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.
There have been times when America’s anti-Trump majority has taken some comfort in the idea that the U.S. government is a big, unruly bureaucracy that does not bend easily to the will of corrupt authoritarian–especially one with the discipline and attention span of a toddler. The few prominent officials who have blasted the regime after resigning—Jim Mattis, HR McMaster, Rob Porter and Dan Coats among them—have been lauded for standing up to their former boss. The pundits have lamented the losses of such “adults in the room.” When The New York Times published an anonymous column titled, “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” it generated a flurry of speculation that Trump may be more bombastic figurehead than tinpot dictator.
But Chuck Park, a senior State Department official who chose to resign rather than continue to represent this regime overseas, wrote in The Washington Post that most government officials are neither members of the nefarious “Deep State” imagined by sycophantic Fox News hosts nor this virtuous White Rose Society many Trump opponents hope are keeping things at least somewhat functional behind the scenes.
“They have it all wrong,” he wrote. “Your federal bureaucracy under this president? Call it ‘The Complacent State’ instead.”
If the resistance does exist, it should be clear by this point that it has failed.
The Complacent State sighs when the president blocks travel by Muslim immigrants; shakes its head when he defends Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; averts its gaze from images of children in detention camps. Then it complies with orders.
Every day, we refuse visas based on administration priorities. We recite administration talking points on border security, immigration and trade. We plan travel itineraries, book meetings and literally hold doors open for the appointees who push Trump’s toxic agenda around the world.
That the institutions have not held against Trump was evident this week with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) ludicrous attempts to back up Trump’s six-day tantrum over being called out for doubling- and then tripling-down on his insistence that Alabama would potentially be hit by Hurricane Dorian (which had only been a possibility several days before he made the claim).
Wow! This just keeps getting worse. A top NOAA official warned staff not to correct Trump’s misstatements about Alabama being targeted, WaPo reports: https://t.co/w745mjQUuk
Please keep in mind the larger context, I’m tellin’ ya, it’s crucial: https://t.co/mhF6VqIwbb
— Greg Sargent (@ThePlumLineGS) September 8, 2019
“Late Friday afternoon, NOAA officials further angered scientists within and beyond the agency by releasing a statement, attributed to an unnamed agency spokesperson, supporting Trump’s claims on Alabama and chastising the agency’s Birmingham meteorologists for speaking in absolutes,” reported The Washington Post. The unnamed spokesperson was likely NOAA Director of Communications Julie Roberts, whose previous experience included a senior position on Trump’s inaugural committee, a gig on his campaign and another on Vice President Mike Pence’s transition team.
There is nobody at the top, at present.
Fun fact: Through all that’s happened this week, NOAA hasn’t had a director because Trump’s pick for the position is so unqualified and has so many conflicts of interest that even some of Trump’s political allies are queasyhttps://t.co/SIDL2nOxxq
— Robert Maguire (@RobertMaguire_) September 8, 2019
NOAA is hardly the first federal agency to indulge in all manner of contortions to validate one of Trump’s zany tweets. The Department of Justice is currently investigating the FBI for “spying” on the Trump campaign, a conspiracy theory that originated with a Trump tweet which at the time even Republicans dismissed as wacky.
But it may be the banality of the Alabama lie that makes it such a troubling example of the Trumpification of the federal government. William Barr may go down in history as one of the most corrupt Attorneys General we’ve ever had, but the stakes surrounding his coverups couldn’t be higher. Here we have a government agency with a mandate to provide scientifically accurate information debasing and discrediting itself over what would be just one more petty lie added to the tally of over 12,000 Trump has made in office, according to WaPo’s running tally. It’s meaningless.
A NOAA meteorologist: “This is the first time I’ve felt pressure from above to not say what truly is the forecast.” https://t.co/KsnERHFsN9
— Mimi Rocah (@Mimirocah1) September 8, 2019
And with that, here’s this week’s roundup.
Relatedly, The Washington Post reported this week that Trump has blocked US military assistance to Ukraine and and denied a state visit to the country’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, despite the fact that Zelensky has vowed to pursue “virtually every measure the International Monetary Fund and Western governments have urged on Ukraine in recent years, from land reform to the privatization of state companies to a cleansing of the judiciary.” According to WaPo, this isn’t just about Trump lending Zelensky adversary Vladimir Putin a hand. Rather, Trump “is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.”
There’s a good chance that the DOJ will pursue some contrived criminal probe into whoever becomes the 2020 Democratic nominee.
DOJ says only the executive branch can decide whether to go to court to enforce Congressional subpoenas served on the executive branch. pic.twitter.com/cIS5FYE8Ac
— Brad Heath (@bradheath) September 7, 2019
An Air National Guard crew’s bizarre stopovers at Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland on both legs of a trip between the U.S. and Kuwait, which was in keeping with a massive increase in Air Force spending on fuel at the closest airport to his struggling golf club—fuel that costs more than it would at a military base–would be the kind of scandal that brings down most presidents, especially after Mike Pence’s stay at another Trump resort located 180 miles from where he was holding meetings with Irish officials last week.
There’s been a further 264 orders placed by the US Defense Dept at Prestwick since June. In some cases the airport’s receiving six-figure sums in a single day for multiple refueling of USAF aircraft. If you know more on this, and USAF custom at Trump Turnberry, my DMs are open. pic.twitter.com/ZN20ZBeNXK
— Martyn McLaughlin (@MartynMcL) September 7, 2019
But this kind of corruption barely raises eyebrows in Trump’s regime. A New York Times story this week about how all kinds of organizations trying to get something out of the White House book rooms in Trump’s DC hotel, notes that, “to ethics lawyers, the most extraordinary aspect of the daily merging of Mr. Trump’s official duties and his commercial interests both in Washington and around the world is that it has now become almost routine.”
Here’s another story that would have likely been a major scandal in any other regime, via Mother Jones...
Donald Trump’s massive debts—he owes hundreds of millions of dollars—are the subject of continuous congressional and journalistic scrutiny. But for years, one Trump loan has been particularly mystifying: a debt of more than $50 million that Trump claims he owes to one of his own companies. According to tax and financial experts, the loan, which Trump has never fully explained, might be part of a controversial tax avoidance scheme known as debt parking. Yet a Mother Jones investigation has uncovered information that raises questions about the very existence of this loan, presenting the possibility that this debt was concocted as a ploy to evade income taxes—a move that could constitute tax fraud.
The revolving door…
Ex-@FEC vice chair Matthew Petersen—whose departure effectively thwarts any FEC enforcement action going into 2020 elections—is joining Holtzman Vogel Josefiak Torchinsky, a political law firm known for creative legal maneuvers hiding “dark money” donors https://t.co/8EL1aDrPjx pic.twitter.com/7bLEJSlNXK
— Anna Massoglia (@annalecta) September 5, 2019
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has fought tooth-and-nail against any relief for student debtors.
NPR reported this week that 99 percent of applications for student loan forgiveness under a program Congress created to give “nurses, teachers and other public servants” a break have been rejected.
“Ohio is set to cancel hundreds of thousands of voter registrations on Friday, even though the list of voters it is using was found to have mistakes,” reported The Huffington Post.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) published a list of 235,000 voters at risk of losing their registrations in August but soon discovered there were errors and corrected them. The following month, in August, voting rights groups said they identified an additional 4,000 people who were incorrectly added to the list. The Columbus Dispatch also reported more than 1,600 people who were erroneously added because of a technical error.
The voter suppression is going to be especially brazen this cycle.
— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) September 6, 2019
Our good news this week isn’t contained in one discrete story. It is Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern’s piece about how Justice Elena Kagan blueprint for states to fight partisan gerrymandering may win the day in the long run even as the Trump Court has effectively shut the doors of the federal