Treasury’s Mnuchin Fails to Meet Deadline to Hand Over Trump Tax Returns

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Tuesday failed to meet a final congressional deadline for turning over President Donald Trump’s tax returns to lawmakers, setting the stage for a possible court battle between Congress and the administration.

The outcome, which was widely expected, could prompt House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal to subpoena Trump’s tax records as the opening salvo to a legal fight that may ultimately have to be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Neal set a final 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) deadline for the Internal Revenue Service and Treasury to provide six years of Trump’s individual and business tax records. But the deadline passed without the panel receiving the documents.

After the deadline lapsed, Mnuchin released a letter to Neal in which he pledged to make “a final decision” on whether to provide Trump’s tax records by May 6. It was the second time the administration has missed a House deadline for the tax returns since Neal requested them on April 3.

“Secretary Mnuchin notified me that once again, the IRS will miss the deadline for my … request. I plan to consult with counsel about my next steps,” Neal said in a statement.

In his letter, Mnuchin said he was still consulting with the Justice Department about Neal’s request, which he termed “unprecedented.”

“The department cannot act upon your request unless and until it is determined to be consistent with the law,” the Treasury secretary told Neal.

‘Not Up to the President’

Earlier on Tuesday, the White House said Trump was unlikely to hand over his tax returns. “As I understand it, the president’s pretty clear: Once he’s out of audit, he’ll think about doing it, but he’s not inclined to do so at this time,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told Fox News in an interview.

“This is not up to the president. We did not ask him,” said a Democratic committee aide, who cited a law saying the Treasury secretary “shall furnish” taxpayer data upon request from an authorized lawmaker.

Neal informed IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig earlier this month that failure to comply with the deadline would be viewed as a denial.

Legal experts said House Democrats could vote to hold Mnuchin or Rettig in contempt of Congress if they ignored a subpoena, as a pretext to suing in federal court to obtain Trump’s returns. Experts say administration officials could ultimately risk financial penalties and even jail time by defying the committee.

As Ways and Means chairman, Neal is the only lawmaker in the House of Representatives authorized to request taxpayer information under federal law. Democrats say they are confident of succeeding in any legal fight over Trump’s tax returns.

“The law is on our side. The law is clearer than crystal. They have no choice: they must abide by (it),” Representative Bill Pascrell, who has been leading the Democratic push for Trump’s tax records, said in a statement to Reuters.

Democrats want Trump’s returns as part of their investigations of possible conflicts of interest posed by his continued ownership of extensive business interests, even as he serves the public as president.

Republicans have condemned the request as a political “fishing expedition” by Democrats.

Despite the law’s clarity, Democrats have long acknowledged that the effort would likely result in a legal battle that could end up with the U.S. Supreme Court.

“If the IRS does not comply with the request, it is likely that Chairman Neal will subpoena the returns,” Representative Judy Chu, a Democratic member of the Ways and Means Committee, told Reuters.

“If they do not comply with that (subpoena), a legal battle will begin to defend the right of oversight in Congress,” she said.

Trump broke with a decades-old precedent by refusing to release his tax returns as a presidential candidate in 2016 or since being elected, saying he could not do so while his taxes were being audited.

But his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, told a House panel in February that he does not believe Trump’s taxes are under audit. Cohen said the president feared that releasing his returns could lead to an audit and IRS tax penalties.

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Trump Adviser Kudlow ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ on Trade Deal with China

A top White House economic adviser said on Tuesday the United States and China were making progress in trade negotiations and he was “cautiously optimistic” about the prospects for striking a deal.

Speaking at a luncheon at the National Press Club, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said the two nations still had issues to address and were discussing a “visitation exchange” as part of their ongoing talks.

“We’re not there yet, but we’ve made a heck of a lot of progress,” Kudlow said in response to questions from reporters.

“We’ve come further and deeper, broader, larger-scale than anything in the history of U.S.-China trade.”

“We’ve gotten closer and we’re still working on the issues, so-called structural issues, technology transfers,” Kudlow added. “Ownership enforcement is absolutely crucial. Lowering

barriers to buy and sell agriculture and industrial commodities. It’s all on the table.”

Washington and Beijing have engaged in a tit-for-tat trade war that has seen both countries imposing tariffs on billions of dollars’ worth of each others’ imports.

The United States is seeking structural changes in China’s economy, from reducing industrial subsidies to halting forced technology transfers by U.S. companies seeking to enter the Chinese market.

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US Charges 2 Chinese Engineers with Stealing Trade Secrets

The Justice Department on Tuesday announced indictments against two Chinese nationals accused of working together to steal trade secrets from General Electric.

Xiaoqing Zheng pleaded not guilty Tuesday in U.S. federal court in Albany, New York.

Co-defendant Zhaoxi Zhang is believed to be in China.

Both are charged with economic espionage and stealing trade secrets. Zheng is also charged with lying to FBI investigators.

“The indictment alleges a textbook example of the Chinese government’s strategy to rob American companies of their intellectual property and to replicate their products in Chinese factories, enabling Chinese companies to replace the American company first in the Chinese market and later worldwide,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General John Demers said.

He said the United States will not stand by and watch the world’s second-largest economy commit “state-sponsored theft.”

Zheng was an engineer at General Electric’s power and water plant in Schenectady, New York.

U.S. prosecutors allege he stole multiple electronic files describing designs and engineering of GE gas and steam turbines and emailed them to Zhang. The indictments accuse the pair of using the stolen information to profit from their business interests in two Chinese companies — Liaoning Tianyi Aviation Technology and Nanjing Tianyi Avi Tech.

Prosecutors say the two defendants knew their activities would benefit the Chinese government.

If convicted, Zheng and Zhang could spend 25 years in prison and be fined more than $5 million. Zheng could also face an additional five years and a $250,000 fine for allegedly lying to the FBI.

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Twitter Shares Jump; Growth Attributed to Fight Against Abuse

Shares in Twitter Inc jumped 13 percent Tuesday after the social media company reported quarterly revenue above analyst estimates, which executives said was the result of weeding out spam and abusive posts and targeting ads better.

New ad formats, partnerships with content providers like the U.S. National Basketball Association and efforts to patrol abusive content are helping Twitter better compete for advertising dollars, executives said.

Social media companies have been under pressure over privacy concerns and political influence activity. Twitter has removed thousands of spam and suspicious accounts, which it blamed for sequential declines in monthly users in recent quarters.

Twitter executives said they saw opportunities for selling ads that earn revenue when users visit websites or download apps, citing success with major brands like Walt Disney Co. The company is looking to grow its sales team in 2019 to better serve big advertisers.

“Something where you see a blending of performance and brand is the Star Trek ad that Disney is running right now, where I click through to make sure that I’d be notified when more information was available about the next Star Wars,” Twitter Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal told analysts.

Twitter said pre-roll ads, or promotional messages that play before videos, are also growing.

The company said its monthly active users (MAU) rose 9 million to 330 million from the previous quarter, much better than Wall Street’s average estimate that it would lose 2.2 million users, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. Still, MAUs were down 6 million from a year earlier.

It was Twitter’s last quarter of disclosing MAUs.

From now on it will only provide “monetizable” daily active users (mDAUs), created to measure people exposed to advertising and exclude those who access Twitter via text messages or aggregating sites like TweetDeck.

For the first quarter, Twitter said mDAUs rose to 134 million, up 12 percent from a year ago.

Analysts were encouraged by signs the company had found ways to sustainably grow users and revenue, but said the new way of measuring users could make comparisons with rivals like Facebook Inc more difficult.

“People are not impressed with a made up metric and their reluctance to give us actual users,” said analyst Michael Pachter at Wedbush Securities. “I don’t think the stock can get out of its own way until they come clean and report the same metrics everyone else does.”

Forecast largely below Wall Street

For the first quarter, Twitter’s revenue rose 18 percent to $787 million from the year-ago quarter, topping analyst estimates of $776.1 million.

But Twitter also forecast revenue for the second quarter largely below analyst estimates, and said that it would continue to spend heavily on cleaning up Twitter as well as new ad products.

Ad sales jumped 18 percent to $679 million. In the United States, ad revenue rose by 26 percent.

Total operating expense including cost of revenue rose by 18 percent from the first quarter a year ago. The company reiterated that operating expenses would grow about 20 percent in 2019.

Twitter reported quarterly profit of $191 million, or 25 cents a share, compared with $61 million, or 8 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding a $124.4 million tax benefit, the company earned 9 cents per share.

The results appeared to catch the attention of U.S. President Donald Trump, who called for the creation of “more, and fairer” social media companies, repeating his claim that Twitter is biased against Republicans, without presenting evidence.

“We enforce the Twitter Rules dispassionately and equally for all users, regardless of their background or political affiliation,” a Twitter representative said. “We are constantly working to improve our systems and will continue to be transparent in our efforts.”

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Will Smith, NASA, Fortnite Among 2019 Webby Award Winners

Actor Will Smith, NASA, Fortnite and Disney are among the 2019 Webby Award winners for internet excellence.

The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences announced the winners Tuesday.

Smith’s The Jump won a Webby for events and live stream video while Disney was chosen the WebbyMedia Company of the Year for earning the most honors across all Webby categories with 32 wins overall. Fortnite is recognized in the game category, and NASA won for best overall social presence.

Actress Issa Rae is the Webby video person of the year for using the internet to showcase breakthrough content from diverse creators. Activist Greta Thunberg scored a Webby for social movement of the year for igniting the #FridaysForFuture global movement for climate justice.

The 23rd annual Webby Awards will be presented in New York City on May 13.

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EU Wary of Fake Online Accounts as Europe Elections Approach

The European Union is praising Facebook, Google and Twitter for tackling disinformation while urging the social media giants to do more in clamping down on fake accounts.

Under an EU code of conduct, the three companies report routinely on their efforts to stop election interference. Facebook, for one, has been criticized for being a tool for foreign interference in elections.

Tuesday’s reports say Facebook, Google and Twitter are tightening advertising policy and surveillance, particularly with election-targeted ads.

But the commission urges them to share fake account data with outside experts and researchers.

Millions of people across the 28-nation bloc will vote in the May 23-26 European Parliament elections.

Polls show nationalist and populist parties could make significant gains, while mainstream parties would lose seats but retain control over the assembly.

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Crisis-hit Greeks Foot Steep Bills for Health and Education

Every month, when his respiratory medicine runs out, Dionysis Assimakopoulos heads to the most unlikely pharmacy in Athens.

Amid derelict stadiums dating from the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, the volunteer-staffed social pharmacy of Hellinikon has handed out free medicine to hundreds of poverty-stricken patients, keeping some of them out of death’s reach.

“My wife and I have been unemployed for over two years. We need about 150 euros for medicine every month,” says Assimakopoulos, a former baker.

Established at the height of the crisis in 2011, the pharmacy runs on donated medicine and disposables. Some 40,000 people have brought medicine, many from abroad, says on-duty pharmacist Dimitis Palakas.

Another patient waiting in line is Achilleas Papadopoulos, a retired tenor. His pension of 700 euros is not enough to cover the antibiotics he has come for.

During nearly a decade of cuts imposed as Greece struggled to avert national bankruptcy, public education and health were among the sectors hit the hardest as the country lost a quarter of its national output.

Amid sweeping layoffs, wage cuts and tax hikes, many could not maintain their social insurance contributions and were pushed out of state-provided health support.

“Only 11 percent of Greeks can currently afford private insurance giving full health coverage,” says Grigoris Sarafianos, head of the association of private Greek health clinics.

According to the national statistics service, Greeks paid 34.3 percent of their medical expenses out of their own pocket in 2016.

The crisis exposed “huge state shortages,” says Petros Boteas, a member of the Hellinikon health team, which serves over 500 patients every month.

“There are fewer doctors and hospital staff. Money for medicine has been cut. There is a long waiting list for doctor’s appointments…we had a cancer patient given an appointment in three months,” he told AFP.

To avoid a long wait — especially in an emergency — many are forced to seek private healthcare, regardless of the cost. There are currently over 120 private clinics in the country.

‘Go to a better school’

A similar scenario casts its shadow over education.

When Aspasia Apostolou’s son was 11 years old and finishing Greek public primary school, his class teacher did something unexpected.

“He told us our son is bright and that he should be in a better school,” reminisces Apostolou, a 44-year-old lawyer.

According to the government, public funding for education fell by about 36 percent during the crisis.

Thousands of trained staff including teachers and doctors emigrated — part of an exodus of some 350,000 people — or opted to retire.

A recent study by the London School of Economics found 75 percent of Greek crisis emigrants hold university degrees.

The OECD in a 2017 study — prepared at Greece’s request — said austerity cuts had “a major impact on the demands on the Greek education system, and on those working within it.”

It said that in 2015, there were approximately 25,000 posts vacant for teachers in primary and secondary education schools.

Apostolou now pays 5,800 euros ($6,500) a year in tuition fees at a private school where her son can be assured of a well-structured curriculum.

“At our old school, the children usually come home early. So many school hours are lost because of teacher shortages during the year,” she says.

“There is no evaluation, no reward for effort in a public school. You wallow in mediocrity.”

Between 2011 and 2014, the state cut education wages and expenses by 24 percent, the OECD study said.

While school books are provided by the state free of charge, the cuts continue to impact other essential resources including computers and petrol for heating.

It’s not uncommon for schools to be shut down for lack of heating. The last instance was in February at the Athens school complex where Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras himself was a pupil.

In public schools, much now relies on private initiative and personal goodwill, what Greeks call ‘filotimo’, says Athanassia, a veteran public school teacher.

“I’ve worked in schools where the principal or teachers or parents paid out of their own pocket for essentials…or discreetly brought food to needy families,” says Athanassia, who has worked in 20 public schools as teachers are shared out to plug staffing gaps.

“Whatever works is based on filotimo,” she adds. “If funding were better, it would be totally different.”

According to the Greek statistics agency, around 12 percent of the country is near the poverty level.

In response, Tsipras’ government in 2016 began a program giving out free school meals at hundreds of schools in poorer regions.

Similarly, the government allowed access to public hospitals to long-term jobless with Greeks without health insurance.

“It’s a step forward, but inequalities persist,” says Petros at the Elliniko clinic.

“Without health insurance, securing a public hospital appointment might take six months, even for critical examinations,” he adds.

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