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Democracy under fire: The Trump regime lurched hard(er) toward authoritarianism this week

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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.]

This was a banner week of outrages from the reliably outrageous Trump gang but we shouldn’t let that obscure the overarching storyline. We’re no longer dealing with creeping authoritarianism; Trump went all-in this week. A president* who has run roughshod over democratic norms, politicized law enforcement and shown nothing but contempt for the co-equal branches of government made two moves that turned it up to 11.

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The most alarming was Trump’s executive order giving his new fixer Attorney General “broad authority to declassify government secrets” pursuant to an investigation of “Spygate,” a move that “current and former U.S. officials” warned would “threaten[] to expose U.S. intelligence sources and could distort the FBI and CIA’s roles in investigating Russian interference in the 2016 elections,” according to The Washington Post.

The background seems to have disappeared down the memory hole, but recall that this dopey conspiracy theory began with a typically incoherent tweet from Donald Trump shortly after he took office. At the time, Trump’s claim that the Obama administration had spied on his campaign was too ridiculous even for Republicans to embrace. The House Intelligence Committee, then chaired by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), sent a letter to the Justice Department demanding that they provide evidence to support the claim. (Nunes would later become one of “SpyGate’s” most prominent advocates.) The late Senator John McCain agreed with early 2017 Nunes, saying “I think the president has one of two choices: either retract or provide the information that the American people deserve.” Kellyanne Conway, then a senior advisor to Trump, admitted that there was zero evidence to support Trump’s tweet, but argued that it was possible that the CIA spied on the Trump campaign through microwave ovens. Late-night comedians loved that one.

Then last year, when Trump resurfaced the claim, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said, “it appears that there was an investigation not of the campaign but of certain individuals who have a history that we should be suspicious of.” His colleague from Arizona at the time, Jeff Flake, called the conspiracy theory an obvious “diversionary tactic,” and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who had pushed hard on equally dubious charges related to Benghazi, told Fox News that, having been briefed on the intelligence, he was “even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do.”

It’s a testament to the power of Fox News’ propaganda that “SpyGate” has become a matter of faith among Republicans, who  aren’t at all alarmed by Trump’s hand-picked AG using new “sweeping powers” to investigate career intelligence officials for doing their jobs. So much for “limited government.”

Then there was the DoJ’s announcement that it was charging Julian Assange with 17 counts of violating The Espionage Act for publishing classified information obtained from Chelsea Manning. Assange may not a journalist, but he was charged for doing what mainstream journalists do every single day: Publishing classified information they got from a source within the government. (Keep in mind that the US government is notorious for over-classifying all manner of information that the public has an interest in knowing.) This also troubled former prosecutors who saw it as an assault on the First Amendment. Assange is loathed by many on both sides of the aisle, and that’s exactly the kind of figure you’d want to use to establish a precedent for charging others for the same “crimes.”

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Trump’s true gift is flooding the zone with so much perfidious bullshit that it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. But make no mistake: This was a week of extremely serious assaults on America’s democracy.

And with that, we’ll move onto some less prominent outrages…

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First, a somewhat related story that should be on your radar…

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This occurred back in April, but the Boston Globe took a deep dive into the story this week.

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And another: according to The New York Times, Trump regime officials are “preparing to circumvent Congress to allow the export to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of billions of dollars of munitions that are now on hold.”

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There’s rare bipartisan consensus that Trump let the Saudis off the hook for murdering Jamal Khashoggi, a Virginia-based WaPo columnist who was a prominent critic of the Saudi ruling family. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed outrage over this, and Congress has the power to block weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. But Trump’s advisors are “pushing for the administration to invoke an emergency provision that would allow President Trump to prevent Congress from halting the sales.”

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That move would inflame tensions with Iran, which is exactly what regime hardliners want. The NYT also reported this week that

Top American national security officials sought to convince a divided Congress on Tuesday about the seriousness of new threats from Iran as they defended intelligence that has prompted military deployments aimed at deterring attacks by Tehran.

Democrats emerged from the classified briefings on Capitol Hill with sharp questions about whose actions ultimately led to the recent escalation: Tehran’s or the Trump administration’s.

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The question answers itself. Iran remains a compliant signatory to the nuclear deal.

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Back in 2016, Trump vowed that he would “be a real friend” to the LGBTQ community. “You have millions of allies who will always have your back,” he said, “and I am one of them.” You could make a fortune selling timeshares to anyone who bought that line.

NBC: “The Trump administration moved Friday to roll back Obama-era protections for transgender patients, the third rule change issued this month that LGBTQ advocates say will sanction discrimination against transgender people.”

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Roger Severino, Trump’s pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services civil rights division, is a noted homophobe, and it shows. Earlier this month, HHS released a rule allowing healthcare providers to refuse services that violate their “conscience.” And earlier this week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development also rescinded protections for transgender people just one day after HUD chief Ben Carson told Congress that he would not do so.

Up next: “The Trump administration will soon make it easier for adoption agencies to reject same-sex couples, senior administration officials told Axios.”

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A few items on the corruption beat…

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“Kushner Cos., the real estate firm owned by the family of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, has received about $800 million in federally backed debt to buy apartments in Maryland and Virginia — the company’s biggest purchase in a decade.” [Via: The Philadelphia Inquirer.]

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According to The Washington Post, “Trump has personally and repeatedly urged the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to award a border wall contract to a North Dakota construction firm whose top executive is a GOP donor and frequent guest on Fox News.”

This story does offer us some much-needed comic relief…

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The president has insisted the structure be painted black and topped with spikes, while grumbling to aides that the Army Corps contracting process is holding back his ambitions… He said he doesn’t like the current design for the wall’s gates, suggesting that instead of the hydraulic sliding gate design, the Army Corps should consider an alternative, according to an administration official: “Why not French doors?” the president asked.

French doors sound kinda foreign to us.

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And this happened…

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North America’s biggest steel tube manufacturer is a Canadian billionaire named Barry Zekelman. And according to The NYT, this character played a major role in getting Trump to impose tariffs on Chinese steel, which began a trade war that has proved to be neither good nor easy to win.

He called on well-placed connections, including a lawyer who had done work for him and had gone on to a senior position helping oversee trade policy in the Trump administration. He put his Washington-based lobbyist into action, and his company took a high-profile role with a trade group that was backing his cause. He funded his own advertising campaign to build public support for his efforts to protect makers of steel tube in the United States.

And Zekelman Industries made political donations in the United States — skirting or possibly violating a ban on contributions by foreigners — including $1.75 million last year to a group supporting President Trump.

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Related: “U.S. Beer Industry Blames Trump Tariffs for 40,000 Job Losses

Now can we impeach?

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And then there’s this little item…

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What can you even say about this kind of hypocrisy?

Trump: E-Verify Would Make It Too Hard to Hire Undocumented Workers.

We have no snark that does it justice.

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Meanwhile, NBC reports that the Trump regime is holding “thousands of immigrants in solitary confinement,” many of them “for reasons that have nothing to do with rule violations.” They include “disabled immigrants in need of a wheelchair or cane,” those “who identify as gay” and “those who report abuse from guards or other detainees.”

Recall that the UN considers solitary confinement a form of torture, and that the vast majority of migrant detainees have committed a civil offense, a misdemeanor or, in the case of refugees who presented themselves at the border seeking asylum, no offense whatsoever.

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Remember when Trump promised on the campaign trail that he would “bring tremendous hope to the forgotten men and women of this country”?

Anyway…

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This week’s good news come once again from the courts.

Federal judge smacks down Mississippi’s new abortion ban in one crisp paragraph

That is at least until Trump’s Supreme Court guts or overturns Roe.

Also, too: “A federal judge on Friday night blocked President Donald Trump from tapping into Defense Department funds to build parts of his US-Mexico border wall.” [Via: CNN]


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