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, Robert Mueller offered testimony about the report his team sent to Attorney General William Barr 14 weeks ago. He acknowledged that the Russians had potentially compromising information on Trump during the campaign. Trump had said he thought it could have cost him the election. He said the Russians first started hacking operations against Democrats only hours after Trump asked publicly for them to do so. The Kremlin then released the material they gathered through Wikileaks, a process that was coordinated with a campaign cut-out, Roger Stone. Trump then systematically undermined and obstructed that and other investigations into his campaign and people in his inner circle. He ordered White House staffers to falsify records and was “generally” untruthful in his answers to the Special Counsel’s written questions. Eight of the ten patterns of obstruction—not individual acts, but patterns–identified in the report met the Department of Justice’s three criteria for criminal charges. The only reason Trump hasn’t been charged is that he’s a sitting president*.
It goes without saying that the lies and obstruction continue to this day.
Meanwhile, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee reported this week that the Russians had tried to hack into election systems in all 50 states, and two days after Mueller told Congress that they were once again interfering next year’s election “even as we sit here,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell once again killed two bills that would have beefed up our election security. He claimed that “he wouldn’t allow a vote on the bills because they were ‘so partisan,’” according to Newsweek, but “earlier this year McConnell received a slew of donations from four of the top voting machine lobbyists in the country.”
Recall that the lion’s share of what the Mueller report contained had been previously reported by credible news organizations, much of it by parsing legal filings. Some of the details may have been new, but we’ve known about most of this stuff since early on in Trump’s presidency, if not earlier.
Trump would likely have been removed from office long ago if not for the most enduring conspiracy theory in American politics–that any and every neutral source of information that conflicts with conservatives’ collective worldview is hopelessly infected with anti-Republican “bias,” which is usually characterized not as a subconscious process but as an active agenda to undermine the right. Like the sprawling QAnon conspiracy, it is flexible. It began decades ago as an allegation against the media and the academy but has easily morphed into a mythology that conservatives are the victims of big tech companies, scientists and, more recently, it’s led to the widespread embrace of the idea that a liberal, Trump-hating “Deep State” routinely skews the findings of our intelligence and law enforcement communities.
Yes, Congressional Republicans are feckless partisans who put the interests of the GOP over that of the country and are terrified of their base. Yes, Trump’s most dedicated supporters are potentially violent cultists. Yes, the mainstream press sticks to the convention of offering “both sides” of every issue and has a powerful bias toward normalcy. But without the waters constantly being muddied by a sprawling, very well-financed conservative media complex that was established to counter the ostensible skew of all other sources of information, it’s hard to imagine Trump surviving for this long.
And with that, let’s look at some of the Fresh Hell that might have escaped notice with everything else going on this week.
We have to move the conversation beyond Russian interference.
“A federal jury on Tuesday convicted Bijan Rafiekian, a former business partner of Michael Flynn, on a pair of foreign-agent felony charges stemming from work the two men did for Turkish interests during the final months of the Trump presidential campaign in 2016.” Politico has more details.
And The Washington Post reported on an Iranian disinformation campaign that researchers unearthed this week, warning that other countries are almost certain to get in on the act. “Iran is far from the only nation that has, within its borders, substantial capacity to wage Russian-style influence operations in the United States ahead of next year’s election. That means American voters are likely to be targeted in the coming campaign season by more foreign disinformation than ever before, say those studying such operations,” wrote Craig Timberg and Tony Romm. “A short list of countries that host online influence operations with a history of interfering across borders includes Saudi Arabia, Israel, China, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela, researchers say.
Relatedly, Buzzfeed News reported that “two unofficial envoys reporting directly to Donald Trump’s personal lawyer have waged a remarkable back-channel campaign to discredit the president’s rivals and undermine the special counsel’s inquiry into Russian meddling in US elections…
“In a whirlwind of private meetings, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — who pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Republican campaigns and dined with the president — gathered repeatedly with top officials in Ukraine and set up meetings for Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani as they turned up information that could be weaponized in the 2020 presidential race.”
TRUMP: “Then I have an Article 2, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”
(Article 2 does not in fact empower the president to do whatever they want.) pic.twitter.com/qIFP1AbHw6
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 23, 2019
“The Trump administration is reviving another food benefit cut that Republicans couldn’t get through Congress,” reported Arthur Delaney for The HuffPost. “Under a new proposal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, states would lose some flexibility to set eligibility standards for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ― commonly known as food stamps ― which would push 3 million people out of the program.”
Mike Esper’s confirmation as Secretary of Defense went smoothly this week. A little too smoothly, given some of his more controversial positions—among them keeping Guantanamo Bay open indefinitely and allowing US troops to serve on the Southern border.
And as Joshua Keating wrote for Slate, “Then there’s the Raytheon issue.”
The contractor produces electronics for a wide array of U.S. combat systems. Esper spent seven years as the company’s top lobbyist in Washington. The most contentious moment of Esper’s confirmation hearing on July 16 came when Sen. Elizabeth Warren pressed him on his ties to his former company and refusal to pledge to recuse himself from any decisions affecting Raytheon’s business throughout his tenure in government. Esper said he could not do that based on the advice of department ethics advisers, though he did promise to recuse himself from discussions involving a proposed merger of Raytheon and another company. Warren wasn’t having it, noting that Shanahan had made such a pledge with regard to his former employer, Boeing, and telling Esper, “This smacks of corruption, plain and simple.”
With Esper’s confirmation, four Trump Cabinet departments will be led by former lobbyists.
Speaking of the swamp, CNBC reported that “Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her family are among the groups that have seen an income boon of millions through their own investments since Trump’s tax reform plan was signed, according to her latest annual financial disclosure report.
According to ProPublica, a hunting buddy of Trump spawn Don Jr. named Tommy Hicks Jr. “:has been a part of discussions related to China and technology with top officials from the Treasury Department, National Security Council, Commerce Department and others.”
Hicks’ financial interests, if any, in the matters he has discussed aren’t clear. The interests are much more apparent when it comes to at least one of his associates. Hicks used his connections to arrange for a hedge fund manager friend, Kyle Bass — who has $143 million in investments that will pay off if China’s economy tanks — to present his views on the Chinese economy to high-level government officials at an interagency meeting at the Treasury Department, according to the documents.
Hicks is hardly the first private-sector power broker to emerge in a presidential administration, but he may represent a new subspecies: The Friend of the President’s Kid.
In fact, Hicks’ influence and career overwhelmingly hinge on two people: Trump Jr., his friend of about two decades, and, first and foremost, Hicks’ father. In a roughly 20-year career, Hicks has spent 17 of them working for investment funds and sports teams owned by his wealthy financier dad, Thomas Hicks Sr., and the other three working for a client of his father.
Quite a meritocracy we’ve got.
William Barr announced this week that the federal government would resume carrying out executions after a hiatus of almost two decades.
Bahrain executed two citizens, and its embassy in Washington actually cited the US re-legalization of the capital punishment to justify the move. See this thread by @iyad_elbaghdadi, who said earlier that the move by Trump’s Attorney-General Bill Barr would encourage such moves. https://t.co/pISe2LVMnu
— Hassan Hassan (@hxhassan) July 27, 2019
Josh Rogin reports for The Washington Post that “about 10 miles from a U.S. military outpost in southern Syria, some 30,000 civilians are in crisis — with almost no food, water or medicine — and, for complicated reasons, the U.S. government refuses to feed them. These innocent people are living under the protection of the United States, fearing the Bashar al-Assad regime, Iranian militias and the Islamic State. But the U.S. government, which bears primary responsibility for their fate because of its control over the area, is standing by and watching them needlessly starve to death.”
This week, Trump vetoed three bipartisan measures to block or place conditions on arms sales to Saudi Arabia that the regime had negotiated without congressional approval. NPR has more.
Monica Crowley, the former Fox News hack who Trump picked to serve as the new DoD spox, “repeatedly spread conspiracy theories that suggested then-President Barack Obama was secretly a Muslim who was sympathetic to America’s enemies,” according to CNN.
Paris hit an all-time record high of 108 degrees this week. The UK had its hottest day on record as well.
Meanwhile, the Trump regime “has undermined the fight against climate change by suffocating facts and science on government websites, according to a federal watchdog group that monitors thousands of government pages for changes.”
A report published by the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) on Monday found that language related to climate change has disappeared at an alarming pace since Trump took office in 2016. Across 5,301 pages—ranging from websites belonging to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to the US Geological Survey (USGS)—the use of the terms “climate change,” “clean energy,” and “adaptation” plummeted by 26 percent between 2016 and 2018. Of the pages where “climate change” was stricken, more than half belong to the EPA.
Grifters gonna grift.
President Donald Trump, his company and three of his children must face a class-action lawsuit in which people claim they were scammed into spending money on fraudulent, multilevel marketing ventures and a dubious live-seminar program.
U.S. District Judge Lorna Schofield in Manhattan ruled Wednesday that the case can go forward with claims of fraud, unfair competition, and deceptive trade practices. The decision likely opens the door for the plaintiffs to start gathering evidence from Trump and his company, including documents and testimony.
What can one even say about stuff like this?
According to Reuters, “Afghanistan called on Tuesday for an explanation of comments by U.S. President Donald Trump in which he said he could win the Afghan war in just 10 days by wiping out the country, but did not want ‘to kill 10 million people.’”
Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez is the fifth Guatemalan child to die in Border Patrol custody since December. After six days in custody, a nurse found that he had a temperature of 103. He was given Tamiflu and transferred to another facility. According to The Texas Monthly, an autopsy revealed that “Hernandez succumbed to the flu, complicated by pneumonia and sepsis.”Surveillance video showed him “lying on the floor, vomiting on the floor, and walk[ed] over to the commode, where he sits and later lies back and expires.”
“Hundreds of red flags were raised internally within the Trump administration about how families were being separated at the US-Mexico border, including some from months before the controversial ‘zero tolerance’ policy was announced, according to documents reviewed by CNN.”
This is a gross human rights violation…
An unprecedented number of unaccompanied migrant children are at risk of spending the rest of their childhoods in federal custody…
The federal government is required to pursue “prompt and continuous efforts toward family reunification” of unaccompanied migrant children, according to a landmark court settlement, but for thousands of kids in ORR care, that reunion may never happen.
“Unfortunately, I have well over 4,000 of those children in my care at this time at the Office of Refugee Resettlement,” the director, Jonathan Hayes, told CBS News in June. “So conceivably someone could come into our care at 15 years old and not have an identifiable sponsor in the United States and remain with us for a few years.”
The Trump Supreme Court gave the Trump regime a green light to “repurpose” DoD funds for his stupid wall.
We have some good news to leave you with this week.
According to the Associated Press, ”a federal judge blocked three new abortion restrictions in Arkansas minutes before they were set to take effect…, including a measure that opponents say would likely force the state’s only surgical abortion clinic to close.”
Trump’s attempt to bar most refugees from the United States was also blocked by a federal court.
And The Washington Post reported that “four automakers from three continents have struck a deal with California to produce fleets that are more fuel-efficient in coming years, undercutting one of the Trump administration’s most aggressive climate policy rollbacks.”