No Labels’ Lieberman, Huntsman play curious roles inside Trump-Russia orbit
In 2016, co-chairs Joe Lieberman and Jon Huntsman announced that No Labels had convinced six presidential candidates to accept the “Problem Solver Promise.”
Those candidates were Martin O’Malley and five Republicans — Ben Carson, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Rand Paul and Donald Trump.
They promised that if they won the presidency, they’d meet with a bipartisan group within a month of taking office. They would then work to accomplish one of No Labels’ four goals: create 25 million jobs in the next 10 years, secure Social Security and Medicare for another 75 years, balance the federal budget by 2030 and make America energy-secure by 2024.
Trump did the opposite.
The economy has added 3.8 million jobs, but at that rate he would fall well short of the 25 million. Medicare will now become insolvent three years sooner due, in large part, to Trump and the GOP’s $2.3 trillion tax cut. It’s estimated to raise the deficit by $3.8 trillion. Social Security will now be insolvent one year sooner. He withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, nominated Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator and has opened up federal land and waters for drilling.
No Labels says it wants to “reclaim the political system that has been hijacked by ideologues, ultra-partisans and special interests.” Yet it publicly supported Trump as the consensus candidate who could merge the parties. As far as Huntsman was concerned, Trump was the perfect man to build a coalition.
“And it’s been clear almost from the beginning that Donald Trump has the ability to assemble a nontraditional bloc of supporters. …The ability to cut across traditional party boundaries — like ’80, ’92 and 2008 — will be key, and Trump is much better positioned to achieve that.”
When asked about Trump being elected president, Huntsman’s explained to CNN, “People want a big, loud, brash protest vote right now. That’s a good chunk of the Republican Party. And he is that person. And he embodies exactly the anger and the disgust that so many have about politics.”
He’s the son of billionaire businessman Jon Huntsman Sr., who was Special Assistant and Staff Secretary to President Richard Nixon. In 1971–1972, his role in the White House was to monitor the flow of documents coming in and out of the Oval Office. His boss was chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, who spent 18 months in prison for his role in Watergate.
He also built the Huntsman Container Corporation, a business that made the containers for Big Macs. In 1972, he left the White House to run the company but remained a “consultant to the Office of the President.” A year later, U.S. Congress began an impeachment process against Nixon.
Huntsman started the Huntsman Chemical Company in 1982 and built it into a multibillion-dollar international conglomerate that’s now in more than 30 countries. Two of those countries are China and Russia and the Huntsman’s have done extensive business in both.
In 1990, there were only 45 Americans doing business in Russia. Huntsman was one of them. He had Huntsman Chemical in Moscow. Huntsman currently has five offices in Russia. Two of those are located 30 minutes north of the Kremlin. Almost 10 years ago, he signed an agreement with Russian chemical producer Zavod Sintanolov to “share know-how, expertise and resources to develop the Russian detergents market.
He was introduced to the Soviet Union by his close friend and mentor, Dr. Armand Hammer, who owned Occidental Petroleum Corp. In 1989, he and the Soviets agreed to build and operate two chemical plants in Ukraine. In 1992, Occidental began exporting oil from Russia through its subsidiary, Occidental of Russian Ltd.
At 23, Hammer was sent to Russia to work for Vladimir Lenin as Russia’s trade representative. He was tasked with negotiating trade deals with western countries in an effort to prop up Russia’s failing economy. He came be known as “Lenin’s ‘path’ to America’s financial resources.” Over the years, he created a “personal empire largely by negotiating extraordinary deals with nations that have usually been hostile to the United States — and even more hostile to American capitalists.”
He was suspected by the CIA and FBI of being a full-fledged Russian agent and using his “company to help finance Soviet espionage in America.”
Huntsman and Hammer used their oil and chemical businesses and their network of government contacts to build their profits in Russia and to help stabilize the Russian economy.
Like his father, Huntsman Jr. also has no issues with alternating between government and private work. He was an executive at his family’s company from 1983–1989 before becoming a White House Staff Assistant for Reagan.
He became the U.S. ambassador to Singapore under former President George H.W. Bush and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative under George W. Bush. He worked to bring China into the World Trade Organization. He also turned down Bush’s nomination for ambassador to Indonesia. In 2003, he became the Chairman and CEO of Huntsman Family Holdings Co.
After being the Republican Governor of Utah from 2005–2009, he was named ambassador to China by President Obama. In 2014, he succeeded Chuck Hagel to become Chairman of the Atlantic Council. He’s served on the boards of Ford Motor Company, Caterpillar Corporation, Chevron Corporation and Hilton.
Despite initially supporting Trump, Huntsman withdrew his support after Trump’s comments with Billy Bush leaked. He was a candidate for Secretary of State but ultimately lost out to Exxon Mobil CEO Rex W. Tillerson.
In October 2017, he was sworn in as Trump’s ambassador to Russia. He’s the only person to have ever been the U.S. ambassador to both China and Russia.
“I’ve been able to access people who no ambassador in recent years has been able to access, in the military side, on the intelligence side, and mostly, on the national security issues where we’re deeply involved and in joint efforts, where we need to meet, where we need to carry messages, where it’s critical to get the work done,” he said.
After Trump’s Helsinki meeting in July where he never confronted Putin about Russia’s attack on the U.S. elections, Huntsman refused to denounce Trump.
When asked about Trump’s ability to negotiate with Putin, Huntsman defended Trump’s negotiating style, “…(he) will drive the discussion on malign activity and election meddling. He knows the facts and the details and he’s discussed it. We all talk about it a little differently, but the president has talked about it in his own way.”
In May 2017, a week after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, Lieberman was invited to the White House to discuss becoming the next FBI director. He was Trump’s top pick but later took himself out of the running.
Lieberman works as senior counsel and lobbyist at the law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres, a group of men that have played a significant role in Trump’s life for at least the last 15 years.
Founder Marc E. Kasowitz is Trump’s personal attorney and has represented him in numerous cases. He allegedly helped Trump keep divorce records sealed and worked to defend a case against Trump University. He was also the lead lawyer in defending Trump in an investigation of collusion with Russia and the 2016 presidential election.
Kasowitz has represented Russia’s Sberbank in a lawsuit filed by Sergey Poymanov, a Russian gravel quarry owner who claims his business was illegally bankrupted and seized by Sberbank. He’s also represented Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. He was first hired by Trump in 2001 to restructure his Atlantic City casinos debt.
Former Partner David M. Friedman was Trump’s personal bankruptcy attorney who also worked on Trump’s Atlantic City casino “investments” and their eventual bankruptcies. Last year, he was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Israel. He opposes a Palestinian state and supports Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In December 2017, Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and ordered the U.S. Embassy to be moved there.
Partner Edward McNally was considered by Trump to succeed Preet Bharara as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. He was the first White House general counsel for homeland security and counterterrorism after the 9/11 attacks. He was also a prosecutor under former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Lieberman, the former Connecticut Attorney General and four-term Senator, has worked at the firm since 2013. Five years ago, he signed a FARA contract to provide Libyan businessman Basit Igtet with “government relations services, communication of information to the principal and as well as [communication of] information about the principal to interested persons in the public sector.”
Igtet is married to Sara Bronfman, heir to the Seagram fortune. The two were “deeply involved” in NXIVM, a celebrity “sex cult” that’s under federal indictment. They both promoted the group and reportedly spent $150 million to keep it afloat. Roger Stone has admitted to working as a lobbyist for the group in 2007.
Lieberman was Al Gore’s running mate for the 2000 presidential election. The Gore family and Armand Hammer go back more than a half century. They both made each other wealthy. Hammer’s Occidental Petroleum owned coal and phosphate plants in Tennessee at the time Gore Sr. was the state senator. Gore Sr. owned shares in the company and represented its interests for many years. He later became head of its subsidiary, Island Creek Coal Company.
Hammer was a mentor to Gore Jr. and guided him through his political career. They both benefited financially and politically from their relationship.
According to Lieberman’s financial records, he sold 500 shares of Occidental in 1999. That same year, he accepted a $1,000 donation from the Trump Organization. In 2005, Trump donated another $1,000 to his campaign.
Lieberman’s supported Trump on various international issues like the Iran nuclear deal exit and the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem. On Fox News, he said Trump’s June meeting with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un was a “success.”
In October, Trump was rumored to be considering Lieberman to replace Nikki Haley as UN ambassador.
Nancy Jacobson and Tom Davis are founders of No Labels.
Jacobson is a longtime Democratic national fundraiser who worked for former Gov. and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh and Hillary Clinton. She’s married to Mark Penn, a former Clinton strategist who was a primary architect of Bill Clinton’s 1996 presidential reelection campaign. He served as chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008.
Penn has supported Trump’s claims that Special Council Robert Mueller’s investigation “has resorted to ‘storm trooper tactics’ and has become a ‘scorched-earth effort’ to ‘bring down Donald Trump.’”
Davis is the former House Rep. (R-VA) who resigned from Congress in 2008. He was chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) from 1999–2003 and then House Oversight Committee Chairman until 2007.
He worked closely with GOP operative Karl Rove to not only get W. Bush elected as president, but also in getting candidates funded and elected for the 2002 midterms. Both were accused of various illegalities and sued by former special counsel Scott Bloch, who was appointed by Bush to head an agency that protected government whistleblowers and enforced against political activity in government agencies.
He sued Rove, Davis and others for $202 million for allegedly trying to thwart his office’s work. When they failed, he claims, they launched a made-up criminal investigation to force him to leave his job. He spent one month in prison for contempt of Congress.
While in office, Davis voted for all of Bush’s most important legislation, including: the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and their funding, U.S. spy agencies expanded power to eavesdrop on foreign suspects without a court order, against a repeal for oil company tax cuts, a fence on the Southern border, not to allow the government to negotiate directly with drugmakers for lower Medicare prescription drug prices and against increasing the federal minimum wage.
In 1999, when he was head of the NRCC, he wrote a $500,000 check to the U.S. Family Network, the largest ever single donation given by the NRCC. The network was funded by the DeVos family as a means to spread its conservative views and political agenda. Five years later, the FEC fined the NRCC $280,000 for the donation.
Lieberman is also close with the DeVos family. He introduced Betsy DeVos at her Senate confirmation hearing for education secretary. He’s a member of the board at DeVos’ American Federation of Children.
No Labels has a network of at least nine PACs: United for Progress; Citizens for a Strong America; United Together; Govern or Go Home; Forward, Not Back; Progress Tomorrow; No Labels Action; No Labels Problem Solvers; and Patriotic Americans PAC.
They all donate to each other. The PACs have so far raised more than $11 million from at least 53 individual donors.
The money was used in the November midterms to back challengers to incumbents it considered to be obstructionists. It also looked for primaries in open seats where a candidate they backed would be facing a nutball candidate. “The goal is not to oppose the parties, the goal is not to be hostile to Democrats or Republicans,” according to Ryan Clancy, No Labels’ chief strategist.
For 2018, the group has given more than $225,100 to 23 Democratic candidates and $122,900 to 17 Republican candidates.
How the various No Labels PACs have donated in 2018:
United for Progress largest donor is Louis Bacon, the billionaire founder and chief executive of hedge fund Moore Capital Management. He donated $500,000 in March. He’s a former fundraiser for Mitt Romney and gave $1 million to Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. He’s donated more than $300,000 to the UK Conservative Party.
Citizens for a Strong America donated $1,256,010 to Democrats and spent $984,458 against Republicans. It donated $271,552 to support Republicans. It received its largest donation of $250,000 from Peter May, president of investment management firm Trian Partners. Nelson Peltz, the firm’s founder, donated $100,000 to Trump’s Inaugural Committee.
Peltz is an activist investor who spends billion$ to raid large corporations like Procter & Gamble, GE, Heinz and Wendy’s. In 2016, he appeared at a No Labels 1787 event with Lieberman and Huntsman to discuss how to define the political center under Trump’s first 100 days as president.
United Together was given more than $925,000 by Fox News CEO Rupert Murdoch, Jerry Reinsdorf, White Sox & Bulls Chairman and Former Major League Baseball Commissioner “Bud” Selig.”
Bacon, May, Berkshire Partners and Cerberus Capital Management have combined to give Forward, Not Back almost $1million. Cerberus is run by Stephen Feinberg, a private military contractor who’s currently the head of Trump’s Intelligence Advisory Board, which oversees the U.S. intelligence community.
Progress Tomorrow accepted nearly $1.5 million from two other No Labels PACs. It spent $400,00 on marketing against two Democrats in the November midterms: Alan Grayson (D-FL) and Matt Heinz (D-AZ). Both men lost.
Patriotic Americans was given $600,000 from No Labels’ Citizens For a Strong America. It also paid GOP PR firm Majority Strategies $204,103 for its influence work.
No Labels Action spent $2.5 million in expenditures for Republicans and $1.25 million for Democrats. May donated $300,000 to the PAC. Howard Marks of Oaktree Capital Management also donated $300,000 and gave another $375,000 to United for Progress. Oaktree has donated more than $1.5 million to political groups and candidates in 2018.
Clarine Nardi Riddle, the former Connecticut Attorney General and Lieberman’s chief of staff, is the treasurer for the PAC. She works with Lieberman at Kasowitz.
No Labels Problem Solvers has so far given $187,700 to Democrats and $122,500 to Republicans. Marks has donated $10,000. It’s given more than $8,000 to the Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) campaigns.
No Labels helped inspire the creation of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of more than 40 House representatives from both sides of the aisle that share No Labels’ goal of fostering bipartisan problem-solving.
Senators Collins and Manchin, who were selected in November to be No Labels honorary co-chairs, work closely with the group.
“This is a really important development for No Labels and I would say also for everyone who would like to see members of Congress working across party lines to solve problems, to get things done,” Lieberman said.