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 other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.
What a long, tough year this past week has been.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s White House had come up with “a well laid-out plan” to take the indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officials for hacking the Dems and “shove it in Putin’s face and look strong doing it.” He was supposed to confront Putin both during his private meeting with the Russian leader “and in the public news conference afterward.” In other words, they wrote in big block letters, DO NOT COLLUDERATE. Unfortunately, said one White House aide, “he did the exact opposite.”
As usual, Tangerine Trujillo is his own worst enemy. He has done more to keep Kremlingate front and center than the fake news media or the Derp State ever could.
the White House and the Kremlin have both produced carefully censored, doctored versions of the Helsinki press conference https://t.co/yhDLrwkTAW
— Anne Applebaum (@anneapplebaum) July 18, 2018
The striking thing about the debacle in Helsinki is that it would have been so easy for Trump to simply offer up some hollow, boilerplate “tough talk” for public consumption, even if he kissed Putin’s ass in private. It’s politics 101. During their presser, one had the sense that Putin himself was trying to get Trump to stand up to him a little bit. He was trying to give Trump some cover, but the egoist wouldn’t take it. Jeremy Shapiro wrote for Foreign Policy this week that “Putin seems to have already noticed that winning Trump amounts to a sort of catastrophic success. The extent of Trump’s isolation on Russia within the United States is a problem for Putin and one that he surely recognizes.”
All of this brings us to Adam Davidson’s New Yorker piece on “kompromat,” a Russian word for using compromising information to gain leverage that many Americans are learning for the first time as we contemplate the possibility that POTUS is a Russian asset. “There is no need to assume that Trump was a formal agent of Russian intelligence to make sense of Trump’s solicitousness toward Putin,” he wrote. “It is natural to assume that [kompromat] must be a big, rare, scary thing, used in extraordinary circumstances to force compliance and achieve grand aims. But… kompromat is routinely used throughout the former Soviet Union to curry favor, improve negotiated outcomes, and sway opinion.
Intelligence services, businesspeople, and political figures everywhere exploit gossip and damaging information. However, Darden argues, kompromat has a uniquely powerful role in the former Soviet Union, where the practice is so pervasive, he coined the term “blackmail state” to describe the way of governance.
Trump has made a lot of money doing deals with businesspeople from the former Soviet Union, and at least some of these deals bear many of the warning signs of money laundering and other financial crimes. [If] someone had evidence that proved financial crimes and shared it with, say, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, other American law-enforcement officials, or the press, it could significantly damage Trump’s business, his family, and his Presidency.
At The Washington Post, Anne Applebaum considered another potential source of kompromat for Vlad. She argued that last week’s indictments suggest a scenario in which Russian hackers obtained not only risotto recipes and embarrassing campaign gossip, but also the Clinton campaign’s precious voter data, which they then handed over to the Trump campaign. If that could be proved, it would be a massive conspiracy against the government of the United States.
One thing is clear: Russian information and cyber warfare is already underway for the 2018 midterms. Meanwhile, we’re going to have a fight over the Supreme Court during the next two months, and Robert Mueller is reportedly trying to wrap up at least one part of his sprawling investigation – into whether Trump obstructed justice in the Oval Office – before mid-September.
Hang on, because the next few months look like they’ll be a pretty wild ride.
Speaking of the security of the upcoming midterms, after House Republicans “voted down a Democratic effort to increase election security spending, as Democrats accused the GOP of refusing to stand up to Russia over interference in U.S. elections,” The WSJ reported [$$] that “three of the top cybersecurity officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation are retiring from government service, [even] as cyberattacks are a major concern for the country’s security agencies.”
Meanwhile, John Bolton has axed Richard Hooker from the National Security Council. Hooker was a “pro-Nato” Russia-hawk and “the sort of consensus defense official common in both Republican and Democratic administrations in the pre-Trump era,” and his departure – the circumstances of which are in dispute – came just before Trump’s Helsinki summit. The Daily Beast has more on that.
Kathy Kraninger, Trump’s pick to head the embattled Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, had a tough confirmation hearing this week. “Kraninger, who has worked as a congressional aide and at the departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, has a short paper trail and no clear experience in financial policy. The bureau’s critics see her nomination as a way to keep acting Director Mick Mulvaney, her boss at the Office of Management and Budget, in the loop at the CFPB,” according to Politico.
In other corrupt nomination news, Tom Philpott reported for Mother Jones that “while most media were still digesting President Donald Trump’s extraordinary travels abroad, the White House quietly named a long-time pesticide executive as chief scientist for the US Department of Agriculture.” Philpott added that if he’s approved by the Senate, Scott Hutchins “will be the third major player from Dow Chemical’s pesticide/seed division…to hold a high post in Trump’s USDA.”
A decades-old environmental law credited with saving the American bald eagle from extinction would be reworked under a proposal the Trump administration announced Thursday. https://t.co/64xWII4cfY
— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) July 19, 2018
We have noted the Trump regime’s Dickensian assault on child labor laws in the past. They want to roll back rules that “prohibit 16- and 17-year-old apprentices and student learners from receiving extended, supervised training in certain dangerous jobs. The list includes roofing work, as well as operating chainsaws, meat slicers, and various other power-driven machines that federal law recognizes as too dangerous for those younger than 18,” according to Bloomberg Law.
The rule change, writes Ben Penn, is now just “one procedural hurdle from public release.”
It’s not creeping authoritarianism; it has crept.
“Ahead of Robert Wilkie’s likely confirmation to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Trump loyalists at the agency are taking aggressive steps to purge or reassign staff members perceived to be disloyal to President Trump and his agenda for veterans,” reports Lisa Rein for the WaPo.
And then there was this scene from
Pyongyang Trump’s Washington…
— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) July 20, 2018
The GOP-led Senate continues to confirm our Manchurian President’s judicial nominations at a furious pace. This week, they gave Andrew Oldham the nod for a lifetime appointment on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund said the following in a release: “In confirming Andrew Oldham, the Senate ignored his clear anti-civil rights record and his unacceptable failure to endorse the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Such antagonism towards pillars of our justice system should be disqualifying, but senators continue to shirk their obligation to ‘advise and consent’ on the judicial nominees before them.”
There’s not much on the good news front to leave you with this week.
Senate Democrats were able to pick off a Republican – the only black one in the chamber – to block a blatantly racist judicial nominee. That’s good.
And then there was this tiny shred of Schadenfreude, via Business Insider: “Trump-themed flags and hats made in China are reportedly being held up at US customs amid an intensifying trade war.”