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.
We are going through an odd moment. It certainly feels like everything’s finally coming to a head with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, but at the same time the government’s functioning, Congress is confirming awful judges and trying to pass a stopgap spending bill and the world seems to be humming along as normal.
For weeks, we’ve heard predictions that Mueller is going to drop a house on Donnie, Jr. or Javanka or others in the “president’s” orbit any day now, and yet the big crescendo that many of us are waiting for hasn’t materialized. And it may never come. Journalist Marcy Wheeler has been saying for some time that Robert Mueller is writing his report through indictments and charging documents, which are part of the legal record and can’t be disappeared by an Attorney General or Congress, and that’s true. His legal filings have offered, in plain English, detailed accounts of wrongdoing by Trump’s henchmen, and whether or not he finishes off with a formal report that becomes public, more of the story is coming through court filings. (This week, a federal judge gave the Special Counsel’s office a December 7 deadline to file a report detailing its charge that Paul Manafort repeatedly violated the terms of his plea deal by lying to investigators.)
But it’s important to keep in mind that while Donald Trump may not be prosecuted, there’s already ample prima facie evidence that he’s committed serious crimes. Michael Cohen testified that he coordinated with his boss to violate campaign finance laws, and while that crime isn’t a big deal unto itself, the conspiracy is. As former Solicitor General Neal Katyal explained a few months back, “conspiracy has always been a separate offense, punished independently without calibration to the underlying crime,” and “the law has always treated conspiracy harshly.” The example he offered was that if I sell a joint to a friend (in a state where weed’s illegal), I might get a few months in jail. If my friend sells me a joint, she might get a few months. But if we get together and plan to sell a joint to a third party, we might face five years for conspiring to sell a joint. “The idea behind conspiracy liability,” he wrote, “is that when two people agree to commit a crime, it’s much worse for society than when a lone actor does.”
When all is said and done, and it comes out that there was a coordinated effort among many, orchestrated by the White House, to lie to Congress and perhaps Mueller, will Senate Republicans care then? https://t.co/Zv8kybRrNT
— Daniel Goldman (@danielsgoldman) December 1, 2018
Former Trump consigliere Michael Cohen testified this week that he and Felix Sater, Trump’s mobbed-up former business partner, planned to offer Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse in their planned Trump Tower Moscow for greasing the skids. It’s unclear whether they actually made the offer, but if they did it would be a federal crime. Cohen says he briefed Trump repeatedly on the deal. Cohen also says he coordinated with Trump to lie to Congress, another felony.
Mueller’s looking into several lines of potential criminality, including some unrelated to Russia, and Trump is a notorious micro-manager so it’s safe to assume he’s in on everything. Never before in his long, sordid career has Trump faced the kind of investigative firepower that Mueller’s team is bringing to bear. On Thursday, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s cautious legal analyst, said, “today’s the first day I actually thought Donald Trump might not finish his term in office.”
What Trump neglected to mention about his support for dropping sanctions on Russia was that he had a massive business deal in the works that required financing from a sanctioned bank. pic.twitter.com/IaYS9lOf3U
— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) December 1, 2018
“A Texas Tech University professor and food scientist with close ties to the agriculture industry has been tapped by President Donald Trump to oversee food safety for the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” according to The Texas Observer. But this isn’t just your usual fox-guarding-the-henhouse story because the prof, Mindy Brashears, has a big, personal financial stake in the industry.
Brashears holds seven patents and has applied for 14 more regarding food decontamination. Many of those patents are related specifically to eliminating bacteria from beef and pork — two products the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service directly oversees… If Brashears doesn’t divest herself from the patents, she could profit from the very industry she’s regulating…
According to ProPublica, the Trump regime “has quietly resumed separating immigrant families at the border, in some cases using vague or unsubstantiated allegations of wrongdoing or minor violations against the parent…as justification.”
And the Associated Press reported this week that Trump’s baby-jails tent city detention centers are swelling with kids, and the regime “has put the safety of thousands of teens at a migrant detention camp at risk by waiving FBI fingerprint checks for their caregivers and short-staffing mental health workers… none of the 2,100 staffers at a tent city holding more than 2,300 teens in the remote Texas desert are going through rigorous FBI fingerprint background checks.”
NEW: Democrats say HHS officials “misled staff” by stating that HHS was acting in compliance & conducting necessary criminal background checks, and child abuse and neglect checks for staff at temp child detention facilities. https://t.co/nW5xfHFPxM https://t.co/nW5xfHFPxM
— Hamed Aleaziz (@Haleaziz) November 29, 2018
Meanwhile, The Daily Beast reported that “when border agents fired canisters of tear gas into a crowd of unarmed migrants in Tijuana over the weekend, officials in the Department of Homeland Security and White House quietly cheered.”
That sentiment, which was palpable at DHS in particular, startled some in the highest ranks of Customs and Border Patrol, an official in the agency told The Daily Beast.
“They are totally all in. They have gone batshit crazy,” one former senior official said of leaders inside DHS and the White House.
If you work for the federal government, you are no longer allowed talk about the “resistance” or ponder aloud whether Marshal Tweeto should be impeached. Those are now considered partisan political activities according to directive issued this week by the Trump regime, according to the WaPo, and federal employees are barred from political activities on the job under the Hatch Act. Civil liberties advocates say the new interpretation won’t fly.
Meanwhile, the same office which issued that directive found that six high-level White House have flagrantly violated the Hatch Act, according to The Hill. And they will face the kind of consequences you might expect in a lawless regime…
Six Trump staffers found to have violated federal law…but they won’t actually face disciplinary action because LOL nothing matters. https://t.co/UDlseSTi4O
— Lindsay Beyerstein (@beyerstein) November 30, 2018
This week, the AP looked at an obscure government office tasked with protecting civil servants from mistreatment by their bosses. The office requires at least two people to review grievances, but they only have one guy, Mark Robbins, on the job and he has nothing to do but file useless reports while he awaits at least one more associate.
Robbins is a one-man microcosm of a current strand of government dysfunction. His office isn’t a high-profile political target. No politician has publicly pledged to slash his budget. But his agency’s work has effectively been neutered through neglect. Promising to shrink the size of government, the president has been slow to fill posts and the Republican-led Congress has struggled to win approval for nominees. The combined effect isn’t always dramatic, but it’s strikingly clear when examined up close…
That’s a problem for the federal workers and whistleblowers whose 1,000-plus grievances hang in the balance, stalled by the board’s inability to settle them. When Robbins’ term ends on March 1, the board probably will sit empty for the first time in its 40-year history.
Small businesses across the country are
tired of winning being crushed by Trump’s haphazard tariffs, according to The New York Times.
The tariffs[’]… impacts on the domestic economy — which traded $710 billion in goods and services with China in 2017 — have not been reckoned with yet…. “It’s very hard to impose tariffs on billions of dollars in imports without shooting yourself in the foot,” says Wendy Cutler, a former acting deputy United States trade representative. Historically, Cutler says, the various branches of government that deal with global trade — the Departments of Commerce and of the Treasury, and the Office of the United States Trade Representative — have tried to carefully study the domestic impacts of sanctions like tariffs before they were imposed, aiming to anticipate unintended consequences, calculating ways to minimize harm to the United States while maximizing pain for the intended target. By contrast, in Trump’s new tariff regime… business owners see a hurried and blunt approach that has been carried out, they believe, with little public debate about how it could affect the American economy and equally little sense of the long-term strategy.
Trump’s tariffs are hitting his most loyal supporters especially hard. “The number of farms filing for bankruptcy is increasing across the Upper Midwest, following low prices for corn, soybeans, milk and beef,” according to the Associated Press.
We’re dealing with the worst people in the world, according to The Guardian.
The Trump administration is to allow marine creatures such as whales and dolphins to be harmed by companies as they search for potential oil and gas reserves off the Atlantic coast.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) has granted five operators permission to “incidentally but not intentionally harass marine mammals” while conducting surveys for fossil fuels in the seabed.
The testing will involve the use of seismic air guns which fire continuous blasts to ascertain whether deposits of oil and gas are present… By the federal government’s own estimates, airgun testing could harm hundreds of thousands of marine mammals such as dolphins and whales. Of particular concern is the endangered North Atlantic right whale, with only around 440 individuals left, including less than 100 breeding females. Scientists have warned that the extreme disruption caused by airguns can harm a wide range of aquatic life.
Fortunately, we have a few items of good news with which to leave you this week.
It looks like the Supreme Court is likely to find civil asset forfeiture, or legalized theft by police, unconstitutional. Mark Joseph Stern has the details at Slate.
It turns out that people quite like having heavily subsidized health insurance. Despite the GOP killing off the individual mandate and the Trump regime’s relentless efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, Vox’s Sarah Kliff reported that “Obamacare’s marketplaces are having a surprisingly good year.”
Finally, “a federal judge in New York ruled Friday that the Trump administration cannot withhold public safety grants to six states and the City of New York based on the fact that they’re so-called sanctuary cities.” More details at ABC.