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Trade war outcomes are hard to predict, but politicians are not

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ECB’s Benoit Coeure to lead central bank effort on digital currencies

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Benoit Coeure

Jason Alden | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Outgoing European Central Bank (ECB) executive board member Benoit Coeure will lead a new unit at the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) focused on financial technology like digital currencies, the group announced Monday.

Coeure was tapped to run the BIS’ new “Innovation Hub,” which was set up earlier this year to understand how technology is affecting central banks around the world. The effort comes as big tech companies like Facebook and Apple are expanding rapidly into financial services.

The BIS, known as the central bank of central banks, is based in Basel, Switzerland. It is owned by 60 central banks including the U.S. Federal Reserve, the ECB and the People’s Bank of China.

“I look forward to bringing my expertise to the global central banking community at this time of rapid technological change,” Coeure said in a press release Monday. “We must make the best use of innovation to support financial stability and promote financial inclusion.”

Coeure has served as a member of the ECB’s executive board since 2012, where he was in charge of market infrastructure and payments and the oversight of payment systems. The French economist also led the Group of Seven working group on stablecoins and has been a leading voice on how technology is shaping the world’s payments infrastructure.

In a speech in September, Coeure said Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency project called libra has been a “wake-up call” for central banks around the world.

“The demand for fast, reliable and cheap cross-border payments is bound to grow further in coming years,” he said. “Policymakers and central banks should respond to these challenges.”

Lawmakers, policymakers and regulators around the world have piled on criticism of libra citing risks like financial stability, money laundering, terrorism financing and data privacy. Some EU officials have vowed to block the effort entirely saying a stablecoin backed by a consortium of companies puts sovereign currencies at risk. The goal of the cryptocurrency project, according to Facebook and the non-profit Libra Association overseeing its rollout, is to provide a faster, easier payments for users around the world.

Coeure’s eight-year term at the ECB expires December 31, and he will begin the new role at the BIS January 15, 2020, the group said.



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Trump loses challenge to New York law allowing tax returns release

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President Donald Trump attends the opening ceremony of the Veterans Day Parade in Madison Square Park on November 11, 2019 in New York City.

Eduardo Munoz | VIEW press | Corbis News | Getty Images

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., on Monday dismissed President Donald Trump’s lawsuit seeking to bar a House committee from using a New York state law to obtain his state tax returns, suggesting the president’s legal action belonged in another courthouse.

The ruling by Judge Carl Nichols does not mean that Trump’s state tax returns will be released to the House Ways and Means Committee anytime soon.

Neither that committee, nor the two other congressional committees that under certain circumstances can obtain a president’s tax returns under the new state law, has actually invoked it to get Trump’s state returns.

Nichols’ ruling in Trump’s own suit had failed to establish that a judge in Washington federal court had jurisdiction over a challenge to New York’s law, known as the TRUST Act.

That act allows the chairs of the Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation, to get New York state returns of certain federal, state and local public officials, “for a specifed and legitimate legislative purpose.”

Nichols’ ruling said that Trump did not establish a conspiracy between the Ways and Means Committee and New York officials, which could have established that a Washington court had jurisdiction over the suit.

“Nowhere in his Amended Complaint does Mr. Trump allege the existence of a conspiracy; in fact, the word ‘conspiracy’ does not even appear in his pleadings,” Nichols wrote.

But Nichols did note that Trump “may renew his claim” that New York state tax officials are barred from releasing his state tax returns in the event that they are sought by one of the congressional committees under the New York law.

The judge also noted that Trump could file his suit in “another forum” — meaning another court — “presumably in New York.”

The information on those state returns would largely mirror details of Trump’s federal income tax returns, which are being sought by the House Ways and Means Committee.

That committee is suing the Treasury Department and the IRS to obtain those federal returns.

Before that suit was filed, both the Treasury Department and the IRS had rejected a demand from the committee to turn over those returns despite a section of the federal tax code saying that the Treasury “shall furnish” an individual’s returns if a formal written request is made by the committee.

Trump has refused to publicly disclose his tax returns either before or after winning the 2016 election, despite a longstanding tradition of presidential candidates and presidents doing so.

Last week, a federal appeals court in New York rejected Trump’s bid to bar a grand jury in Manhattan state court from obtaining eight years of personal and corporate tax returns from his accountants as part of an ongoing criminal probe. Trump’s lawyers plan to ask the U.S. Supreme Court this week to hear an appeal of that decision.

Trump had sued the Ways and Means Committee, the New York attorney general and the state’s tax chief in federal court in Washington in July, citing concerns that the committee’s chairman, Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., soon would try to obtain his state tax returns under New York’s TRUST Act, which was signed into law earlier that same month.

When Trump sued the Ways and Means Committee over its potential use of New York’s law to obtain his state tax returns, his lawyer Jay Sekulow said, “We have filed a lawsuit today in our ongoing efforts to end Presidential harassment.”

“The actions taken by the House and New York officials are nothing more than political retribution,” Sekulow said.

On the heels of Nichols’ ruling in the case on Monday, Sekulow said, “We are reviewing the opinion.”

The White House had no immediate comment.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “We have said all along that this lawsuit should be dismissed and we are pleased with the court’s conclusion.”

“The TRUST Act is an important tool that will ensure accountability to millions of Americans who deserve to know the truth,” James said. “We have never doubted that this law was legal, which is why we vigorously defended it from the start and will continue to do so.”

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., a Ways and Means Committee member who has argued for the release of Trump’s tax returns, said Nichols had “made the right decision, and when Trump and his lawyers make more attempts to block oversight, I am confident the ruling will be upheld.”

“Trump and his myriad enablers in the administration have moved heaven and earth to violate the law and keep Trump’s taxes hidden from sunlight,” Pascrell said. “It’s time for full transparency of Trump’s corruption.”

— Additional reporting by CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger.



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US national security officials objected to stopping Ukraine aid | USA News

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The view among the national security officials was unanimous: Military aid to Ukraine should not be stopped. But the White House’s acting chief of staff thought otherwise.

That was the testimony of Laura Cooper, a Defense Department official, whose deposition was released Monday in the House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump.

“My sense is that all of the senior leaders of the US national security departments and agencies were all unified in their – in their view that this assistance was essential,” she said. “And they were trying to find ways to engage the president on this.”

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Cooper’s testimony was among several hundred pages of transcripts released Monday, along with those of State Department officials Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson.

Cooper told investigators that, in a series of July meetings at the White House, she came to understand that Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was holding up the military aid for the US ally.

“There was just this issue of the White House chief of staff has conveyed that the president has concerns about Ukraine,” she testified.

When she and others tried to get an explanation, they found none.

“We did not get clarification,” she said. 

She said it was “unusual” to have congressional funds suddenly halted that way, and aides raised concerns about the legality of it. The Pentagon was “concerned” about the hold-up of funds and “any signal that we would send to Ukraine about a wavering in our commitment”, she said.

Cooper told investigators that she was visited in August by Kurt Volker, the US special envoy to Ukraine, who explained there was a “statement” that the Ukraine government could make to get the security money flowing.

It was the first she had heard of the quid pro quo that is now the central question of the impeachment inquiry – the administration’s push for the Ukraine government to investigate Trump’s political rivals.

“Somehow, an effort that he was engaged in to see if there was a statement that the government of Ukraine would make,” said Cooper, an assistant defence secretary, “that would somehow disavow any interference in US elections and would commit to the prosecution of any individuals involved in election interference.”

The House is investigating whether Trump violated his oath of office by pushing Ukraine’s president to investigate Democrats, including Joe Biden, while the administration was withholding military funds for the East European ally. 

Cooper described the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, saying it involved a range of items such as night-vision goggles, vehicles, sniper rifles and medical equipment.

“Security assistance is vital to helping the Ukrainians be able to defend themselves,” Cooper said.

Because Ukraine and Georgia are two “front-line states” facing Russian aggression, the US needed to “shore up these countries’ abilities to defend themselves”.

“It’s in our interest to deter Russian aggression elsewhere around the world,” she said.





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