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.
The torrent of sleaze surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination has become too voluminous for a mere mortal to process.
Just one very long week ago, the political world was obsessed with the implications of Paul Manafort flipping on Donald Trump. But that story was largely forgotten by Sunday, when Hurricane Ford descended on the capital, and a roiling, mostly idiotic debate about whether just drunkenly trying to rape someone as a 17-year-old should disqualify someone from a lifetime appointment to the highest court of the land.
And then, while Christine Blasey Ford’s reps and the Republicans running Senate Judiciary Committee were sparring over her testimony before the committee, Ed Whelan, a close friend of Kavanaugh’s who heads the Ethics and Public Policy Center – because irony is dead, its corpse cremated and its ashes shot into the sun – offered a bizarre tweet storm in which he alleged that some other preppie douchebag had in fact assaulted Ford. (Adding to the surreal nature of the charge, the preppie douchebag in question, Chris Garrett, “was one of [the] witnesses for Kavanaugh’s character in a letter submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee in July.”) Whelan is also tight with Federalist Society Leonard Leo, who’s been a central player in the push to install Kavanaugh on the court.
Whelan isn’t some random wingnut concocting QAnon fantasies in his mom’s basement. According to Politico, “CRC Public Relations, the prominent Alexandria, Virginia-based PR firm, guided Whelan through his rollercoaster week of Twitter pronouncements that ended in embarrassment and potentially a setback for Kavanaugh’s hopes of landing on the high court.” And The Washington Post reported that “Kavanaugh and his allies have been privately discussing a defense that would not question whether an incident involving Ford happened, but instead would raise doubts that the attacker was Kavanaugh.”
Given how close @EdWhelanEPPC is to Kavanaugh and the Federalist Society leadership, and also to the incompetent ga… https://t.co/vHMkAFMWw2— John Weaver (@John Weaver)1537580924.0
In the days leading up to the tweetstorm, Republican staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee and other Kavanaugh allies told reporters that they should keep an eye on Whelan’s account for a bombshell that would prove the nominee’s innocence. One of those staffers was Garrett Ventry, Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley’s top spokesman who had been coordinating much of the messaging around the nomination.
While flacking for Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, Ventry was also working for CRC Public Relations -- he took a leave of absence to work the nomination. CRC counts the Federalist Society as a top client and was also behind the Swiftboating of John Kerry. Ventry was a key player in all of this until this morning…
It appears that the Federalist Society asked CRC to send someone to The Hill help Senate Republicans usher through the nomination of an alleged rapist, and they chose an alleged sexual harasser. Remember that this is the party of family values.
New: Trump HUD Secretary Ben Carson believes the Kavanaugh sexual assault allegations are part of a centuries old S… https://t.co/qUlK9m2Ig5— Christina Wilkie (@Christina Wilkie)1537570435.0
And then, while we were all still trying to process this whole mess, The New York Times dropped a “bombshell” story claiming that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the beleaguered official overseeing Robert Mueller’s investigation, had told colleagues that he had considered surreptitiously recording his conversations with Donald Trump and organizing an effort to remove him via the 25th Amendment. When several other outlets followed up by reporting that Rosenstein, who is apparently infamously sarcastic, had been joking, many observers concluded that the Times had been played by the White House, which had leaked the story in order to come up with a premise for firing Rosenstein and ultimately Robert Mueller. This theory was given credence by the large number of pro-Trump conservatives suddenly deciding that The Times is a credible media outlet rather than a failing fake-news organization.
The New York Times is being played. Someone in the White House leaked this to them so Trump would have an excuse t… https://t.co/qqUPHnxvR5— Matthew Chapman (@Matthew Chapman)1537553428.0
Whatever the case may be, this new shiny object at least momentarily got us talking about something other than Kavanaugh. Again, this all occurred in the space of a single week in Trump’s America.
It only 1PM here on the west coast and I have completely lost the thread. Is it too early to start drinking?— digby (@digby)1537559743.0
So here’s where we are: Brett Kavanaugh may or may not be guilty of attempting to rape Blasey Ford 35 years ago, but it is pretty clear that he lied repeatedly to Congress, which is a felony and should be disqualifying. There are also financial irregularities in his past.
That he is being rammed through by the same people who blocked Merrill Garland for a year on behalf of an illegitimate President who is himself the subject of multiple criminal investigations is a kind of soft Constitutional crisis. If Trump does fire Rosenstein in an attempt to get to Mueller, it will bring about an explicit one. How that plays out is anyone’s guess.
And this is all happening seven weeks before the crucial midterm elections, which Trump is reportedly convinced will be better for Republicans than all of the available data would indicate. One can only dread what Fresh Hell, or Hells, may be in store for us before November 6, especially if Kavanaugh goes down in flames.
There were a few significant stories that got lost amid all of the mishegas this week.
Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen “has spoken with Special Counsel Robert Mueller multiple times over the past month, for several hours each time. The sources said the men discussed topics including Trump’s financial and business dealings in Russia and collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials — the focus of Mueller’s ongoing investigation.” More on what shouldn't have been a one-dday story over at Think progress.
“Florence’s floodwaters breached a dam holding back a large reservoir at a Wilmington power plant Friday, and coal ash from an adjacent dump could be flowing into the nearby Cape Fear River,” reported the AP. “Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said the company does not believe the breach at the L.V. Sutton Power Station poses a significant threat for increased flooding to nearby communities because the river is already running high after the hurricane.”
Coal ash often contains cadmium, chromium, arsenic, mercury, boron, thallium and other nasty elements. Duke Energy, having basically captured state regulators, has been dumping this crap in vulnerable holding pits for years. Florence’s death toll is currently at 43, but depending on the amount of toxic crap that's released before this is over, that number could rise, as it has with 9/11 first-responders, for years to come.
ProPublica reported this week that “much of what [former FBI Director James] Comey said in his infamous press conference 11 days before the 2016 election “was inaccurate.”
[Clinton aide Huma] Abedin forwarded only a handful of Clinton emails to her husband [Anthony Weiner] for printing — not the “hundreds and thousands” cited by Comey. It does not appear Abedin made “a regular practice” of doing so. Other officials said it was likely that most of the emails got onto the computer as a result of backups of her BlackBerry.
It was not clear how many, if any, of the forwarded emails were among the 12 “classified” emails Comey said had been found on Weiner’s laptop. None of the messages carried classified markings at the time they were sent. [Emphasis ours]
In other words, we should be living in an alternate timeline in which we’d be engaged in huge fights over Hillary Clinton’s SCOTUS nominees.
“The Trump administration is unable to account for the whereabouts of nearly 1,500 migrant children who illegally entered the United States alone this year and were placed with sponsors after leaving federal shelters,” reported The New York Times. “The revelation echoes an admission in April by the Department of Health and Human Services that the government had similarly lost track of an additional 1,475 migrant children it had moved out of shelters last year.”
Meanwhile, ICE is arresting undocumented immigrants who come forward to take in these traumatized children, confirming “the worst fears of immigrants and their advocates: that a recent move by President Donald Trump's administration to more fully vet people who come forward to care for undocumented immigrant children who are alone in the US has been a way for the administration to track down and arrest more undocumented immigrants.” CNN has more on that story.
“Officials at a privately run immigration jail in Tacoma, Washington, have apparently obtained permission from a federal court to force-feed prisoners staging sustained hunger strikes, according to documents filed in federal court.” Mike Ludwig reports for Truthout.
Who would do such awful things to people trying to make a better life for themselves and their families? Politico’s Ted Henson profiled an under-the-radar figure in the regime, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director Lee Francis Cissna, “the son of an immigrant, the son-in-law of a refugee” and a guy who has been at the center of the Trump regime’s war on legal immigrants.
Much less visible than [Stephen] Miller or Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Cissna has quietly carried out Trump’s policies with a workmanlike dedication. From his perch atop USCIS, he’s issued a steady stream of policy changes and regulations that have transformed his agency into more of an enforcement body and less of a service provider. These changes have generated blowback from immigrant advocates, businesses and even some of his own employees.
Related: “The Department of Homeland Security’s investigative office in Hampton Roads is ‘clearly rife with offensive and racially hostile behavior,’ the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in a decision” obtained this week by The Virginian-Pilot.
“The Trump administration says that modern-day slavery and child labor are terrible. Not necessarily because millions of people across the globe are forced to work in abusive conditions, but mostly because the practice makes US businesses less competitive and costs Americans jobs,” wrote Vox’s Alexia Fernández Campbell. “In the US Department of Labor’s 2018 report on modern-day slavery and child labor, released Thursday, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta framed the practice as an economic issue, rather than the urgent human rights problem global leaders have long considered it.
Speaking of urgent human rights problems, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put subtext into text this week when the WSJ reported that he certified to Congress that “the governments of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are undertaking demonstrable actions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians” in Yemen in order to keep those sweet weapons sales coming.
According to the report, multiple State Department officials said the claim that Saudi and UAE forces are respecting the laws of war was bullshit, but Pompeo soldiered on “after being warned that a cutoff could jeopardize $2 billion in weapons sales.”
A month after a Saudi-led airstrike bombed a bus with children in it, Secretary Pompeo certifies today that Riyadh… https://t.co/IMoCsZEXIl— John Hudson (@John Hudson)1536753687.0
In related news, The Daily Beast reported that “the U.S. government has paid Sallyport Global, a military contracting company, over$1 billion since January 2014” despite allegations that it’s sprawling private military base in Iraq features “animal abuse, racism, pro-Apartheid social media posts, theft, misuse of money, security failures, rigged security inspections, the Iranian militia, procurement issues, generator explosions, confiscated passports, and HR complaints. It is also suing for defamation two former employees, who alleged Sallyport tolerated smuggling, theft, and a prostitution ring.”
Ben Carson’s HUD “awarded promotions and pay increases to five political operatives with no housing policy experience within their first months on the job, demonstrating what government watchdogs and career staff describe as a premium put on loyalty over expertise,” according to The Washington Post.
The political hires were among at least 24 people without evident housing policy experience who were appointed to the best-paying political positions at HUD, an agency charged with serving the poorest Americans. They account for a third of the 70 HUD appointees at the upper ranks of the federal government, with salaries above $94,000…
The limited experience at the upper reaches of the agency — HUD Secretary Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, has no prior housing, executive or government background — injected confusion into the rollout of policy initiatives and brought delays to even routine functions..
Finally, our good news this week is very good indeed. This week, the Supreme Court “let stand a lower court ruling forcing politically active nonprofit groups to disclose the identities of any donor giving more than $200 when those groups advertise for or against political candidates,” according to The Center for Public Integrity. This is huge. “Until now, such nonprofit organizations — generally, those of the 501(c)(4) ‘social welfare’ and 501(c)(6) “business league” varieties — could keep secret their donors under most circumstances.
David Keating, president of the Institute for Free Speech, which supports the deregulation of campaign finance, said the decision will almost certainly throw a wet blanket on independent expenditures between now and the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
“We think that’s a real prospect that a number of groups are going to choose silence rather than speech, and there are good reasons why they would do that,” Keating said.