Department of Justice “speaks for itself.”
According to its PGZ contract, BGR is assisting the company with issues related to its Wisla and Homar missile defense programs. In March, just a few months after it signed the contract, Poland and the U.S. reached a landmark $4.75 billion arms procurement deal to beef up those missile systems. “Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa,” the company proudly announced, “will carry out many tasks in this project.”
As part of the deal, PGZ will beef up the Wisla system with a pair of Patriot missile batteries purchased from U.S. defense giant Raytheon. As it happens, Raytheon is also a BGR client.
Steve Bannon, David Petraeus, and one of the world’s most controversial PR firms—they’re all part of the web connecting the Iraq war to foreign influence operations in Washington.
A veteran of Pentagon propaganda operations was hired last year to create a film accusing Qatar of links to terrorism, the Bureau can reveal.
Charles Andreae, whose firm Andreae & Associates was contracted to produce the film, used to work for PR firm Bell Pottinger. While there, he helped oversee a $500 million contract with the Pentagon to run top secret influence operations during the Iraq war.
The new Qatar contract underscores growing concerns about foreign influence campaigns in the heart of Washington. While much focus has been on Russia’s role in the U.S. elections, Persian Gulf countries have also been spending large sums of money pushing their agenda to President Trump’s administration.
In August 2017, Andreae, former CEO of Bell Pottinger USA, was given over $500,000 to produce a six-part documentary connecting Qatar with global terrorism.
The slickly-produced film, entitled “Qatar: A Dangerous Alliance,” features conservative pundits talking about Qatar’s links with Islamist groups, interspersed with news and archive footage.
Copies of the video were distributed at an event at the Hudson Institute think-tank in October 2017. President Trump’s one-time Chief Strategist Steve Bannon was a keynote speaker at the event, as was former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and General David Petraeus, former CIA director.
Though its subject matter is niche and the treatment not especially gripping, the documentary appears to have been viewed more than 700,000 times on YouTube and is also streamable on Amazon.
According to Bell Pottinger co-founder Tim Bell, Andrae ran the Washington end of a Pentagon propaganda program in Iraq while at Bell Pottinger. The contract was first revealed by the Bureau and The Sunday Times in 2016.
The Iraq program included news reports made to look like they were produced by Arab media channels and fake al Qaeda videos used to track the viewers. The Bell Pottinger “psyops” team reported to General Petraeus, who led American forces in Iraq.
Bell Pottinger went “into administration” to protect itself from creditors last year after it was implicated in a controversial campaign to stir up racial tension in South Africa.
The Qatar film contract came to light in a newly-filed lobbying declaration with the U.S. Department of Justice. All American companies are required by law to disclose information on their lobbying or PR work with foreign clients.
The declaration showed that Andreae & Associates (A&A) was hired in August 2017 by Lapis Communications to produce “six multimedia products focused on an investigation into the role of the state of Qatar and the state’s connection to global terrorism.” Lapis is a Dubai-based strategic communications firm owned by an Afghan-Australian entrepreneur.
The film was commissioned at a time when the Saudi and UAE governments were stepping up an unprecedented international campaign against Qatar.
Last summer, the two countries severed relations with the fellow Gulf state, which they accuse of sponsoring terrorism in the Middle East. The rift represents a major split between resource-rich countries, both sides of which are key U.S. allies.
Shortly after the Lapis contract with Andreae & Associates, the Emirati National Media Council gave a $250,000 contract to a London PR firm. A chunk of this went to SCL Social for an anti-Qatar social media campaign. SCL Social is part of SCL Group which also owns Cambridge Analytica, a firm now mired in controversy over its exploitation of Facebook users’ data. Charles Andreae also registered as a lobbyist with the U.S. Senate on Qatar-U.S. relations on behalf of Lapis in January this year.
Neither Charles Andreae nor anyone from Lapis Communications responded to the Bureau’s requests for comment on this story.
According to the New York Times, the political advisor to the UAE’s de facto ruler also sought to push the Gulf state’s agenda in Washington through Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy. The Times reported that Broidy’s company Circinus had received lucrative contracts in the UAE, and that Broidy himself was circulating proposals for an anti Qatar PR campaign in March 2017.
Broidy was a donor to the Hudson event where “Qatar: A Dangerous Alliance” was distributed, the Times and McClatchy reported.
It is not clear how successful any of the anti-Qatar operations have been. The first YouTube comment underneath the “Dangerous Alliance” video reads: “this video is American propaganda.” The second goes further: “I stand with Qatar”.
Qatar has also spent heavily on lobbying in the U.S., and earlier this month, Trump welcomed its Emir to the White House.
Whichever side prevails, the Gulf spat has been a boost for PR and lobbying firms. A number of Bell Pottinger’s former employees remain at the heart of global influence operations.
The Republican National Committee spent more than $224,000 at President Donald Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago club in March, according to newly filed FEC reports.
The expenditures, which were for rental and catering fees, were to cover the costs of an RNC fundraiser there early in the month. It was, far and away, the largest amount that the committee has spent at that specific Trump property (in January, the RNC spent $62,700 at Mar-a-Lago) and it is a reflection of how the president’s private business holdings continue to be intertwined with his political activities.
Mar-a-Lago didn’t see every cent of the $224,857.68 spent by the RNC, since much of it was reimbursement for hosting the event.
But it did certainly profit from the fundraiser, in addition to the added allure and promotional value that came with hosting. Outside of that expense, the RNC dropped nearly $30,000 for venue rental and catering at the Trump National Doral in Miami.
It also spent $4,796.82 on “donor mementos” to Simon & Schuster.
The expense report does not detail which book the committee purchases in order to give to donors.
But Simon & Schuster is the publishing house for Trump’s book, Crippled America, which was later retitled Great Again. — Sam Stein