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Trump’s clumsy Mueller coverup almost worked

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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.

In 1992, the conservative columnist William Safire dubbed William Barr, who at the time was serving in his first stint as AG, the “Coverup-General” for his role in burying a scandal, largely forgotten since then, which was known as “Iran-Contra.” It was one of at least three major scandals he’s helped Republican administrations bury “navigate,” along with the BCCI bank scandal and Iran-Contra.

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Barr had come to Washington during Watergate, when another Republican presidency was being brought down for obstructing justice. We can’t say that experience shaped his worldview, but since then he has been, in the words of the ACLU, a consistent “advocate of sweeping executive authority, which would have major implications for oversight.”

Last June, Barr wrote a legally sketchy 19-page brief effectively arguing that the President can’t obstruct justice, which he CCed to Trump’s attorneys. Trump, who aides had talk out of firing Mueller on at least two occasions, hired him, and last week he inserted himself into the process and delivered a four-page summary of the report which echoed the arguments in that memo and largely exonerated Individual-1.

We’re pretty sure the “West Wing” writers would have been a bit more subtle.

What followed was one of the more frustrating weeks of Trump’s “presidency,” as Cheeto crowed that he’d been exonerated on all charges and too many mainstream media outlets went right along with that narrative. “A Cloud Over Trump’s Presidency Is Lifted,” read a headline at The New York Times, never mind the fact that even if Mueller’s report did clear him—and we don’t know what it says—the Trump Crime Family still faces a half-dozen investigations by prosecutors across the country.

But the public doesn’t appear to have fallen for this. Trump’s approval rating hasn’t trended upwards at all. According to a Marist Institute poll released this week, only around a third of Americans believes Mueller cleared him of wrongdoing. A CNN poll was slightly better for the regime, with 42 percent believing he’d been exonerated, but even that number was “about the same as the 42% who said in a CNN poll earlier this year that Trump’s campaign did not collude with the Russian government.”

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As the week progressed, the media spent a bit more time digesting the report and more critical stories emerged. And with public opinion behind them, House Democrats demanded to see the complete, unredacted report and all the supporting materials by April 2.

According to NBC, House Dems are now “on a collision course” with Barr “as it appears increasingly unlikely he will comply with their demands to see Robert Mueller’s full unredacted report — let alone the evidence that backs it up.” Tuesday is the deadline and Barr has so far made it clear that he will not meet it.

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We’ll see where this all heads soon. But once again, it looks like we’re fortunate that this regime isn’t more competent. Even with a seasoned “Coverup-General” coming out of retirement to do his thing, they seem to have botched this one – at least in the court of public opinion.

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“A 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who collapsed in Border Patrol custody in December — one of two child deaths that month — died of a bacterial infection that spread to her bloodstream and caused multiple organ failure, according to an autopsy report released Friday,” according to the WaPo.

“While the report sheds some light on Jakelin’s cause of death, it still leaves many questions that require further review,” lawyers for Jakelin’s family said Friday. “The report’s findings suggest Jakelin’s chances of surviving would have been improved with earlier medical intervention. As we requested back in December of last year, the family seeks a thorough independent investigation of this matter to learn why medical intervention was delayed.”

Anyway, we think this should help inform the debate over impeachment:

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In case you weren’t totally convinced that we’re truly dealing with the worst people in the world, a driver who used to chauffeur Trump’s kids and campaign staffers around Florida has been locked up by ICE for eight months and now they’re trying to deport him. Miriam Jordan has that story for The NYT.

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“The federal government provided additional food-stamp aid to Puerto Rico after the hurricane, but Congress missed the deadline for reauthorization in March as it focused on other issues before leaving for a week-long recess,” reported Jeff Stein for WaPo. “Federal lawmakers have also been stalled by the Trump administration, which has derided the extra aid as unnecessary. Now, about 43 percent of Puerto Rico’s residents are grappling with a sudden cut to a benefit they rely on for groceries and other essentials.”

According to the report, 1.3 million Puerto Ricans lost benefits, representing “a new crisis for an island still struggling from the effects of Hurricane Maria.”

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If you sense a pattern here, you’re like everyone else outside of the Trump cult.

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A few items from The Trump Swamp®…

“Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is under investigation by the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General because of allegations he improperly advocated on behalf of his former employer, Boeing Co.,” reported NPR.

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David Bernhardt, who’s been the Acting Interior Secretary since Ryan Zinke stepped down amid a slew of conflicts of interest, wants the job full time but he had a rough confirmation hearing this week.

And with good reason. NYT’s Eric Lipton reported that Bernhardt played a pivotal role in blocking the release of a report which found that just two commonly used pesticides “were so toxic that they ‘jeopardize the continued existence’ of more than 1,200 endangered birds, fish and other animals and plants, a conclusion that could lead to tighter restrictions on use of the chemicals.” The report was the result of an exhaustive, years-long agency study into the impact of several popular pesticides. After killing it, the agency “set in motion a new process intended to apply a much narrower standard to determine the risks from the pesticides.”

And the DeSmogBlog had a good rundown of Bernhardt’s many trips through the revolving door.

He spent his career lobbying for oil and gas interests and against environmental protections. Naturally, this made him qualified to work at the DOI under the-supposedly-actually-not-that-bad George W. Bush. Some of Bernhardt’s highlights at Bush’s DOI included helping the attempts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and implementing the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which exempted the fracking industry from certain regulations and created the “Halliburton Loophole.” And as the Solicitor General he also, no joke, managed the ethics office.

After another lobbying stint, Bernhardt was brought back to DOI by Trump in 2017 as deputy secretary. Since then, one of his biggest adversaries has been the Endangered Species Act. Bernhardt led a national effort to weaken the act and directed a rollback on protections for smelt, something he lobbied for on behalf of California farmers for years before joining the agency. The New York Times recently reported that in 2017, Bernhardt blocked a Fish and Wildlife Services report that found three widely used pesticides present a serious threat to hundreds of endangered species.

And Bernhardt wasted no time after being made acting head the agency. Just weeks after he took over, during the government shutdown, he approved 267 drilling permits, including many for his former clients.

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Last week, we asked WTF? when the Twitter-Troll-in-Chief tweeted out that he was putting the kibosh on US sanctions against North Korea.

It turns out that we weren’t the only ones bewildered by the inexplicable reversal. Bloomberg reported this week that Trump had every intention of withdrawing the sanctions “until officials in his administration persuaded him to back off and then devised a misleading explanation of his vague tweet announcing the move.”

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We want to make sure you don’t miss a few items about the most important issue of our time.

According to USA Today, “extreme weather events, supercharged by climate change, affected some 62 million people around the world in 2018, the United Nations’ weather agency said Thursday…. The report said the Earth is almost 2 degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer than it was in the late 1800s, and that the past four years have been the warmest on record.”

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“Climate change doesn’t just shift weather patterns. It can force the migration of plants, people, animals, bugs — and disease,” according to PBS’ News Hour. “By the end of this century almost all of the world’s population could be exposed to mosquito-borne diseases once limited to the tropics, according to a new study from PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.”

Adrian Higgins reported for WaPo this week that climate change is “inducing earlier flowering of temperate tree fruits, exposing the blooms and nascent fruit to increasingly erratic frosts, hail and other adverse weather,” and scientists say that “fruit-growing regions of the United States will be seriously disrupted by future warming scenarios.”

You will soon be “feeling the pain” at your grocery store as a result, according to the report.

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This week’s good news comes from the courts.

This week, a second judge blocked parts of Wisconsin Republicans’ attempt to grab power following Democrat Tony Evers following his victory over former governor Scott Walker. The judge’s ruling, according to Governing, “appeared to respond directly to Republican lawmakers who justified the laws as simply giving them a ‘seat at the table’ with Evers.”

“Even the casual observer cannot miss the fact that this ‘rebalancing’ of power, and the defendants’ repeated demand for ‘a seat at the table,’ was not considered until the voters elected a Democratic Governor and Attorney General,” wrote the judge.

And another federal judge “struck down one of President Trump’s heath-care initiatives on Thursday, ruling that a provision allowing small businesses and individuals to band together to create group health plans ‘is clearly an end-run around’ the Affordable Care Act.” Axios has more details.

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Trump administration quietly guts COVID-19 paid leave provision that already excluded 75 percent of workers

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The Trump administration has quietly issued new guidance that will exempt many small businesses from having to provide some workers with paid leave during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Department of Labor issued a temporary rule Wednesday that effectively exempted businesses with fewer than 50 workers from being required to provide 12 weeks of paid leave for workers whose children are suddenly at home from school or child care under the coronavirus stimulus package signed by President Donald Trump.

This article first appeared in Salon.

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Trump is deploying national guardsman to provide pandemic support without any health benefits: report

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The National Guard are an essential part of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and thousands of them have potentially been exposed to infected civilians, making it a particularly dangerous and important time to serve.

But according to The Daily Beast, the guard has been deployed in a way that prevents them from being eligible for the military's health care system.

"The approximately 20,000 guardsmen who have been called up to help states around the country deal with the spread of the coronavirus are federalized on what’s called Title 32 status, which puts them in command of their various state governors but with the federal government paying costs," wrote senior national security correspondent Spencer Ackerman. "But according to the National Guard’s advocates and the U.S. governors’ association, the guardsmen are activated on orders that last 30 days. That puts them one single day shy of the requirement allowing the military health insurance system known as TRICARE — think of it as Medicare For All In Uniform — to cover them."

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Vaccine researchers grew ‘alarmed’ as Trump’s CDC wasted weeks of their time with a flawed coronavirus test: report

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According to a report from the Washington Post, in the early days as health officials became concerned about the possibility of the COVID-19 pandemic blossoming out of China, researchers sat and wasted days they could have used to start developing a vaccine because they were assured by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that a testing kit was on its way.

As it turned out, that test was flawed.

Relying on emails and interviews, the Post is reporting, "On a Jan. 15 conference call, a leading scientist at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assured local and state public health officials from across the nation that there would soon be a test to detect a mysterious virus spreading from China. Stephen Lindstrom told them the threat was remote and they may not need the test his team was developing 'unless the scope gets much larger than we anticipate,' according to an email summarizing the call."

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