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.
This week was marked by more than the usual amount of speculation about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the Trump Crime Family.
CNN and NBC both reported that Attorney General William Barr, whom some Republicans close to Trump predicted would soon bring the probe to an end, would do just that as soon as next week. (Swamp Alert: Trump just hired Barr’s son-in-law, Tyler McGaughey, to advise him on “legal issues,” including those that may “intersect with the [Mueller] investigation.”)
Meanwhile, the world of Mueller-watchers waited until late Friday night for a sentencing memo in the Paul Manafort case to be filed in the hope that it might shed some light on what’s to come.
In the end, the sentencing memo was sealed and a “senior” DOJ official said that a report will not be forthcoming next week after all. So the wait continues.
As Marcy Wheeler has pointed out, the evidence of Trump’s campaign conspiring with Russia to defraud the United States during the 2016 election is already definitive and out in the open, and the remaining question is whether it is prosecutable as such.
That conversation is about the counter-espionage case stemming from Russian – and perhaps other countries’ –efforts to help put a pliable figure into the White House. But there’s another possible scenario which may become clear at the end (two if you believe that there’s a chance that Trump and his minions aren’t dirty). We may come to think of Trump’s inner circle as more of a bunch of opportunistic grifters who saw an opportunity to make a buck off deep-pocketed Russian oligarchs – and others! — and then found that they’d gotten themselves in way over their heads when the FBI came around and started asking questions.
We know that the Trump Organization has relied on Russian capital of dubious origins for years, and that the sanctions levied against various high-level Russian actors was costing them dearly. They have a lot of cash to burn, and Trump was very much in need of an infusion of funds during the 2016 campaign. He has long surrounded himself with mobsters and conmen, and it’s not hard to imagine that both he and his family and the hangers-on who flattered his ego saw that there was a huge opportunity to make lucrative deals by offering ultra-wealthy Russians with a lot of cash promises of sanctions relief. At the time, none of them thought he had a chance of actually becoming president. But then at some point they may have realized that they could win, would be hopelessly compromised and they’ve been zealously obstructing any investigation into their activities ever since.
These aren’t mutually exclusive categories; it’s possible that what began as a simple bunco operation became a counter-espionage case during the course of the campaign. We shall (probably soon) see.
Speaking of opportunistic scammers being manipulated by foreign actors foreign policy, an investigation by House Democrats found that “senior White House officials, retired generals and Trump’s close relatives and business cronies have been secretly pursuing a multibillion-dollar scheme to cut a nuclear deal with Riyadh” according to The Guardian.
At WaPo, Paul Waldman wrote that this latest scheme “stars a cast of familiar and not-so-familiar characters — including former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump buddy and billionaire investor Tom Barrack, and even Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.”