RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week

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RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week
May 17 to May 23

 

Featured Investigation:
Paycheck Lifesavers Floating
Healthy Defense Contractors' Boats

Scores of publicly traded firms with active, multimillion-dollar defense contracts have received major bumps during the coronavirus crisis through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Steve Miller reports for RealClearInvestigations that:

  • More than 70 companies that have won defense contracts since 2000 got PPP money, a review of over 450 publicly traded groups approved for CARES Act funding showed.
  • Defense contractors, deemed critical to the workforce, have seen few closures and have remained mostly solvent and working.
  • Publicly traded companies should have been ineligible for the money from the outset of the PPP program, said Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.us.
  • “The program was sold as something to help small business, not someone on the stock exchange,” Herrig said. “If you are publicly traded, you likely have access to other capital markets.” 
  • The list of defense contractor PPP recipients includes Gulf Island Shipyards. After landing a $130 million deal in March, it got $10 million in coronavirus relief for its Gulf Island Fabrication subsidiary.
  • And Houston-based ENGlobal, with a portfolio of $57.2 million of booked Pentagon projects, got $4.9 million in coronavirus relief.
  • Not every contractor keeps the money. Ultralife Corporation, a New Jersey-based battery maker that has secured $230 million in defense contracts in the past 20 years, gave back $3.4 million in paycheck protection money.

Investigative Issues:
Erik Prince Sues The Intercept for Alleging
Proposed Alliance With Russians

Erik Prince, founder of the since-rebranded global security firm Blackwater, is suing the investigative news site The Intercept for defamation over a report that the Trump ally sought to join forces in Africa with a Russian paramilitary firm, Eric Felten reports for RealClearInvestigations. Felten reports:

  • An April 13 Intercept article, headlined “Erik Prince Offered Lethal Services to Sanctioned Russian Mercenary Firm Wagner,” claimed that Prince’s proposal “would, in effect, make the influential Trump administration adviser a subcontractor to the Russian military.”
  • Prince’s lawyer: “The Intercept accused Erik Prince of being a criminal and a traitor based on dishonest and biased anonymous sources that it made no effort to corroborate.”
  • The Intercept declined to comment “until we are able to review any lawsuit."
  • Background: Mercenaries working for Wagner tried last September to project Russian power in Mozambique, but ran into trouble, according to The Intercept.
  • “Prince sent a proposal to the Russian firm offering to supply a ground force as well as aviation-based surveillance,” the report said, citing “documents viewed by The Intercept and a person familiar with Prince’s proposal.”
  • The Intercept provides no evidence that any such Prince-led mercenary army or air force was ever deployed. “Wagner officials said they are not interested in working with Prince,” it reported, citing “three people familiar with their decision.”
  • The lawsuit filed in Wyoming accuses The Intercept of purposefully making “defamatory statements … as part of a long scheme by the Defendants to knowingly publish false, misleading, and defamatory statements about Mr. Prince in order to further the Defendants’ political agenda, boost The Intercept’s readership, and reap the associated financial gains, including the continued viability of the publication.” 
  • Seeking a jury trial, the complaint names The Intercept; the publication’s parent, First Look Media, founded by eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar; and the reporters who wrote the story, Alex Emmons and Matthew Cole.
  • Prince is a retired Navy SEAL and brother of Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and has been a bête noire of the left and a focus of controversy for years. 

Trump-Russia Investigations 

Russiagate Began With Obama's Iran Deal Spying Campaign
Tablet
This comprehensive article, which mixes in some opinion with a deep knowledge of the factual record, offers answers to a key question: Why was the Obama administration so bent on derailing Trump’s first national security adviser, Gen. Michael Flynn – including leaking classified phone conversations that eventually led to his firing and a long, still unresolved court battle? Lee Smith argues there were at least three reasons. The first was Flynn’s opposition to Obama’s signature foreign policy move, the Iran nuclear deal – opposition based in part on documents found in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound showing that al Qaeda was working closely with Iran. The second was Flynn's goal of upending the status quo by cleaning house at the nation’s intelligence services. The third reason, Smith argues, was a fear that in his position Flynn could expose the Obama administration’s efforts to spy on the Trump campaign. In a separate article, the Daily Caller reports that the FBI offered to pay former British spy Christopher Steele to collect intelligence on Flynn in the weeks before the 2016 election. Other documents show Steele was peddling an unfounded rumor that Flynn had an extramarital affair with a Russian woman in Britain.

Ukraine Judge Orders Joe Biden Listed as Alleged Lawbreaker
Just the News
A district judge in Kiev has ordered the country’s law enforcement services to list Joe Biden as the perpetrator of an alleged crime when he demanded the firing of former Ukrainian prosecutor Victor Shokin in 2016. The court had previously ordered the authorities to investigate Shokin’s claim that he was fired in spring 2016 under pressure from Biden because he was investigating Burisma Holdings, the natural gas company where Biden’s son Hunter worked. The elder Biden has bragged that he forced then-Ukraine President Poroshenko to fire Shokin by threatening to withhold $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees. Biden has said this had nothing to do with Burisma. Edited recordings of conversations between Biden and Poroshenko capture the two leaders discussing Shokin and the billion dollars – but not Burisma. A separate article in the Washington Free Beacon reports that three organizations founded by Biden since he left the White House in 2017 – the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, Biden Institute at the University of Delaware and the Biden Cancer Initiative - have refused to reveal the sources of their funding. 

More Trump-Russia News

Flynn Was Likely Not Unmasked but Targeted Outside U.S., National Review
Ex-Official: Treasury Dept. Spied on Flynn, Manafort, Trumps, Ohio Star
What the Unredacted Susan Rice Email Passage Means, Federalist
FBI Offered to Pay Steele 'Significantly' to Dig Up Dirt on Flynn, Daily Caller
How FBI Used 'News Hooks' to Push the Trump-Russia Probe, Daily Caller

Other Noteworthy Reporting 

Building a Case Against ISIS for Yazidi Enslavement, Rape, Genocide
Associated Press
During its reign of terror in Iraq, members of the Islamic State enslaved untold numbers of Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority as part of a genocidal plan to eliminate them. The women and children — their husbands and fathers butchered or missing — had to learn to navigate the perverse rules of a world where they were considered commodities for rape and servitude. This AP report draws on evidence amassed by the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, which has identified 49 prominent IS figures who built and managed the slave trade, as well as nearly 170 slave owners, including Western, Asian, African and Arab fighters. These also include top financiers, military commanders, local governors and women traders, many of them from the region neighboring the Yazidi community’s villages.

Coronavirus Investigations

Landlords Sexually Harassing Tenants During Pandemic
BuzzFeed
Some landlords have always harassed tenants for sex. But with almost 40 million people filing for unemployment since the COVID-19 pandemic began – and 20 percent of renters not paying May rent before the 6th – advocates say more tenants are vulnerable and at risk of harassment than ever before. The National Fair Housing Alliance surveyed its 80 fair housing groups across the country and found 13% were seeing an uptick in sexual harassment complaints. In a separate article, the Los Angeles Times reports that online child sex abuse reports are surging as kids spend more time on computers amid lockdowns.

How Russia's Coronavirus Crisis Got So Bad
Politico
Vladimir Putin was feeling his oats before COVID-19 struck. Flush with cash, he was contemplating an oil war with Saudi Arabia while preparing for a lavish celebration of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Even the coronavirus didn’t knock him off stride -- at first. The official line was that the pandemic was happening somewhere else, and that the government’s swift action to close borders and ramp up health care had saved the nation. But as of Monday, Russia was second to the United States in number of infections. And those are just the official statistics. Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin believes about 2 percent of the population of Moscow is infected – about 250,000 people. Recent media reports have shown how Russian methodology for assigning cause of death has lowered the COVID-19 morbidity numbers, perhaps by more than 50 percent.  

Strategic Stashes: Cocaine Traffic's Staying Power in Pandemic
Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project
Adapt or die is a business school mantra, and while many legitimate enterprises struggling to respond to COVID-19, the world’s cocaine industry is demonstrating flexibility and ingenuity in the face of the crisis. Closed trafficking routes have been replaced with new ones and street deals with door-to-door deliveries. As many countries begin reopening their economies, traffickers may now be in a position to become more powerful than ever. Cash-rich dealers may be able to cheaply buy their way into an even bigger share of the legitimate economy.

Nigerian Fraudsters Ripping Off the U.S. Unemployment System
Wired
As millions of Americans have scrambled in recent weeks to collect unemployment benefits and disbursements through the federal Cares Act, Nigerian scammers are trying to get their unfair share of the COVID-19 related aid. On Thursday, the Secret Service issued an alert about a massive operation to file fraudulent unemployment claims in states around the country, including Washington and Massachusetts. Officials said millions of dollars had already been stolen. New research is now shedding light on one of the actors tied to the scams – and the other pandemic hustles they have going.   

Utah: The Socially Distanced Strip Clubs of America 
Vice
On May 1, Salt Lake City became one of the first major metropolitan regions to reopen its strip clubs during the COVID-19 pandemic. For this article, a Vice reporter visited three Utah strip clubs in their first week of reopening to get the skinny on what the new normal looks like. Here’s what she found at a club called Trails: A bouncer in an N95 mask pulls double duty, checking IDs before taking temperatures. Once all members of a group pass the temperature scan, the group is escorted to a table as the bouncer recites the rules of the new nudity:

  1. Stay six feet apart from dancers, employees, and other patrons.
  2. Your mask must remain on at all times except when you are drinking.
  3. Do not come within six feet of the stage other than to place your money around the edge.
  4. Once you have placed your money on the edge of the stage, you must immediately return to your seat.

Inside Trails, the LED lights surrounding the stage shine extra bright due to the absence of patrons sitting around the “tip rail” (the counter immediately next to the stage). All dancers, despite being at least six feet from patrons, are required to wear face masks. At the end of each performance, a masked employee dutifully grabs a Swiffer to sweep bills of whatever denomination from the stage, to be counted and handled by a separate gloved employee. This is a business that's still cleaning up.

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