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.
For anyone who’s followed Donald Trump’s long, sordid business career, it’s long been clear that one could characterize him in any number of ways, but “a guy who doesn’t commit crimes” isn’t among them.
Lot of people are now anticipating that the special counsel’s probe into Trump-Russia and “related matters” will end with a dramatic denouement in which the Trump Crime Family is proven to have conspired with a hostile foreign power to defraud the U.S. That may be how it shakes out, but it’s also possible that this all ends with a long laundry list of much grubbier and less sexy crimes committed by the “president” and the constellation of grifters that surround him – corruption, money-laundering, tax evasion and the like – and efforts by a number of countries to secure a compliant White House with some strategic cash and a heap of personal flattery.
This week, The Wall Street Journal reported ($) that federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating the financing of Trump’s inauguration, a subject that has long been of interest here at What Fresh Hell? You may recall that Trump and his minions blew off the contribution limits their predecessors had established and raked in more than twice as much in donations for his inauguration as the Obamas had raised for theirs in 2009, and yet it seemed that they cut corners wherever they could and the day’s events were widely seen as cheap and lame.
We knew that an old friend of Melania’s had started a company “only weeks before the inauguration” that would ultimately pull down $26 million for “event planning.” And this week, ProPublica reported that Trump was himself raking in an unknown share of this inaugural bounty by charging premium prices for “rooms, meals and event space at [his] company’s Washington hotel.” Emails obtained by ProPublica show that some involved in the process expressed concern that over-charging for the facilities could run afoul of the law, but in the end they went with the age-old adage that when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal. The New York Times reported that investigators are now looking into whether foreign funds made it into the pot (of course they did) and also into whether those dollars ended up influencing policy (hard to prove, but almost certainly ditto). Two years later, and more than a third of that huge inauguration haul remains unaccounted for, according to ProPublica.
Strange real estate deal raises specter of Putin buying Trump; if this evidence doesn’t suggest that our President is in Putin’s payroll, nothing will. https://t.co/hrPa0RtwhG
— Kittu Kolluri (@kittukolluri) December 15, 2018
The Washington Post reported this week that lobbyists representing the Saudi government “reserved blocks of rooms at President Trump’s Washington, D.C., hotel within a month of Trump’s election in 2016.” The lobbyists paid in advance for 500 nights at the hotel over a three-month period, and then used the rooms for “an unorthodox campaign that offered U.S. military veterans a free trip to Washington — then sent them to Capitol Hill to lobby against a law the Saudis opposed.” And Erin Banco reported this week for The Daily Beast that “in court filings that are set to drop in early 2019, prosecutors will begin to unveil Middle Eastern countries’ attempts to influence American politics.” That’s all in addition to Michael Flynn’s work for the Turkish government, an alleged scheme to use Israeli intelligence firms to manipulate social media during the election, Qatari efforts to counter the influence campaign undertaken by Saudi Arabia and UAE and of course all of those furtive contacts with Russian officials and spooks.
Until this week, the mystery surrounding Trump’s massive inauguration fund had been lost in the daily maelstrom of news coming out of this regime. That’s also true of the millions of dollars Michael Cohen charged companies to secure access to Trump in the months following his election, alleged fraud surrounding Trump’s “charity” and longstanding charges that the Trump organization engaged in massive and long-running money-laundering schemes. It’s easy to forget just how many strings federal prosecutors are pulling on. This may prove to be a defining period in our history, even if that’s not always readily apparent.
Donald Trump is an unhinged nativist who has long profited by exploiting undocumented labor and his followers don’t care because they are members of a cult.
In related news, New Jersey’s Attorney General is investigating charges that management helped undocumented workers at Trump’s swanky National Golf Club in Bedminster file false paperwork and then subjected them to racial harassment and threatened with deportation if they complained. New York Daily News has more on that story.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, AKA Scott Pruitt 2.0, is out. Who will now be the most corrupt member of Trump’s cabinet? Too soon to say.
It probably won’t be Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who, according to Forbes, ended up losing a boatload of money when he sold off assets to comply with federal ethics guidelines despite the fact that he had been “betting on the policies of the Trump administration around the same time he was tapped to join it.”
VA secretary praised Confederate president as a “martyr to ‘The Lost Cause'” in 1995 speech – CNNPolitics https://t.co/WzHYzwS3Y5
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) December 7, 2018
We have noted in the past how deeply Trump has packed the Department of Health and Human Services with religious right activists, and the agency keeps delivering for them.
The WaPo reported this week that the Trump regime “has shut down at least one government-run study that uses fetal tissue implanted into mice even before federal health officials reach a decision on whether to continue such research, which is opposed by antiabortion groups.”
The study was looking for a cure for HIV but you can go ahead and keep calling them “pro-life” if you choose. According to the report, the research shutdown “was never disclosed publicly by government officials, who have forbidden affected researchers from discussing what happened.”
Outgoing House Oversight Committee Chair Mark Meadows tried to have one last hurrah investigating Hillary Clinton, but it did not go well when the GOP’s own grifters witnesses refused to hand over their rock-solid evidence that the Clinton Foundation was hopelessly corrupt. Nancy LeTourneau has the play-by-play at Washington Monthly.
And in good news this week, Christopher Collins reported for The Texas Observer that the Farm Bill passed this week won’t kick a million people off of the food stamp rolls, and that represented a serious blow to the Lone Star Republicans who had literally made it their personal crusade.