Shutdown looms, Sen. Dianne Feinstein has died, Scott Hall pleads guilty: 5 Things podcast

Shutdown looms, Sen. Dianne Feinstein has died, Scott Hall pleads guilty: 5 Things podcast


Taylor Wilson
 USA TODAY

On Saturday’s episode of the 5 Things podcast: A government shutdown looms after lawmakers failed to pass a stopgap measure Friday. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has died. USA TODAY Justice Department Correspondent Bart Jansen looks at how a fraud case might impact the future of former President Donald Trump’s real estate business. Scott Hall becomes the first Trump co-defendant to plead guilty in Georgia. USA TODAY Health and Breaking News Reporter Eduardo Cuevas explains how a new rule could help save miners from dangerous silica dust.

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Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below.  This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.

Taylor Wilson:

Good morning. I’m Taylor Wilson, and this is five things you need to know, Saturday the 30th of September 2023. Today, the final 24 hours before a government shutdown, plus remembering Senator Diane Feinstein, and what a fraud case could mean for the future of Donald Trump’s real estate empire.

The countdown to a government shutdown is on. Congress has until midnight to pass a continuing resolution on the federal budget. If not, the US government will shut down at 12:01 Eastern Time tonight. But despite the increasingly loud ticks on the clock, lawmakers remain entrenched in their positions. House Republicans failed to pass a stopgap measure yesterday to avoid a shutdown. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had been insistent on passing the GOP plan to better position House Republicans in negotiations with the Democratic-controlled Senate, but hard-line conservatives who have impeded almost all progress toward avoiding a shutdown tank the measure on the floor. The White House said yesterday that President Joe Biden will not meet with McCarthy to negotiate a deal before the government shuts down, putting the ball in the Republicans’ court. Those who would feel the deepest initial losses in a shutdown include people who rely on WIC benefits for baby formula, members of the military who would serve without pay, numerous federal workers who would be furloughed, and more. You can stay up to date all weekend long with a live shutdown updates page on usatoday.com.

Senator Dianne Feinstein has died at the age of 90. Known for working across the aisle while championing progressive causes, she planned to retire at the end of this term after facing concerns about her health and pressure to resign. She was the oldest current member of the Senate and the longest-serving female senator in history, elected in 1992. President Joe Biden was one of many to publicly mourn her passing. In a White House statement Biden, a longtime Senate colleague of Feinstein’s, called her a pioneering American. Feinstein notably fought for an assault weapons ban in 1994 and helped enshrine marriage equality into law just last year. It’s now up to California Governor Gavin Newsom to pick a replacement for Feinstein. Given the Democrats’ slight majority in the Senate, he’s under pressure to move fast. He’s previously vowed to appoint a Black woman to the seat. Yesterday, though, he made no mention of a successor in a statement marking Feinstein’s death.

A judge ruled this week that former President Donald Trump committed fraud for years while building his real estate empire. I caught up with USA Today Justice Department correspondent Bart Jansen for the latest and a look at what this might mean for the future of his business. Bart, thanks for hopping back on.

Bart Jansen:

Thanks for having me.

Taylor Wilson:

Bart, what’s the latest in this real estate fraud case?

Bart Jansen:

Yeah, the decision Tuesday basically found that he had committed fraud and it was basically about the valuations of his different properties. Trump tended to value different properties like Trump Tower or Trump Park Avenue, which was an apartment building, as much more valuable than either appraisers or tax assessors valued the properties. And so the effect of that is that potentially lenders would be more likely to lend him money because of the higher values, and the judge ruled that that’s the risk, that it could affect the lending market. And Trump replied that all of the loans were repaid and banks got lots of interest from him, and so everybody should be fine and the banks continued to extend loans to him. But the judge said that the fraud could potentially alter the lending market, and eventually a lender could be left holding the bag unfairly because the valuations were inaccurate.

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Taylor Wilson:

And what are some of the properties, some of the specific discrepancies here, Bart, that have been outlined in this case?

Bart Jansen:

So for example, the Mar-a-Lago Resort in Florida was valued at between 18 and $27 million over the last decade, and Trump valued it recently as much as $621 million, so 22 times what the Palm Beach County assessor valued it at. And then one of the funnier examples was that Trump has a three-story penthouse apartment for himself at the top of Trump Tower. He has said that the penthouse has been measured at 10,996 square feet, but he has reported that the size of it is about 30,000 square feet, so three times the size that people have actually measured. And that in turn raised the value of it by 100 to $200 million.

Well, the judge looked at that and he quoted a Chico Marx out of the Marx Brothers movie, Duck Soup. He said, “Well, who are you going to believe? Me or your own eyes?” So some of these estimates are wildly different from what appraisers and assessors have found, and Trump continues to dispute these differences. He says that real estate values are difficult to gauge, and he says there is a disclaimer at the front of his estimates that says these values are uncertain and you better make your own judgments.

Taylor Wilson:

And Bart, Trump here, like he has in other cases, has worked to delay this. Unsuccessfully, it appears. What’s the latest on that fraud?

Bart Jansen:

Yes, an appeals court rejected his request on Thursday to try to postpone the case and potentially even remove the judge who made this ruling of fraud because of complaints that the judge was ignoring appellate guidance for how the case should be handled. But the appellate court rejected that request, so as you mentioned, the non-jury trial is going to begin Monday and what the judge will be trying to determine that how much Trump should be penalized from the fraud that he’s already ruled he committed. Attorney General Leticia James has sought $250 million from Trump and his associated companies. The judge will be evaluating basically whether that number is justified or what number would be justified. But what the judge has already done on Tuesday is canceled the business certificates that Trump’s businesses are required to hold to conduct business in New York State, so the case has already upended his businesses in a huge way.

It’s not quite certain yet how that decision will play out because as Trump’s lawyers ask the judge, “Well, does this mean we have to sell off these iconic buildings, Trump Tower and others? Or is a receiver a manager simply going to manage the businesses?” The judge didn’t reply immediately. He said that those answers would be forthcoming and the trial that will begin Monday will decide how much he might have to pay in financial damages for the fraud. But the case is a very serious one among the half dozen cases that Trump faces right now in state and federal courts.

Taylor Wilson:

Bart Jansen covers the Justice Department for USA Today. Thank you as always, Bart.

Bart Jansen:

Thanks for having me.

Taylor Wilson:

Scott Hall, one of Donald Trump’s co-defendants in the Georgia election racketeering case, became the first to plead guilty yesterday to five misdemeanors. The bail bondsman pleaded guilty to counts of conspiracy to commit intentional interference with performance of election duties. He’ll receive five years of probation and agreed to testify in further proceedings as part of the deal. Hall is one of 19 co-defendants in the case charged with trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The rest, including Trump himself, have pleaded not guilty.

A new federal rule seeks to save coal miners from the dangers of silica dust. I spoke with USA Today Health and Breaking News reporter Eduardo Cuevas to learn more. Eduardo, thanks for hopping on Five Things.

Eduardo Cuevas:

Thank you. Glad to chat.

Taylor Wilson:

So just starting here, what is crystalline silica and how is it tied to respiratory illnesses in mine workers?

Eduardo Cuevas:

Crystalline silica, also known as silica dust, it’s basically found throughout the earth’s crust. It’s really common. It’s often in sedimentary rocks like sandstone, quartz, granite, that sort of thing. And how it’s tied to mine workers, basically, when folks are drilling for ores, let’s say coal as a good example, they’re cutting through layers of rock. So that kicks off dust in mines that, if not regulated, folks can breathe in. And there’s a growing body of evidence, decades actually of evidence, about the harms it poses to workers. And just to be clear too, this isn’t just miners, but also other industries like construction or even road repairs.

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Taylor Wilson:

I want to break down these new regulations that have been proposed, Eduardo. What would these measures do specifically?

Eduardo Cuevas:

The big headline is cutting down in half crystalline silica, silica dust levels from 100 micrograms per cubic meter down to 50 micrograms per cubic meter. So that, a lot of labor workers have talked about, would do a lot to reduce deaths in miners. And if you talk to the Assistant Secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, that applies to all miners. To be clear, the assistant secretary, Christopher Williamson, he’s from coal country, he’s from West Virginia. He’s got family that worked in coal, so he knows as well that really would’ve helped coal miners who have seen these really large increases in black lung disease and progressive massive fibrosis.

But the interesting thing with this new rule is this also would help other miners. And a part of that is obviously the rule itself of the silica levels, but it also for the first time establishes health surveillance for other miners. For the first time, we’re going to be able to get a better sense and at no cost, and these workers are going to get a little bit more screening.

Taylor Wilson:

And Eduardo, the mining industries can often be resistant to change in these types of regulations. How are organizations representing both the mining companies and those representing mine workers themselves responding to these proposed new rules?

Eduardo Cuevas:

On the face, everyone is saying they welcome the rule. There’s been decades of evidence, so it’s not something that’s necessarily a new idea or a novel idea coming down. That being said, the industry representatives for mining companies say they have welcomed the rule, but they’re pushing a little bit back on the regulation. One of the things for compliance that they want to see is more use of respirators. Union leaders will push back and even experts really push back. I talked to one expert out of the University of Illinois Chicago who pointed that respirators really are one of the least effective methods of preventing silica from going into your lungs and causing all that damage. What this expert had told me is thinking about methods like better ventilation in the mines or even watering down areas that can be dusty, so the dust doesn’t kick up and workers don’t breathe that in.

Even union leaders, in terms of respirators that can cause communication issues in the workplace that they’re worried about. But at the end of the day, the United Mine Workers of America, which represents a lot of miners across the country, told federal officials in rulemaking that it comes down to compliance and enforcement of this, and that the rule that they see it now is vulnerable to being gamed. The union president told me in an interview, it’s like driving on the highway and asking each driver to report their own speeding ticket. Really, what they’re looking for is greater enforcement. I think that goes down to what we have to look for in the future is what does enforcement look like?

Taylor Wilson:

All right. Eduardo Cuevas covers health and breaking news for USA Today. Thank you, Eduardo, for making the time. Really appreciate the insight here.

Eduardo Cuevas:

Thank you.

Taylor Wilson:

You can read Eduardo’s full piece with a link in today’s show notes.

And before we go, a reminder that Five Things is now on YouTube. A limited number of our specials and Sunday episodes will now be available as vodcasts. Dana Taylor is in for the Sunday episode tomorrow, taking a closer look at the state of unions in the country amid a wave of labor strikes, and I’ll see you Monday with more of 5 Things from USA Today.

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