Trump’s Attorney Wants Out, Fortenberry Lands Job

Welcome to the Checks & Imbalances newsletter. Today we look at a congressman-cum-felon’s new employer, solve a mystery about a $35,000 payment and hear Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue” playing nonstop in our heads.


Trump’s Attorney Wants To Quit ‘Electric Avenue’ Lawsuit

An attorney defending Donald Trump in the copyright-infringement suit brought by singer Eddy Grant asked the judge to allow his firm to withdraw as counsel on Monday.

In September 2020, Grant sued Trump and his campaign, alleging a tweet from the then-president that included a video of the 1983 hit “Electric Avenue” allowed him to benefit politically and financially from Grant’s work. Within weeks, Kenneth Caruso of Mukasey Frenchman LLP informed the Southern District of New York that he would be representing Trump and the campaign.

Now, with the case in discovery, Caruso wants out. He filed a motion in the Southern District of New York this week asking to be relieved as counsel. In an accompanying declaration that explained the request, Caruso wrote that his firm’s services are no longer needed and that it is not seeking a lien against Trump. 

His work on the case seemed to have slowed down recently. The Make America Great Again PAC, which arose out of Trump’s presidential campaign, paid Caruso’s law firm $103,000 since September 2020, just $8,200 of which came in 2022, according to the most-recent campaign finance records. No other political committees have reported paying the firm.

Darren Saunders of Peroff Saunders P.C., who joined Trump’s defense team a couple months after the suit was filed, will continue to represent the former president.

Caruso and spokespeople for the Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment. Caruso’s filing was first reported by Reuters.

If the motion is granted, Caruso would be at least the second attorney to dump a Trump as a client in the past year. Last September, a lawyer quit who was representing Eric Trump in the New York Attorney General’s investigation into potential fraud at the Trump Organization.


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Watch: Trump’s Super PAC Books $100,000 Per Person Dinner At Trump Golf Club

Your correspondent joined Forbes Newsroom and assistant managing editor Diane Brady to discuss Trump’s $100,000-per-person fundraiser at his golf course, midterm elections and voters’ shifting tolerance.


In Case You Missed It


More On The Congressman Who Started A New Job 11 Days After A Jury Found Him Guilty On Felony Charges

On Aug. 22, Checks & Imbalances reported that within days of resigning from congress in the wake of three felony convictions, Jeff Fortenberry started a new job with Practice Management of America, Inc. Your correspondent continued to report, and here’s what turned up:

Members of Congress are allowed to negotiate for future employment as long as they notify the House Committee on Ethics within three days, according to a 2020 memorandum from the panel. That memo only specifies that the notification will become public if the lawmaker also decides there’s “a conflict of interest or an appearance of a conflict” and files a statement of recusal. The House Clerk only has one statement of recusal on file since 2014, and it’s not from Fortenberry.

The Nebraska politician had a connection with New York-based Practice Management of America Inc. while in office. Since January 2018, he has held shares of the private company in his IRA account. His wife also has a stake in the company. Employees of Practice Management of America, who don’t tend to be big political donors, contributed $16,000 to Fortenberry’s campaign between 2018 and 2022.

Fortenberry knows something about healthcare, having served as the ranking member of a House Appropriations subcommittee that has jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration. He resigned from that position, and his other committee assignments, after his indictment in October 2021.

Fortenberry and Practice Management of America did not respond to requests for comment. Fortenberry, who was sentenced to two years of probation, has appealed his conviction.


Continuing Irresolutions

Updates on Checks & Imbalances’ previous reporting

In August, the Federal Election Commission asked Truth and Courage, a super PAC aligned with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), to provide details about its $35,000 payment in May to Alamo Marketing, a company that appears to have popped out of nowhere. On Tuesday, the PAC’s executive director confirmed Checks & Imbalances’ reporting on who received the money. “Truth and Courage PAC has been organizing events to bring conservatives together,” said Christine Babcock. “The PAC retained [talk-radio host] Michael Berry, through his company Alamo Marketing, to perform speaking services at these events.”

*****

Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.) made late disclosures of 157 securities trades worth at least $652,000, according to the Office of Congressional Ethics. The nonpartisan office, made up of career government employees, forwarded its investigation to the bipartisan House Ethics Committee, which consists of members of Congress—one of whom is Rutherford.

On Wednesday, that panel announced it had dismissed the referral. “The committee has worked with Rep. Rutherford,” the group said in a press release. “He has made diligent efforts to take appropriate remedial actions and ensure his continued compliance with applicable financial disclosure requirements.” 

*****

A bill intended to prevent a future president from leasing government property, like Donald Trump did at his D.C. hotel, has not made any progress since Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) introduced it in May. A spokesperson for Titus did not respond to inquiries about the bill’s status. Even if it passed, the law may fall short of its sponsor’s goals, according to experts in government contracting.


Two Plead Guilty To Stealing Ashley Biden’s Diary, Selling It To Project Veritas For $40,000

“Two Florida residents who stole a diary belonging to President Joe Biden’s daughter Ashley have pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges over the theft and later sale of its contents to Project Veritas, a hard-right activist organization,” reports Nicholas Reimann:

Aimee Harris, 40, and Robert Kurdlander, 58, both pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property, the Justice Department said. Harris obtained the diary in the months leading up to the 2020 election and enlisted her friend Kurdlander to contact Project Veritas, which agreed to pay $40,000 for it, according to the New York Times.


Tracking Trump

Forbes continues to update “Tracking Trump: A Rundown Of All The Lawsuits And Investigations Involving The Former President.”

“A federal judge has ordered the Department of Justice to make public a redacted version of the affidavit it used to justify its search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago estate, asking the federal government to unseal the document by Friday afternoon,” reports Alison Durkee.

  • The Saudi-backed and Trump-connected LIV Golf hired former Rep. Benjamin Quayle (R-Ariz.) to lobby on its behalf. Quayle is the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle. (Twitter/Hailey Fuchs of Politico)
  • “Trump’s social media app facing financial fallout” (Fox Business)
  • “The Koch network and other Trump allies are quietly backing his biggest GOP critic: Rep. Liz Cheney” (CNBC)

Editor’s Picks

  • “Corporate PACs have given more than $22.2 million to election objectors since Jan. 6 Capitol attack” (OpenSecrets)
  • “Ex-interior secretary Zinke lied to investigators in casino case, watchdog finds“ (The Washington Post)
  • “Facebook, Twitter dismantle a U.S. influence campaign about Ukraine” (The Washington Post)
  • “How Fracking Billionaires, Ben Shapiro, and PragerU Built a Climate Crisis–Denial Empire” (Vice News)
  • “’Our plan might have paid off’: How FPL dollars secretly funded a spoiler vs. Levine Cava” (The Miami Herald)
  • “Ocasio-Cortez admits to violating congressional financial disclosure rules” (The Washington Examiner)
  • “Lauren Boebert didn’t file required reports on stock and cryptocurrency transactions” (The Colorado Sun)
  • “Between 2019 and 2021, [Rep. Jerry Nadler’s (D-N.Y.) district director] Robert Gottheim received hundreds of thousands in pay to qualify as a ‘senior staffer.’ However, at the same time he’s been a senior staffer, he’s also been paid for legal services by Nadler’s campaign and PAC. That arrangement is prohibited by House rules.” (Americans for Public Trust)
  • “RNC chief on tape to donors: We need help to win the Senate” (Politico)
  • “GOP Senate Candidates Are Getting Crushed Online” (The Daily Beast)
  • “Republican Tapped to Serve in Secretive Ethics Role No One Wants” (Bloomberg Government)
  • “Tennessee State Representative and Former Chief of Staff Charged with Bribery and Kickback Conspiracy” (Justice Department)
  • “71 members of Congress have violated a law designed to prevent insider trading and stop conflicts-of-interest” (Insider)
  • “Here’s how much your N.J. members of Congress are worth, from poorest to richest” (NJ.com)
  • “Congressman to donor: Quit using me in your ads” (Axios)

In Closing

“I don’t wanna dance, dance with you baby, no more

I’ll never do something to hurt you though

Oh, but the feeling is bad, the feeling is bad”

— Eddy Grant, “I Don’t Want To Dance”