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.
Donald Trump really, really does not want you to see what’s in his tax returns.
The New York Times reported this week that Trump told Mitch McConnell that he should make confirming Michael Desmond, his pick to serve as the IRS’s top lawyer, a higher priority than seating General Coverup Attorney General William Barr. According to Bloomberg, Desmond had previously consulted with the Trump Organization on tax issues and worked with a couple of current tax counsels for The Trump Organization.
He’s now advising Trump’s hand-picked IRS commissioner, Charles Rettig. Just as Barr had written a memo before he got the gig claiming that a president couldn’t be guilty of obstructing justice for blocking an investigation into himself and his associates, back in 2016, Rettig authored an op-ed arguing that Trump should never release his returns. He also owns shares in a couple of rental properties at the Waikiki Trump International Hotel and Tower in Hawaii, according to the WSJ. Nothing to see here.
But those picks may be less consequential in the coming fight over the release of Trump’s taxes than another one: Brett Kavanaugh.
You’ve probably heard of the 1924 law, passed as an anti-corruption measure after the Teapot Domes Scandal, which requires the IRS to hand over any citizen’s taxes to the proper Congressional committees upon request. It’s black letter law, it’s used regularly and the IRS has never denied such a request, according to David Cay Johnston.
House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal crafted his request for Trump's returns carefully, citing the committee’s duty to oversee how the IRS is auditing the president’s* taxes, as it does with all presidents. Because the law is so straightforward, Trump’s lawyers are arguing that the request is nothing more than an act of revenge against a POTUS they hate. As such, they claim that the House is retaliating against Trump for being a bigoted asshole his political speech and therefore the request violates the First Amendment. (They may yet make a slightly stronger separation-of-powers claim.)
It’s a goofy argument because it requires establishing that the sole motive of the Committee is “presidential harassment.” One would have to believe that there can be no legitimate oversight purpose by a committee whose specific role is oversight.
Trump’s vowed to take this fight to the Supreme Court. And one person who also believes that Congressional processes--like tough confirmation hearings in which past allegations of sexual assault are resurfaced--are motivated only by Democrats’ lust for vengeance. Recall that he claimed that Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations amounted to nothing more than “a calculated and orchestrated political hit" designed to get "revenge on behalf of the Clintons."
Assuming the case gets to the Supreme Court, Trump should lose 9-0. But with this Court, who knows? Kavanaugh will almost certainly buy Trump’s argument. Justices Alito and Thomas are basically Tea Party Republicans in black robes. Gorsuch not only has a lot to thank Trump for, but he’s also bought “expansive claims of unreviewable executive authority” in the past.
That leaves it up to the Court’s very conservative “swing vote,” Chief Justice John Roberts. Roberts has shown repeatedly that he worries about the Court being seen as another organ of the Republican Party. Maybe he’ll seek to protect it's last shreds of legitimacy. In any event, it’s quite possible that the case could drag on for a couple of years, and that may ultimately be the point.
This week, Trump flummoxed pretty much everyone by suddenly withdrawing his pick to head ICE just before his confirmation came up for a vote. Ronald Vitiello, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Border Patrol, would have gotten in relatively easily—he had some Democratic support.
Vitiello has, according to WaPo, “advocated for the president’s policies, but he has been relatively restrained in public statements about enforcement matters and does not make bombastic statements.” What is even the point of having people work for you if they won’t make bombastic statements on your behalf?
Anyway, it turns out that this was the work of the undead Stephen Miller.
[It’s] a sign of the expanding influence that Miller now wields over immigration matters in the White House, particularly as Trump lashes out at Mexico and Central American nations — as well as Homeland Security officials and aides who express doubts about the legality of his ideas…
Miller has pushed for someone to take over the ICE role who would be more receptive to his policy ideas. He also is “particularly adept,” one administration official said, at placing blame on others in the White House when ideas he promotes do not work.
There may be more to the story, however. We can’t say that it’s related, but Buzzfeed News reported that a department-wide memo was sent to DHS staffers this week warning them that they may face criminal liability if they leak info to the press.
Speaking of stupid, xenophobic ideas not working as intended, Newsweek reported this week that the Marine Corps' top general was so pissed off about the regime’s attempts to “to bankroll the southwest border with defense funds at the expense of combat readiness” that he leaked internal memos about funds being shifted from military families devastated by hurricane Florence to the press.
When asked why Neller would allow internal memorandums to leak to press outlets, one Defense Department source expressed bluntly, “Because he didn’t want the Marines and families at Camp Lejeune [in North Carolina] to get f***ed.”
This week, the Trump regime has revoked a visa for the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, who is investigating allegations that the “US military had committed torture at secret detention sites in Afghanistan operated by the CIA, and that the Afghan government and the Taliban had committed war crimes.” More on that from the BBC.
“With almost no one watching,” wrote Maryam Saleh for The Intercept, “the federal government on Tuesday went to trial in one of the first denaturalization cases of the Trump era, a project the administration enthusiastically rolled out in 2017…
“The federal government has so far expended extraordinary resources trying to denaturalize Khan, a truck driver and grandfather of three who’s been a citizen without incident since 2006.” Kahn’s crime? On his application for citizenship, he “fail[ed] to disclose a past deportation order that he wasn’t even aware of.”
And Saleh’s colleague, Akela Lacey, reported that North Carolina Republicans passed a bill this week, over the objection of the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association, that would force local law enforcement to cooperate with ICE. That would certainly not be out of character for North Carolina Republicans, but according to the report, ICE actually helped draft the legislation. Which is a very not normal thing for a federal agency to do.
This week, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress that violence from white supremacists, including acts of terror, posed a “persistent, pervasive” threat in the US.
Also this week, The Department of Homeland Security “disbanded a group of intelligence analysts who focused on domestic terrorism,… as the threat of homegrown terrorism—including white supremacist terrorism—is growing,” according to The Daily Beast. File this one under what could possibly go wrong?
And put this story right in that same file...
Kimberly Kindy reported for WaPo that the Trump regime “plans to shift much of the power and responsibility for food safety inspections in hog plants to the pork industry as early as May, cutting the number of federal inspectors by about 40 percent and replacing them with plant employees.” Make E Coli Great Again!
The cruelty is the point.
More Than 750,000 Could Lose Food Stamps Under Trump Administration Proposal Three-quarters of a million people wo… https://t.co/L4rlOXkbOo— Lawyers' Committee ☎️866-OUR-VOTE (@Lawyers' Committee ☎️866-OUR-VOTE) 1554483912.0
Last year, Trump picked “Barry Myers, then the CEO of AccuWeather and a fierce critic of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, to head the very agency he had spent decades attacking, [and] many who care about government ethics sounded the alarm. The announcement seemed extreme, even by the loose ethical standards of the Trump administration.” It was so extreme that his nomination languished in committee and appeared to be dead.
But Mitch McConnell has zero shame, so this week a Senate committee “ram[ed] through Myers’s renomination without a hearing despite his failure to address any of the major ethics issues that were raised the first time he went through this process.” Via the WaPo.
We have wondered on occasion whether Trump’s minions breath air, eat food or believe that climate change won’t impact the donor class.
This week, we have to wonder if they have children.
The crashes were brutal. With no warning, the front wheel on the three-wheeled BOB jogging strollers fell off, causing the carriages to careen and even flip over. Adults shattered bones. They tore ligaments. Children smashed their teeth. They gashed their faces. One child bled from his ear canal.
Staff members at the Consumer Product Safety Commission collected 200 consumer-submitted reports from 2012 to 2018 of spontaneous failure of the stroller wheel…nearly 100 adults and children were injured, according to the commission. The agency’s staff members investigated for months before deciding in 2017 that one of the most popular jogging strollers on the market was unsafe and needed to be recalled.
The company that makes the stroller, Britax, refused to pull the product. And according to WaPo’s Todd Frankel, they did so just as Republicans secured a majority on the commission. What happened next? You probably guessed it: “The agency’s Republican chairwoman kept Democratic commissioners in the dark about the stroller investigation and then helped end the case in court.”
A couple of pieces of good news this week.
First, Coral Davenport reported for the NYT that, “in a major legal blow to President Trump’s push to expand offshore oil and gas development, a federal judge ruled that an executive order by Mr. Trump that lifted an Obama-era ban on oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Ocean and parts of the North Atlantic coast was unlawful.”
And then there was this, because elections matter...
After years of fights over Medicaid expansion in Maine, @HHSGov approves state's plan. ~70,000 Mainers expected to… https://t.co/FdOj05QrZr— Scott Hensley (@Scott Hensley) 1554386545.0