Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and threats of nuclear annihilation coming out of the current White House.
This week, we learned that Trump is capable of such depravity that the Republican establishment finally says, ‘enough is enough already.’ And that iniquity is… tariffs on tin and steel, of all things. The Wall Street Journal called it “the biggest mistake of his presidency.” It wasn’t cancelling DACA or blabbing highly sensitive Israeli intelligence to the Russians or tasking his idiot son-in-law to fix the Middle East — it was these tariffs. The move, according to The Journal has “rattled GOP lawmakers.” Economic advisor Gary Cohn, who didn’t resign when his boss said that Nazis marching through Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” were fine and dandy people, warned that the tariffs may prove too much for him to bear. The policy, wrote David Frum without apparent irony, exposed Trump’s “Nixonian” side. Of course, Papaya Pol Pot didn’t help his case when he said that trade wars are “good” and “easy to win.”
Accusing Trump of hypocrisy is like complaining that water is wet, but just for the record, let’s pause here to note that “in at least two of Trump’s last three construction projects, Trump opted to purchase his steel and aluminum from Chinese manufacturers rather than United States corporations based in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. In other instances, he abandoned steel altogether, instead choosing the far-less-expensive option of buying concrete from various companies, including some linked to the Luchese and Genovese crime families.”
Anyway, the news out of Trumpland this week was dominated by reports of the president’s erratic moods. “Trump was angry and ‘unglued’ when he started a trade war,” according to NBC News. “When White House aides arrived at work on Thursday,” reported The New York Times, “they had no clear idea of what Mr. Trump would say about trade.” Trump’s announcement supposedly “blindsided” his aides.
Another WH econ adviser told me re the tariff announcement: ““I don’t understand what we announced, I don’t know what the policy is.” https://t.co/7Jgiggjt0X
— Ben White (@morningmoneyben) March 2, 2018
But how does one square that picture of Trump impulsively shocking the global economy during a temper tantrum with the fact that his buddy Carl Icahn dumped $31 million in steel-related holdings a week earlier? We suppose it’s possible that Icahn, who had previously secured a White House advisory gig for the sole purpose of getting an obscure fuel standard that hurt his businesses changed – a matter that may have violated insider trading laws – knew that Trump was going off the deep end and simply made a bet that he’d impose new tariffs, but Occam’s razor says that he knew exactly what was coming and profited handsomely from it.
The White House may have become a reality TV show, with crazy staffers coming and going at a dizzying pace and Strawberry Selassie lurching from one conflict to the next, but keep in mind that there are competent people somewhere in this regime. The Heritage Foundation announced this week that “the Trump administration has already implemented nearly two-thirds of the 334 agenda items” the right-wing think tank called for, “a pace faster than former President Reagan,” according to The Washington Examiner. And according to a report in The Intercept, “the network of wealthy donors led by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch have taken credit for a laundry list of policy achievements extracted from the Trump administration and their allies in Congress.” Make no mistake: amid all the chaos, people are getting things done. Bad things, but things nonetheless.
And of course, there’s the grifting. Trump’s sycophantic minions are making fortunes large and small off his presidency. His appointees, ostensibly chosen to “drain the swamp,” are living high on the hog at tax-payers’ expense. It’s the nature of the regime: one of New York’s sleaziest real estate developers and his sordid spawn have brought with them exactly the kinds of chiselers and charlatans that you might expect.
The story that probably should have dominated the headlines this week was The Intercept’s report that Jared Kushner’s heavily indebted real estate firm “made a direct pitch to Qatar’s minister of finance in April 2017 in an attempt to secure investment in a critically distressed asset in the company’s portfolio,” and just weeks after the Qataris said no deal, “Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a group of Middle Eastern countries, with Kushner’s backing, led a diplomatic assault that culminated in a blockade of Qatar. Kushner, according to reports at the time, subsequently undermined efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to bring an end to the standoff.” That was followed by NBC reporting that “federal investigators are scrutinizing whether any of Jared Kushner’s business discussions with foreigners during the presidential transition later shaped White House policies in ways designed to either benefit or retaliate against those he spoke with.”
This week, we’re going to do something a little different at What Fresh Hell?: We’re going to ignore the regulatory shenanigans and the unhinged things Trump’s clownish appointees have done and said, and focus exclusively on one week’s worth of corruption. Because in the end, it’s really all one giant grift.
Item: HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s $31,000 dining set certainly didn’t fly under the radar. It was big news. But we think the fact that Helen Foster, a senior HUD official, was “demoted and replaced with a Donald Trump appointee” for “refusing to break the law by funding an expensive redecoration of Ben Carson’s office.” According to The Guardian, Foster’s crime was pointing out that the agency can only legally spend up to $5,000 on renovations.
I got my desk chair for $79 at Officemax. It’s pretty decent.
“Helen Foster said she was told ‘$5,000 will not even buy a decent chair’ after informing her bosses that this was the legal price limit for improvements to Carson’s suite of offices.” https://t.co/P7YAJu9KpT
— Joshua Holland (@JoshuaHol) March 1, 2018
And here’s the larger story, also via The Guardian:
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (Hud) has agreed to spend $165,000 on “lounge furniture” for its Washington headquarters, in addition to a $31,000 dining set purchased for housing secretary Ben Carson’s office.
The revelations on Tuesday of Carson’s expensive decor spending come as Donald Trump’s administration has proposed a cut of $6.8bn to Hud’s annual budget, or roughly 14% of its total spending, which would lead to reductions in programs aimed at poor and homeless Americans.
Item: Brad Parscale, “the political strategist and online guru who was named President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign manager Tuesday[,] has a close financial relationship with a penny-stock firm with a questionable history that includes longstanding ties to a convicted fraudster.” The AP has more.
Item: “Trump ally” Elliott Broidy, “a venture capitalist and prominent Republican fundraiser,” was “in talks to collect up to $75 million” if he could convince the Justice Department to drop “its investigation into the theft of billions of dollars from a Malaysian development fund.”
Item: “Internal Interior Department emails and memos” obtained by The New York Times “show the central role that concerns over gaining access to coal reserves played in the decision by the Trump administration to shrink the size of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by about 47 percent, to just over 1 million acres.
From the start of the Interior Department review process, agency officials directed staff to figure out how much coal, oil and natural gas — as well as grass for cattle grazing and timber — had been put essentially off limits, or made harder to access, by the decision to designate the areas as national monuments.
Item: “A tiny Nebraska startup” that “lists just one employee in its Omaha office” was “awarded the first border wall construction project under President Donald Trump.” It is, according to Talking-Points Memo, “the offshoot of a construction firm that was sued repeatedly for failing to pay subcontractors and accused in a 2016 government audit of shady billing practices.”
Item: What Fresh Hell?
i suppose “an actual barrel of hazardous waste” turned down the offer first https://t.co/w09rUwwN15
— Seth D. Michaels (@sethdmichaels) March 2, 2018
Item: The New York Times reported that Melania Trump “has parted ways with an adviser after news about the adviser’s firm reaping $26 million in payments to help plan President Trump’s inauguration. Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who has been friends with Mrs. Trump for years, had been working on a contract basis as an unpaid senior adviser to the office of the first lady.”
Wolkoff established the firm “only weeks before the inauguration,” and pulled in $26 million bucks, which really stretches the definition of “unpaid advisor.”
Meanwhile, people are wondering how Melania, a mid-level fashion model, secured an “Einstein visa” that’s usually “reserved for people with ‘extraordinary ability.’” (Get your mind out of the gutter!) Mary Jordan reports for The Washington Post that Melania’s “ability to secure her green card not only set her on the path to U.S. citizenship, but put her in the position to sponsor the legal residency of her parents, Viktor and Amalija Knavs… President Trump has proposed ending the sponsorship of relatives such as parents, slamming as ‘chain migration’ the decades-long ability of U.S. citizens to assist relatives in obtaining legal residency.” Oh well.
Item: The National Labor Relations Board vacated one of its most important pro-management rulings last year after the agency’s inspector general found that a Trump appointee, William Emanuel had a conflict of interest in the case. Turns out he had represented companies that gained directly from the ruling. “This is, so far as I’m aware, unprecedented,” former NLRB chair William Gould IV, a professor emeritus at Stanford’s law school, told Bloomberg. “There is no decision on a matter of such high import that has been vacated based upon a breach of conflict-of-interest rules.”
Item: Finally, “the president’s personal pilot is on the administration’s short list to head the Federal Aviation Administration,” according to Axios. “One industry insider equated this to the Seinfeld episode when Cosmo Kramer used his golf caddy as a jury consultant.”
That’s just one week’s worth of grifting. And there have been similar reports every other week of Persimmon Perone’s ridiculous shitshow of a presidency.