GOP Senator (briefly) finds a spine when Trump’s authoritarianism gets in the way of his corruption
Sen. Kevin Kramer (R-ND) -- Facebook

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.


The Washington Post has a story that perfectly captures the shadiness of the Republican Party in the era of Donald Trump.

This week, Sen. Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, finally had enough of the Trump regime’s contempt for its co-equal branch on Capitol Hill. Or at least momentarily. But the straw that broke the camel’s back wasn't the regime’s repeated efforts to skirt Senate confirmation by stacking government agencies with “temporary” heads or relentlessly blocking any effort by Congress to oversee the judicial branch. No, the regime got between Cramer and a fat-cat donor and that was just a bridge too far.

Let’s look at all of the boxes this story checks.

Does it relate to Trump’s particularly stupid brand of xenophobia? Yes, that’s the background. At issue is who will get contracts from the Army Corps of Engineers for that $3.5 billion Trump “repurposed” to build a chunk of his moronic wall along the Mexican border, a move that defied the explicit will of Congress, which supposedly controls the power of the purse.

Does it touch on how conservative politics are all one big grift? Well, according to The WaPo, “in recent months, Cramer has touted his preferred construction firm, North Dakota-based Fisher Industries, and campaign finance records show the senator has received thousands of dollars in contributions from company chief executive Tommy Fisher and his family members.”

This week, Cramer put a hold on the nomination of a White House budget official after the Army Corps of Engineers, which had not granted Fisher Industries a cushy contract for Trump's wall boondoggle, refused to provide him with “sensitive information about border wall contracts,” citing proprietary information contained within the documents.

Of course, in his quest for a fat payday, Tommy Fisher had not only bought a United States Senator (that’s unfair—“rented” is more appropriate), he’d also gone on Fox News repeatedly, “where he has praised the border wall effort and promoted his firm.”

Is Fisher a fringe wingnut? We can’t say, but he certainly hangs out with them.

Fisher Industries was hired by activist group We Build the Wall to install a span of steel bollard fencing this spring on private land west of El Paso. Former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, Blackwater USA founder Erik Prince and immigration hard-liner Kris Kobach are among the board members of the group, which says it has raised $25 million through private donations.

Did Donald Trump walk roughshod over long standing norms of the presidency to promote some guy who’d praised his wall on Fox News? Oh yes, he did. “Trump too has joined the effort [of promoting Fisher], pitching the company in meetings at the White House and aboard Air Force One that have troubled military commanders and Department of Homeland Security officials.”

The problem for Fisher, it seems, is that the U.S. government is much bigger than Donald Trump and still has various standards. “Despite Cramer’s efforts to influence and the president’s endorsement, Fisher was not picked by the Army Corps in recent rounds of bidding,” reported The Post. “During previous bids, the Army Corps said the company’s design did not meet its requirements and lacked regulatory approvals. DHS officials also told the Army Corps in March that Fisher’s work on a barrier project in San Diego came in late and over budget.”

Did Cramer and Fisher allege some sort of Deep State conspiracy was at work? They did! Cramer demanded to know what the military was hiding; Fisher sued the Army Corps of Engineers for alleged improprieties in their procurement process. (It’s all projection.)

Two final boxes. Cramer tried to raise his own profile by falsely--and goofily--claiming that Trump had “deputized” him to handle the construction process, something that Trump may or may not have said in jest. And of course, after creating a small brouhaha about what he claimed was the Army Corps of Engineers’ arrogance and corruption, Cramer folded like a cheap suit after a little prodding by the regime. The story has everything except a Russian angle.

And with that, let’s take a look at some other outrages that didn’t get the attention they probably deserved this week.

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Trump’s erstwhile pick to be the next Director of National Intelligence, GOP Rep. and wingnut conspiracy theorist John Ratcliffe, crashed and burned this week amid multiple stories about how he had “embellished his record” in various ways.

It remains to be seen whether the regime will follow the law and allow Sue Gordon, the nation’s experienced and qualified No. 2 intelligence official, to head the agency in the interim, or will try to maneuver another Trump sycophant into that position. They look eager to follow the latter course. [NYT]

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Politico reports that “two former top staffers to Senate Majority Leader [“Moscow”] Mitch McConnell have lobbied Congress and the Treasury Department on the development of a new Kentucky aluminum mill backed by the Russian aluminum giant Rusal,” the company owned by Russian oligarch and Putin ally Oleg Deripaska.

Meanwhile, “Braidy Industries, which is developing a new Kentucky aluminum mill partially backed by the Russian aluminum giant Rusal, has hired a firm with ties to Sen. Mitch McConnell (r-Ky.) to give the project a public relations boost as Democrats raise concerns about the initiative.”

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Republicans don’t care that this regime has embedded complete nutjobs throughout the national security establishment.

“A former congressional staffer who worked feverishly to discredit the Russia investigation has recently been promoted on the National Security Council staff,” according to The Daily Beast. “Kash Patel, who helmed the efforts of former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes to scrutinize the court-authorized surveillance of a Trump associate has taken on the role of Senior Director of the Counterterrorism Directorate of the National Security Council (NSC).”

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But Kori Schake reported for The Atlantic that other countries care quite a lot about the U.S. becoming a totally unreliable ally.

“In this crowded and enervating week of news, it would have been easy to miss two small but consequential signs of the damage President Donald Trump and his team have done to America’s standing in the world,” wrote Schake. “Two of America’s closest treaty allies have announced military efforts explicitly designed to exclude the United States. Australia is ‘seeking to cement its status as the security partner of choice for Pacific nations’ by establishing an expeditionary training force. And the United Kingdom wants to create a multinational force to ensure freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz.”

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We’ve repeatedly pointed out that Trump is not Vladimir Putin’s puppet. He's available to anyone with the cash and GOP connections to pull his strings.

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A perfect headline from The Orlando Sentinel: “Trump puts conservative advocate of selling off the nation’s public lands in charge of overseeing them”

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Conservatives love big government--dare we say "socialism"?--as long as it doesn’t benefit those people.

Bloomberg:

High ranking officials in the Trump administration are still pushing to bail out money-losing coal plants, more than a year after an earlier proposal to revive the industry failed. Any new effort to save coal plants may find a friend in Kentucky Republican Neil Chatterjee, now chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the very agency that rejected the previous plan.

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It's all good if it helps these donors people: “Majority of Trump’s Trade Aid Went to Biggest Farms, Study Finds

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But not these people…

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Washington Post: “Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union told a federal judge Tuesday that the Trump administration has taken nearly 1,000 migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border since the judge ordered the United States government to curtail the practice more than a year ago.”

NBC’s North Carolina affiliate WRAL:

In early 2018, state regulators came calling at a nondescript group home in Lumber Bridge, situated just off the highway southwest of the Robeson County town’s solitary stop light.

The seven children housed there were all boys between the ages of 9 and 17 and suffered from a range of mental health issues like depression, schizophrenia and PTSD – all serious enough to keep them on the premises around the clock.

Inside the facility, state officials reported, the boys sat for most of the day watching Netflix and playing video games. There were allegations of abuse and of confinement in a “time-out room.” …

Within 45 days of the facility opening its doors, state officials gave its operator, New Horizon Group Home LLC, hours to shut them again, saying conditions presented “an imminent danger to the health, safety and welfare” of the boys housed there.

Yet barely one year later, the federal government awarded New Horizon a $3.9 million grant to house up to 72 children – migrant kids navigating the Trump administration's border policy alone.

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We want to make sure you caught what should have been the big news plastered all over the front pages this week:

Details at WaPo, which reported that “the same heat dome that roasted Europe and broke national temperature records in five countries last week has shifted to Greenland, where it is causing one of the biggest melt events ever observed on the fragile ice sheet.”

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And we leave you with some good news, via Law360...

A D.C. federal judge on Friday struck down a Trump administration rule that strips asylum eligibility from migrants who cross the southern border outside a designated port of entry, finding that it clashes with federal immigration law.

Another federal court has temporarily prevented the rule from going into effect, but U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss is the first to issue a final ruling vacating it. He determined that the rule plainly runs afoul of the Immigration and Nationality Act's provision that any migrant "physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States ... whether or not at a designated port of arrival" can apply for asylum.