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.
We can’t say with any certainty that Iran wasn’t behind the attacks on two ships in the Gulf of Oman this week, but it is clear that the Trump regime’s account of what happened unraveled very quickly. Shortly after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a video of a small vessel removing something Pompeo said was a mine from the damaged port side of one of the ships, the vessel's owner said that it had actually been struck on its starboard side, above the waterline, by a flying object. If this were in fact an effort to pull a Gulf of Tonkin, then the fact that this was the best dog-wagging they could conjure up would be downright pathetic.
We would also note how unusual it is for the United States government to claim that it has solid intelligence proving that a country was behind an act of aggression and nobody but New York Times columnist Bret Stephens and washed-up country singer Charlie Daniels is buying it.
At a minimum, they got out in front of the evidence, long before a proper investigation had been conducted. But that’s a charitable reading with a president* who’s made 10,796 “false or misleading claims” over the course 869 days in office. When you have zero credibility outside of the conservative media bubble, you really can’t be this inept with your propaganda.
And with that, on to this week’s less prominent atrocities…
Speaking of clunky propaganda, these are your tax dollars at work:
United States officials say they are outraged by a government-funded troll campaign that has targeted American citizens critical of the administration’s hardline Iran policy and accused critics of being loyal to the Tehran regime.
State Department officials admitted to Congressional staff in a closed-door meeting on Monday that a project they had funded to counter Iranian propaganda had gone off the rails. Critics in Washington have gone further, saying that the programme resembled the type of troll farms used by autocratic regimes abroad.
A few stories from the Brazen Corruption File...
The Daily Beast reported that “a pair of leading firearms trade associations will hold an annual import and export policy conference at Donald Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C. next month—right as the administration finalizes a controversial change to federal gun-trading rules for which both groups have pressed.”
Ivanka Trump, who is an unofficial regime official, pocketed almost $4 million from that hotel last year, according to NBC News.
Her husband is doing OK as well. Per The Guardian, “a real estate company part-owned by Jared Kushner has received $90 million in foreign funding from an opaque offshore vehicle since he entered the White House as a senior adviser to his father-in-law Donald Trump.”
And speaking of opacity, “the Trump 2020 campaign funneled money to a shell company tied to ad buyers at the center of an alleged illegal coordination scheme with the National Rifle Association (NRA) as recently as May 2019, according to new government records analyzed by OpenSecrets.”
Also, this should be a huge scandal…
At DOT, Chao hired a former McConnell campaign worker and had him focus on Kentucky grants that could help her husb… https://t.co/p6vPnnIOFB— Tucker Doherty (@Tucker Doherty)1560169656.0
Impunity always breeds more lawlessness, and Trump and his minions have become more reckless in their disregard for the law since they managed to survive the release of Robert Mueller’s damning report.
This week, Trump defied a recommendation from his own Office of Special Counsel to fire Kellyanne Conway for repeatedly violating The Hatch Act, which bars government officials from engaging in politics while on the job. She is not alone—last month Politico reported that “in the president’s first year in office, formal complaints that staffers were violating an 80-year-old law prohibiting them from political activity jumped” by 30 percent.
And William Barr’s Injustice Justice Department issued a 33-page memo arguing that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has the right “to defy a request from Congress for President Trump’s tax returns on the basis that it lacked ‘legitimate legislative purpose’,” according to The New York Times. Note that the law requires Mnuchin to fork over the returns to the House Ways and Means Committee without any restrictions based on the committee’s “purpose.”
Meet the new Know Nothings...
“Since day one, the Trump Administration has been actively ignoring its own scientists, external experts, and seeking advice from the wrong people,” writes Genna Reed at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Now, President Trump has further waged war on expert advice by ordering the federal government to rid itself of one-third of its 1,057 advisory committees.” Agencies have to ditch another third of their experts by the end of September. “The Trump Administration dropped this order on a Friday afternoon in a clear attempt to remain under the radar but this utterly inane policy needs to be called out for what it is: pure dreck.”
In related news, William Happer, who was one of Trump’s environmental advisors before moving to the National Security Council, had been working with a prominent climate change denier to pressure NASA to spin away the scientific consensus that human activities are warming the planet. He later tapped two of those goofballs to “help him frame challenges to widely accepted scientific findings on global warming,” according to the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, over at the Labor Department, Trump’s embattled Labor Secretary (pretty much his entire cabinet is embattled) has hunkered down with a small group of trusted aides and embraced a “fortress mentality,” shutting career officials out from not only the agency’s rulemaking process but also literally locking the doors of their executive suite. (This reminds us of Scott Pruitt's EPA.) Bloomberg Law has more on the story.
Hope you’re sitting down for this shocker…
The U.S. Treasury saw a 31% drop in corporate tax revenues last year, almost twice the decline official budget fore… https://t.co/JbNj9jarFb— Lisa Abramowicz (@Lisa Abramowicz)1560518945.0
It’s very ugly, but we just can’t avert our eyes from the absolute horror show that Trump’s migration policies have created.
“We have what I would call a concentration camp system... a mass detention of civilians without trial.” 24 people… https://t.co/WVsZAW6z8k— Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg (@Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg)1560514484.0
Huffington Post (This one’s particularly disturbing): “Teen Mom And Prematurely Born Baby Neglected At Border Patrol Facility For 7 Days”
America's modern day slavery under Trump. Tens of thousands of refugees forced to work for concentration camp profi… https://t.co/rXUpaP2Lme— Ricardo de Anda (@Ricardo de Anda)1560198575.0
Over his entire career, Trump’s happily stiffed all manner of contractors and investors and left investors holding the bag when his projects went belly-up. Plus ça change...
Recall that the Trump team spent a fortune on his inauguration compared to his predecessors but it was a notably cheap event and nobody really knows where all the money went.
There was some good news this week.
The Trump Hotel may lose its liquor license after locals complained that Trump isn’t of “good character and generally fit for the responsibilities of licensure” as the law requires.
A House panel put the kibosh on Trump’s plan to repaint Airforce One and forbade him from installing gold-plated toilets and other “interior fixtures” on the aircraft. No, that isn’t a joke.
And while Friday’s appeals court ruling that Trump’s transgender ban for the armed forces is constitutional was a short-term setback for LGBTQ rights, over at Slate Mark Joseph Stern explains why it’s actually a win because the ruling established that court’s must apply a higher level of scrutiny to policies that discriminate against transgender people.