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CREW sues to stop Trump from receiving payments from foreign governments

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a federal lawsuit to stop President Donald Trump from violating the Constitution by receiving payments from foreign governments.

The lawsuit was being filed on Jan. 23 in the Southern District of New York.

The foreign emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the president from receiving anything of value from foreign governments, including foreign government-owned businesses, without the approval of Congress.

“We did not want to get to this point. It was our hope that President Trump would take the necessary steps to avoid violating the Constitution before he took office,” CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder said. “He did not. His constitutional violations are immediate and serious, so we were forced to take legal action.”

CREW said Trump is getting cash and favors from foreign governments, through guests and events at his hotels, leases in his buildings, and valuable real estate deals abroad.

Trump, who won the Electoral College vote and was sworn into office on Jan. 20, does business with China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines and other countries. CREW said in a news release that “when Trump the president sits down to negotiate trade deals with these countries, the American people will have no way of knowing whether he will also be thinking about the profits of Trump the businessman.”

“President Trump has made his slogan ‘America First,’” said Bookbinder. “So you would think he would want to strictly follow the Constitution’s foreign emoluments clause, since it was written to ensure our government officials are thinking of Americans first, and not foreign governments.”

CREW is represented in the case by Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, the top ethics lawyers for the last two presidents, constitutional law scholars Erwin Chemerinsky, Laurence H. Tribe and Zephyr Teachout and Deepak Gupta of Gupta Wessler PLLC.

Louisiana, Alabama cut Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood, possibly violating federal law

Louisiana and Alabama may be violating federal law by ending state Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood, federal health officials warned the states this week after both announced they were cutting off the payments.

Kevin Griffis, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that the federal Medicaid agency notified the states of the possible violation.

“Longstanding Medicaid laws prohibit states from restricting individuals who have coverage through Medicaid from receiving care from a qualified provider,” Griffis said in a statement. “By restricting which provider a woman could choose to receive care from, women could lose access to critical preventive care, such as cancer screenings.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is running for the GOP presidential nomination, announced Aug. 3 that his administration was ending provider agreements that reimbursed Planned Parenthood for providing health services to low-income patients through Medicaid.

Republican Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley followed with a similar announcement three days later.

The governors cited secretly recorded videos released by an anti-abortion group showing Planned Parenthood officials describing how they provide aborted fetus tissue for medical research.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, known as CMS, spoke to health agency officials in both states shortly after each announcement, referencing federal law that requires Medicaid beneficiaries to get covered services from any qualified provider.

CMS could withhold federal Medicaid funds to the states if it deems them out of compliance with federal law, and Planned Parenthood has said it is considering a lawsuit in Louisiana. Federal courts have overturned previous attempts in Arizona and Indiana to disqualify Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursements.

In the South, withholding funding would have the most impact in Louisiana, where more dollars have been paid to Planned Parenthood. Alabama’s Medicaid program has paid Planned Parenthood health clinics in Mobile and Birmingham only about $4,400 over the past two years for contraceptives.

Planned Parenthood doesn’t currently provide abortions in Louisiana, but offers cancer screenings, birth control, gynecology exams, sexually transmitted disease treatment and other health services in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

The state had paid more than $287,000 in reimbursements to the organization for such services provided to Medicaid patients in the last budget year, according to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

Neither state has changed its approach to the organization’s clinics since the federal warnings.

Olivia Watkins Hwang, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana health department, cited a state law that allows the termination of any Medicaid provider agreement within 30 days. She said the department doesn’t believe it has violated federal law because other Medicaid providers offer the same services as Planned Parenthood.

But Melissa Flournoy, Louisiana state director for Planned Parenthood, said Jindal’s decision will lessen health services for more than 4,300 Medicaid patients who got care from the organization’s clinics in the state.

Republicans around the country have targeted Planned Parenthood after several videos were released by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress.

The center said the videos showed Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood said the organization receives legal payment only for the cost of the procedure and requires a mother’s consent before the tissue is given to researchers.

White House opposes benefits payments to former Nazis

Former Nazis should not be getting the Social Security benefits they are receiving as they age overseas, the White House said this week, responding to an Associated Press investigation that revealed millions of dollars have been paid to war-crimes suspects and former SS guards who left the U.S. for Europe.

“Our position is we don’t believe these individuals should be getting these benefits,” said spokesman Eric Shultz when asked about the situation.

He said the Justice Department has said it has “aggressively pursued Nazi war criminals and brought over 100 of them to justice.” He added that the department and the Social Security Administration “work together within the confines of current law to cut off benefits for criminals that shouldn’t be receiving them.”

AP reported on Oct. 19 that dozens of Nazi suspects have collected benefits after being forced out of the United States. Though their World War II actions led to their departure, they were not convicted of war crimes.

The payments flowed through a legal loophole that gave the Justice Department leverage to persuade Nazi suspects to leave the U.S. If they agreed to go, or simply fled before deportation, they could keep their Social Security, according to interviews and internal U.S. government records.

Several efforts to change the law to cut off payments to the few aged former Nazis have failed.

Separately, a senior House Democrat demanded this week that the Obama administration investigate the payments over the years.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York requested the inquiry in letters to the inspectors general at the Justice Department and Social Security. Maloney, a high-ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called the payments a “gross misuse of taxpayer dollars.”

The Justice Department said it was reviewing Maloney’s letter. The Social Security Administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Social Security Administration has refused AP’s request that it provide the total number of Nazi suspects who received benefits and the dollar amounts. Spokesman William “BJ” Jarrett said the agency does not track data specific to Nazi cases.

AP last week appealed the agency’s denial of the information through the Freedom of Information Act. The appeal also cited several concerns about the Social Security Administration’s handling of the FOIA request, including the agency’s alteration of the request “in a manner serving both to undercut AP’s inquiry while simultaneously sparing the SSA from having to disclose potentially embarrassing information,” the Oct. 16 appeal said.

Among those receiving Social Security benefits were SS troops who guarded the network of Nazi camps where millions of Jews perished, a rocket scientist accused of using slave laborers to advance his research in the Third Reich and a Nazi collaborator who engineered the arrest and execution of thousands of Jews in Poland.

There are at least four living beneficiaries. They include Martin Hartmann, a former SS guard at the Sachsenhausen camp in Germany, and Jakob Denzinger, who patrolled the grounds at the Auschwitz camp complex in Poland.

Hartmann moved to Berlin in 2007 from Arizona just before being stripped of his U.S. citizenship. Denzinger fled to Germany from Ohio in 1989 after learning denaturalization proceedings against him were underway. He soon resettled in Croatia and now lives in a spacious apartment on the right bank of the Drava River in Osijek.

Denzinger would not discuss his situation when questioned by an AP reporter; Denzinger’s son, who lives in the U.S., confirmed his father receives Social Security payments and said he deserved them.

Because Nazi war crimes were committed outside the U.S. and almost always against non-Americans, Nazi suspects could not be tried in U.S. courts. The only other legal option was to prove they lied to immigration authorities about what they did during the war, and then to attempt either deportation or extradition.

The deals that were reached instead allowed the Justice Department’s former Nazi-hunting unit, the Office of Special Investigations, to skirt lengthy deportation hearings and increase the number of Nazis it expelled from the U.S.

But internal U.S. government records obtained by the AP reveal heated objections from the State Department to OSI’s practices. Social Security benefits became tools, U.S. diplomatic officials said, to secure agreements in which Nazi suspects would accept the loss of citizenship and voluntarily leave the United States.

In her letters objecting to the process, Maloney said, “An inspector general investigation into this matter will make transparent the total amount paid and number of Nazi war criminals who received or continue to receive Social Security benefits.”

Since 1979, the AP analysis found, at least 38 of 66 suspects removed from the country kept their Social Security benefits.

The Social Security Administration itself expressed outrage in 1997 over the use of benefits, the documents show, and blowback in foreign capitals reverberated at the highest levels of government.

Austrian authorities were furious upon learning after the fact about a deal made with Martin Bartesch, a former SS guard at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. In 1987, Bartesch landed, unannounced, at the airport in Vienna. Two days later, under the terms of the deal, his U.S. citizenship was revoked.

“It was not upfront, it was not transparent, it was not a legitimate process,” said James Hergen, an assistant legal adviser at the State Department from 1982 until 2007. “This was not the way America should behave. We should not be dumping our refuse, for lack of a better word, on friendly states.” Bartesch continued to receive Social Security benefits until he died in 1989.

Neal Sher, a former OSI director, said the State Department cared more about diplomatic niceties than holding former members of Adolf Hitler’s war machine accountable.

In the midst of the objections, the “Nazi dumping” stopped. But the benefits loophole wasn’t closed.

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said in an emailed statement that Social Security payments never were employed to persuade Nazi suspects to depart voluntarily.

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1st Social Security benefit payments processed for same-sex couples

The Social Security Administration announced on Aug. 9 that the first marriage-related benefits payments for same-sex couples were processed.

Carolyn W. Colvin, the acting commissioner for the SSA issued a statement. She said, “I am pleased to announce that Social Security is now processing some retirement spouse claims for same-sex couples and paying benefits where they are due. The recent Supreme Court decision on Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, made just over a month ago, helps to ensure that all Americans are treated fairly and equally, with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

In late June, the Court overturned the provision in DOMA that required the federal government to ignore same-sex marriages.

The ruling cleared the way for same-sex couples to access more than 1,100 rights and benefits associated with marriage. At many levels of government, the details are still being worked out. BUt advances have been made, particularly with visas.

Regarding Social Security, Colvin said, “We continue to work closely with the Department of Justice. In the coming weeks and months, we will develop and implement additional policy and processing instructions. We appreciate the public’s patience as we work through the legal issues to ensure that our policy is legally sound and clear.

I encourage individuals who believe they may be eligible for Social Security benefits to apply now, to protect against the loss of any potential benefits. We will process claims as soon as additional instructions become finalized.”