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.
On Thursday, a court in Kazakhstan began considering a sprawling corruption case against Viktor Khrapunov, the former mayor of the city of Almaty, and his wife Leila. The couple, who fled to Switzerland, are being tried in absentia for “a wide array of crimes, including money laundering, embezzlement, abuse of office, fraud and the creation of an organized crime group, according to Newsweek.
As you might have guessed, the Khrapunovs have “deep ties to the Trump Organization.” They were in business with the Bayrock group, which had been run by former Trump advisor Felix Sater. Sater is a childhood friend of Michael Cohen who’s linked to Russian mobsters and is now reportedly cooperating with investigators. He “has a history of channeling money from prominent families in the Eastern bloc into Trump properties,” according to Think Progress, and “this could pose problems for Trump, given Sater’s history of outing former close associates in exchange for immunity.”
The Khrapunovs were also in business with Rudy Giuliani’s old law firm, which “opened an office in Kazakhstan in 2007, the same year the pair moved to Switzerland. The law firm was allegedly used to raise funds for Guliani’s 2008 run for president.”
The Khrapunovs’ son, Ilyas, is also wanted by Ukrainian authorities “for allegedly orchestrating a hack of the computer systems of a law firm representing the Kazakh bank BTA Bank.” Ilyas’s father-in-law is accused of embezzling billions from that same bank, and that “money was subsequently laundered through Trump towers, in addition to other U.S. properties.”
We bring up this story because it was such a small item in this week’s flood of revelations about the Trump crime family that we almost missed it entirely. While everyone is pretending that there’s really a question about whether infamous micro-manager Donald Trump signed off on that meeting in the Trump Tower, it’s useful to keep in mind that multiple investigations are underway and it’s almost certain that we will, at some point, come to a full reckoning of the depths of the Manchurian Pumpkin’s corruption.
And with that, let’s look at some lesser outrages that may have flown beneath the radar – or perhaps in an invisible stealth fighter -- this week.
Relatedly, Lachlan Markay reported for The Daily Beast that “a mysterious company that made a huge contribution to a pro-Trump political group this year is run by two Soviet-born businessmen, one of whom was feted at a donor retreat at Mar-a-Lago in March. Global Energy Producers LLC donated $325,000 to America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC, in May, according to the group’s most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission. That made the company one of America First’s top 20 donors.”
It’s illegal for foreign actors to donate to federal campaigns, and it’s a felony for Americans to knowingly solicit such donations.
This week, Donald Trump presided over “the first National Security Council meeting devoted to defending American democracy from foreign manipulation,” according to NBC. Unfortunately, “current and former officials [say] that 19 months into his presidency, there is no coherent Trump administration strategy to combat foreign election interference — and no single person or agency in charge.”
This occurred the same week we discovered that hackers linked to Russian security services attempted to hack Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) campaign.
It’s almost like they want foreign powers to attack yet another election on their behalf.
There was quite a bit of big, very bad environmental news this week.
“The Trump administration will seek to revoke California’s authority to regulate automobile greenhouse gas emissions -- including its mandate for electric-car sales -- in a proposed revision of Obama-era standards,” reported Bloomberg. The proposal “sets up a high-stakes battle over California’s unique ability to combat air pollution and, if finalized, is sure to set off a protracted courtroom battle.”
Just as there are no fiscal conservatives when Republicans are in charge, the “principle” of states’ rights flies right out the window when the right can use the expansive powers of the federal government to own the libs.
“In a quest to shrink national monuments last year, senior Interior Department officials dismissed evidence that these public sites boosted tourism and spurred archaeological discoveries,” reported WaPo’s Juliet Eilperin. “The thousands of pages of email correspondence chart how Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his aides instead tailored their survey of protected sites to emphasize the value of logging, ranching and energy development that would be unlocked if they were not designated national monuments.”
File this one, which also comes to us via The Washington Post, under privatizing profits while socializing the costs: “This week the Trump administration scrapped long-standing requirements that companies undertaking energy development and other work on Bureau of Land Management lands make up for any damage by paying the federal government or by purchasing new land to set aside for conservation.”
The New York Times reported this week that the Endangered Species Act “is coming under attack from lawmakers, the White House and industry on a scale not seen in decades, driven partly by fears that the Republicans will lose ground in November’s midterm elections… In the past two weeks, more than two dozen pieces of legislation, policy initiatives and amendments designed to weaken the law have been either introduced or voted on in Congress or proposed by the Trump administration.”
In other news, “Education Secretary Betsy DeVos plans to eliminate regulations that forced for-profit colleges to prove that they provide gainful employment to the students they enroll, in what would be the most drastic in a series of moves that she has made to free the for-profit sector from safeguards put in effect during the Obama era.” The rule cut off federal loan guarantees from for-profit colleges “if their graduates did not earn enough money to pay them off.” It “sent many for-profit colleges and universities into an economic tailspin because so many of their alumni were failing to find decent jobs.” According to The New York Times, DeVos “plans to scuttle the regulations altogether, not simply modify them.” It’s just the latest in “a series of decisions to freeze, modify and now eliminate safeguards put in place after hundreds of for-profit colleges were accused of widespread fraud.”
It turns out that swamps don’t drain themselves.
“The Department of Health and Human Services has proposed a binding rule that would stop health providers in clinics that receive federal public family planning money from providing patients with full and accurate reproductive health information and services,” reported Kelly Flannery for The Hill. The “rule would eliminate a requirement for Title X providers to give pregnant patients the opportunity to learn about all of their pregnancy options, including abortion. It would also muzzle doctors.” It’s clarifying, especially if you thought that the conservative free speech warriors gave a shit about free speech.
This week, we were treated to a neologism from The Wall Street Journal: “meat wave.”
“Meat is piling up in U.S. cold-storage warehouses, fueled by a surge in supplies and trade disputes that are eroding demand,” reported Jacob Bunge. “U.S. consumers’ appetite for meat is growing, but not fast enough to keep up with record production of hogs and chickens. That leaves the U.S. meat industry increasingly reliant on exports, but Mexico and China—among the largest foreign buyers of U.S. meat—have both set tariffs on U.S. pork products in response to U.S. tariffs on steel, aluminum and other goods. U.S. hams, chops and livers have become sharply more expensive in those markets, which is starting to slow sales, industry officials said.”
As is our wont, we’ll leave you with some good news. This week, a federal judge in Maryland ruled that a crucially important lawsuit against the Trump crime family can proceed. The suit, filed by the attorneys general of Maryland and DC, seeks to enforce the Constitution’s foreign and domestic “emoluments” provisions, which bar officials from enriching themselves while in office. The regime had argued that Trump may well be profiting from the presidency, but it’s all kosher as long as there isn’t a specific quid-pro-quo involved.
According to Politico, “U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte ruled the case can proceed because the plaintiffs made a plausible case that Trump could get an improper financial benefit from his affiliation with the Trump hotel. ‘Since the President’s election, a number of foreign governments or their instrumentalities have patronized or have expressed a definite intention to patronize the Hotel, some of which have indicated that they are doing so precisely because of the President's association with it,’ Messitte wrote.”
It is the first time in US history that a court has weighed in on what the term “emoluments” means, exactly, and applied it to a sitting president. There are a number of legal hurdles to clear, but experts say this case could be, as Joe Biden might put it, a big fucking deal. Stay tuned.