Minneapolis bar closes over owner’s donation to David Duke campaign

A bar in Minneapolis shut its doors Friday after it was revealed the owner had donated to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke’s failed Senate campaign, The Star Tribune reported.

Club Jäger closed down Friday, with staff protesting after local newspaper City Pages revealed that owner Julius De Roma had made a $500 donation to Duke’s Senate bid last year.

Entertainers at the bar and staffers quit after the story about De Roma’s campaign donation to the former KKK grand wizard emerged. Employees said the decision to close the business was made by those who ran the bar, not the owner, according to the Star Tribune.


De Roma defended his donation to local television station WCCO this week as “free speech.”

“Well, whatever,” De Roma said. “What do you expect? It’s basically something that is blown up beyond what it should be.” 

Staffers learned of the news at an emergency staff meeting Tuesday, where employees said they cried together before deciding to quit.

Customers of the bar also announced they were boycotting the establishment, and regular performers pulled their appearances at the bar.

But a small group who weren’t regulars at the bar came out to show their support for De Roma after the news broke, according to City Pages.


Justice Department: No evidence Obama wiretapped Trump Tower

New York police officers guard the entrance of Trump Tower as protesters gather against US President Donald Trump on August 14, 2017 in New York. While on his first trip back to Trump Tower since his inauguration marchers came together to protest against white supremacy and hatred and against Trump's to meet ongoing threats from North Korea with "fire and fury." / AFP PHOTO / Eduardo MUNOZ ALVAREZ (Photo credit should read EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

New York police officers guard the entrance of Trump Tower as protesters gather against President Donald Trump on August 14 in New York. | Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AFP/Getty Images

There is no evidence to support President Donald Trump’s claim that Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Justice Department said in a new court filing.

The DOJ made the statement in a motion for summary judgment filed Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the watchdog group American Oversight.

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“Both FBI and NSD confirm that they have no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets,” the government said, referring to the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

James Comey, who was FBI director at the time Trump made the statements, also said neither the FBI nor the Justice Department had information to support the tweets in sworn testimony before Congress. Trump later fired Comey, a move that has come under increasing scrutiny amid federal investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.

“The FBI and Department of Justice have now sided with former Director Comey and confirmed in writing that President Trump lied when he tweeted that former President Obama ‘wiretapped’ him at Trump Tower,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight.

Trump has never produced any evidence to back up the explosive claim, which he made on Twitter in March, and which a spokesman for Obama promptly denied.

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump wrote at the time.

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!” Trump added.

In response to a question about the DOJ filing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Saturday, “This is not news,” and that the White House had responded to the matter weeks ago.

The White House has argued that Trump’s comments were merely alleging surveillance, which is why he put ‘wires tapped’ in quotation marks in the initial tweet.


Italian pasta labels test limits of EU law

A dispute over pasta is set to shape the future of the EU’s single market.

Unsurprisingly for a battle over spaghetti, it was Italy that fired the first shot. Rome last week passed two laws demanding that all food producers label packs of pasta and rice to indicate what country the ingredients come from.

Italy’s legislative bombshell on August 21 is a blatant challenge to the guardians of the internal market at the European Commission, who have insisted for years that these kinds of “made in” labels undermine the single market by encouraging consumers to buy local. The pasta battle presents European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker with a strategic dilemma over whether to allow member countries to take a protectionist approach to support struggling domestic industries — like Italian rice and durum wheat farmers — even if those measures endanger the sanctity of the single market.

Rome’s new laws are part of a growing Continent-wide movement toward more defensive economic policy, led by French President Emmanuel Macron, who wants Brussels to fight anti-EU populists by granting countries more leeway to protect workers against the ravages of borderless free markets. Following that logic, Juncker would not want to fight Italy over the almost sacred issue of food while groups such as the anti-establishment 5Star Movement and the far-right Northern League are looking to make waves in next spring’s general election.

Juncker will have to fight off charges of double standards if he green-lights Italy’s new labels. The European Commission zealously cracks down on Central European countries when they introduce laws in the agri-food sector seen as undercutting the single market. Brussels slapped infringement cases on countries from Poland to Bulgaria, arguing that former communist states unfairly support local farmers with restrictions on big foreign retail and farm investors.

“The damage to the rule of law in the area of labeling is significant” — Luca Bucchini, a Rome-based food industry consultant

Italy is unapologetic about its move and is ready for a showdown.

“We are ready to deal with the Commission,” Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina said last week. “Italy has the right … to protect its consumers and its producers,” he added.

Going rogue on rigatoni

In a sign it is fully aware it is throwing down a gauntlet to the Commission, Italy did not formally notify Brussels of its new origin labels, as the law demands.

Despite this open disregard for procedure, a Commission spokeswoman said Brussels needed more information on what had happened before deciding whether to hit Italy with an infringement procedure — the process it follows when it believes a member country has broken EU law.

“Once all the relevant information has been acquired, the Commission can decide on the next steps,” she said.

Luca Bucchini, a Rome-based food industry consultant, said he thought Rome went rogue because it supposed Brussels would block its plans. “The way the decrees were adopted with no regard for legal deadlines and European Commission opinions makes the decrees illegal,” he said, adding that the move was “shameful.”

“The damage to the rule of law in the area of labeling is significant,” Bucchini said.

Italian Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina is spoiling for a fight with the European Commission | Gaetano Lo Porto/AFP via Getty Images

Several nations have already indicated that they are unhappy with Rome. Italy notified Brussels of the pasta and rice schemes earlier this year but the government then withdrew its notification during the three-month period given to the Commission and EU governments to scrutinize potential damage to the single market. A summary of a June meeting, at which governments discussed Italy’s proposed schemes, show that 11 countries “strongly criticized” them. The document did not list which member countries objected.

But while Rome’s move is unusually combative, its push for labels is by no means unique. Several countries argue that origin labels promote food safety and help give consumers information that they have every right to know.

In a surprising change of heart, Brussels last year allowed Italy — as well as a string of other countries, including France — to roll out origin labels for milk for a two-year trial period. That concession came in response to the dairy crisis of 2016 that sank milk prices to rock-bottom levels.

That move did trigger some hostility, however. Belgium, for example, complained that the French labeling regime on dairy and processed meat, and the ensuing gastro-nationalism, severely harmed its milk and meat exports to France. Belgian sales to France dropped 17 percent in 2016, compared with 2015.

European framework sought

Paolo De Castro, a member of the European Parliament and former Italian agriculture minister, argued that the Belgian complaint showed why the EU could not allow piecemeal labeling but should issue clearer Continent-wide rules on mandatory labels. He styled Italy’s move as an attempt to push Brussels to roll out guidelines on when to allow origin labels.

Italy is at the forefront of demanding these labels, with the country’s powerful farmers’ union Coldiretti egging it on.

“We need the Commission to face the situation and put forward a legislative proposal to set up a transparent system, equal for everyone, within the market, to indicate the origin of raw materials,” De Castro said.

The Commission is due to provide some new guidelines for food labeling later this year — but this will map out a framework for voluntary, rather than mandatory rules.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will have to fight off charges of double standards if he green-lights Italy’s new labels | Petras Malukas/AFP via Getty Images

De Castro added that he did not expect the Commission to try to stop Italy, given the precedent set in the dairy crisis. He also reckoned the country would be ready to face any infringement procedure from Brussels.

“It is quite difficult for the Commission to say ‘no’ since it has agreed on dairy. It said ‘yes’ to eight countries, including Italy, for the dairies, so it’s unclear why it should say ‘no’ for rice and durum.”

Rome may simply have seen a perfect window before Brussels outlined its labeling plans to flex its muscles in a show of strength to its own farming and food sector, said Alberto Alemanno, a law professor at HEC Paris.

It was “an unmissable opportunity for the Italian government to show its support to its own industries,” Alemanno said.

In a case last year, Romania unilaterally introduced dairy origin labeling. The European Commission intervened, saying that the scheme did not follow the proper notification procedure. Bucharest then had to make significant amendments to the law.

As a food-producing heavyweight, Italy will almost certainly also cause problems for the EU on the international trade stage.

The Romanians, however, subsequently issued a new version of their original labeling plan without notifying Brussels. The Commission has yet to respond formally to this move.

Italy’s planned labels are far more controversial than Romania’s milk scheme partly because of the significantly higher stakes. And as a food-producing heavyweight, Italy will almost certainly also cause problems for the EU on the international trade stage.

Canada, for example, is the world’s largest exporter of durum wheat and ships a significant amount to Italy’s pasta makers. Ottawa, alongside seven other large agricultural exporters such as the U.S. and Brazil, raised concerns about Italy’s planned pasta labels at the World Trade Organization in March.

Cam Dahl, the head of Canada’s cereals lobby, said earlier this year that farmers would push Ottawa to challenge Brussels at the WTO should it allow the pasta labels.


Trump mulling withdrawal from Korea trade deal

President Donald Trump walks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to make statements in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Friday, June 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump walks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to make statements in the Rose Garden on June 30. | AP Photo

President Donald Trump could start the process of withdrawing from a free trade agreement with South Korea as early as next week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a note to its members urging them to initiate an “all hands on deck” action to stop the decision.

A senior administration official confirmed that the president’s divided advisers are debating the future of the trade deal, and a decision could come next week.

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The administration official cautioned that a final decision has not yet been made, but opponents of the trade deal are quietly preparing options for a withdrawal.

Some of Trump’s top advisers — including National Economic Council Chairman Gary Cohn — have privately raised red flags about pulling out of the agreement. It’s the latest infighting over trade among the president’s influential advisers.

Neither the White House or the Office of U.S. Trade Representative confirmed or denied the possible move, which was first reported earlier today by the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.

However, administration officials noted that the United States and South Korea have been in talks on revamping the pact, also known as KORUS. “Discussions are ongoing, but we have no announcements at this time,” a White House spokeswoman said.

Chamber officials, in their memo to members, said they “and others in the U.S. business and agriculture community have received multiple reports that the administration is prepared to send a letter to the South Korean government on Tuesday, September 5—or possibly sooner—indicating its intent to withdraw from the bilateral trade agreement.”

“We encourage you to urgently arrange for calls by senior executives to the White House and other senior administration officials urging them not to proceed. If you can mobilize Republican governors or other opinion leaders who can make the geo-strategic security argument, now is the time. This is an all hands on deck effort.”

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association also sent out on Saturday an urgent appeal to its members to speak up in defense of the pact.

“I understand this is a holiday weekend,” Kent Bacus, director of international trade and market access for NCBA, said in an email. “But we need you to engage now and start contacting your representatives, senators, governors and whoever else you can think of to warn President Trump that this would be a terrible move for the U.S. beef industry and the agriculture community.”

During last year’s campaign, Trump criticized both NAFTA and the South Korea agreement as bad trade deals.

The United States, Canada and Mexico formally launched talks last month on renegotiating NAFTA, and are holding a second round this week in Mexico City.

The United States and South Korea also held a special session of the KORUS Joint Committee on Aug 22 to discuss potential changes to the pact. That meeting was arranged after Trump met with South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, in late June.

Two months before that meeting, Trump had threatened to withdraw from KORUS, triggering concern throughout the business community.

The meeting between Lighthizer and South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-jong appears to have gone badly, the Chamber memo said.

Kim, like most economists, rejected Trump’s assertion that KORUS was to blame for the United States’ widening trade deficit with South Korea over the first years of the pact and demanded to know Trump’s real motive in seeking a renegotiation, the Chamber memo said.

A USTR statement issued after the Aug 22 meeting acknowledged the important economic relationship between the two countries, but then sited a litany of concerns about the KORUS agreement.

“Unfortunately, too many American workers have not benefited from the agreement,” Lighthizer said. “USTR has long pressed the Korean government to address burdensome regulations which often exclude U.S. firms or artificially set prices for American intellectual property.

“President Trump is committed to substantial improvements in the Korean agreement that address the trade imbalance and ensure that the deal is fully implemented,” Lighthizer added. But he also noted the renegotiation was an opportunity to address those concerns.

For their part, Chamber officials are warning of possible job loses in the agriculture and manufacturing sector if Trump were to withdraw from the pact, as well to damage to the U.S. reputation when it is trying to rally support in the region to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program.

Trump’s main complaints with the five-year-old trade deal surround the rules of origin, particularly in the autos sector, one private-sector source close to the discussions said.

The White House’s concerns with the deal are at odds with many inside the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the source added, saying that there is significant opposition against making any major changes to the deal, even any renegotiations.

A broader coalition, known as the U.S. Food and Agriculture Dialogue for Trade, also urged its members on Saturday to furiously lobby public officials in favor of staying in the pact.

Beyond going against the wishes of many in the private sector, starting a full-scale renegotiation would overburden the comparatively small government agency, where negotiators are already spending every weekend through December meeting to work on the ongoing NAFTA renegotiation, the source said.

Lighthizer himself is deeply involved in the NAFTA talks and will be in Mexico on Monday and Tuesday for a meeting with Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland at the end of the second round.


Trump gets do-over, comforts Harvey victims

President Donald Trump on Saturday got up close and personal with the victims of Hurricane Harvey, picking up and kissing children, shaking hands, posing for pictures, handing out meals and offering words of comfort — seemingly pulling off a do-over after a stilted visit earlier this week.

Trump arrived in Houston Saturday morning for his second trip to Texas since the state was devastated by the storm, which has left the nation’s fourth most-populous city flooded and littered a trail of damage across the eastern part of the state.

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But unlike his previous visit, when Trump did not see any significant damage or meet with victims, Saturday’s trip gave Trump a chance to play the role of empathizer-in-chief, a potentially uncomfortable fit for the former reality television star who generally eschews such encounters.

Still, Trump could not resist talking up his administration’s response to the storm and commenting that the media coverage of his visit has been positive.

“They’re really happy with what’s going on,” Trump told reporters of the storm victims he’d met with at the NRG Convention Center, which is serving as a major shelter in the city. “It’s something that’s been very well received, even by you guys it’s been very well received.”

And Trump said he wanted the people of Texas to know, in effect, that his administration is doing an effective job in responding to a disaster that has led more than 400,000 households to request housing assistance or repairs.

“The message is that things are working out well,” Trump said. “Really, I think people appreciate what’s been done. It’s been done very efficiently, very well, and that’s what we want. We’re very happy with the way everything is going. A lot of love. There’s a lot of love.”

He also managed to get in some talk of his election victory — one of his favorite topics — with members of the military at the NRG Center. As Trump greeted a group of them, one remarked, “We voted for you.”

“You better,” Trump responded lightly. “Who didn’t in your world? Who didn’t?”

Trump was accompanied on the visit by First Lady Melania Trump, HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Trump largely worked the room on his own. Socializing with groups of children in a dark rain jacket, he was quick to bend down and lift them in the air, or deliver a kiss on the forehead. The diverse crowd seemed buoyed by his visit, with a number of people walking up to him to pose for pictures.

Trump spent about 45 minutes at the shelter before departing for a meeting with members of Texas’ congressional delegation. He will travel to Louisiana later on Saturday to meet with some of the state’s members of Congress and first responders.

The storm marks the first major natural disaster of Trump’s administration, with a years-long recovery effort anticipated. Already the death toll from the storm is at 47, and it is expected to rise. The White House formally asked Congress Friday night for an immediate infusion of $7.85 billion of aid for the region, with another $6.7 billion likely to be needed by month’s end.

The administration’s response has received generally positive reviews so far, and Trump appears to have escaped the type of political fallout that bedeviled President George W. Bush in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Still, Trump was met with criticism for not meeting with victims during his initial visit, after which he claimed to have seen the devastation “first hand.” The White House said Trump avoided the worst-hit areas so as not to interfere with rescue and recovery efforts.