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With impeachment, Trump has lost control of the news cycle — and he’s not handling it well

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- Commentary
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’re still a year out from the election, but a strong early contender for the worst take among the chattering classes was the suggestion that Donald Trump secretly wanted to be impeached in order to fire up his base going into 2020. Not only is Trump’s based perpetually aggrieved–and constantly told by the conservative press that America will come to a nasty end if the “socialist Democrats” come to power–but this storyline also elided the president’s* narcissism.

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Kurt Bardella wrote this week at NBC that Trump lashing out during Friday’s testimony by the former US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was a clear signal that “Trump is afraid.”

This is a man who has spent the entirety of his adult life plastering his name on skyscrapers and casinos; this is a man who is obsessed with his own legacy. And that’s why impeachment is the permanent stain that Trump deserves — and one he clearly fears….

Conventional wisdom suggests that there are enough votes in the Democrat-controlled House to successfully impeach Trump, while the Senate will vote against it. But when it comes to Trump and how he is wired, it may not matter if he is thrown out of office. The fact that he would go down in history as only the third president ever to be impeached would psychologically cripple him.

Trump’s been fuming more than usual since the impeachment process began, which is consistent with someone suffering from narcissistic injury. But his witness-tampering in real-time, which was so egregious that even his most loyal lackeys in Congress were forced to (softly) condemn it, was also a desperate attempt to regain some control over the news cycle, which the public impeachment hearings have dramatically weakened.

Since bursting onto the pages of the New York tabloids in the 1970s, Trump has consistently shown that he has a gift for working the press. There’s no evidence that he’s a smart person–when you make your first million from your daddy’s tax fraud scheme as an 8-year-old, it doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to become extremely wealthy–but like an idiot savant of PR, he has always had a feral instinct for getting and holding the media’s attention. It should go without saying that this has served him very well during his tumultuous years in the White House.

But while political reporters, as a group, are incapable of conveying the historic nature of this moment, impeachment is nonetheless the kind of thing that dominates the front pages. Serious people from within Trump’s own regime have painted a damning picture of his corrupt dealings with the government of Ukraine, other serious people are investigating and that’s the kind of story he’s unable to push below the fold with a crazy tweet or some of his trademark antics. And it seems to be driving him bonkers.

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With that, let’s move on to this week’s roundup.

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Matthew Doherty, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, “announced Friday that he has left his post at the Trump administration’s request, an unexpected move that comes as the White House plans a sweeping crackdown aimed at homelessness in California,” reports The Washington Post. Doherty, a holdover from the Obama administration, was seen as an obstacle by the regime as it “explor[es] options for a crackdown on homelessness aimed at California, a process that has been ongoing for months.”

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On Friday, Trump pardoned two more US soldiers who were implicated in war crimes–one who was awaiting trial for murdering an Afghan civilian and another who was serving a 19-year sentence for ordering troops under his command to open fire on a group of civilians in Afghanistan–and reduced the sentence of a third.

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It’s a play to his most hard-core supporters on the far-right, but according to The New York Times, military officials are “worried that Mr. Trump’s actions could erode discipline by sending a message to troops and commanders that in some cases the laws of war would not apply.” It also makes the military’s task to win over “hearts and minds” in various hotspots around the world much more difficult.

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As tensions with Trump’s close friend Kim Jong Un, the North Korean Dictator, flare up once again, the president* is destabilizing the US alliance with Seoul.

CNN reports that “Trump is demanding that South Korea pay roughly 400% more in 2020 to cover the cost of keeping US troops on the peninsula.”

The price hike has frustrated Pentagon officials and deeply concerned Republican and Democratic lawmakers, according to military officials and congressional aides. It has angered and unnerved Seoul, where leaders are questioning US commitment to their alliance and wondering whether Trump will pull US forces if they don’t pay up.
“Nothing says I love you like a shakedown,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor at MIT who follows the Korean peninsula…

 

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Some related stories…

The Associated Press: “The Trump administration unlawfully excluded millions of tons of some of the most dangerous materials in public use from a safety review, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.”

The New York Times: “The Trump administration is preparing to significantly limit the scientific and medical research that the government can use to determine public health regulations, overriding protests from scientists and physicians who say the new rule would undermine the scientific underpinnings of government policymaking.”

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More related stories…

Wall Street Journal (paywalled): “Financial stress is mounting in the Farm Belt, pushing more growers to take on high-interest loans outside traditional banks to stay in business…. With crop prices stuck at low levels, traditional farm banks are placing stricter terms on farm loans and doling out less money, leaving cash-strapped farmers… to seek capital from more lightly regulated entities” that charge as much as double the interest as traditional farm lenders.

Washington Post“In farm country, mental health experts say they’re seeing more suicides as families endure the worst period for U.S. agriculture in decades. Farm bankruptcies and loan delinquencies are rising, calamitous weather events are ruining crops, and profits are vanishing during Trump’s global trade disputes….Calls to suicide hotlines around farm country have risen, prompting new federal and state programs targeting farmers’ mental health.”

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It’s always a safe bet that the Trump Crime Family are actually guilty of whatever crimes they falsely accuse their opponents of committing.

According to the associated Press, “two political supporters of U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry secured a potentially lucrative oil and gas exploration deal from the Ukrainian government soon after Perry proposed one of the men as an adviser to the country’s new president.”

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Grifters are naturally drawn to wherever the richest territory for their art can be found, and at present, that’s in and around Trump’s White House. File this one, via NBC, under “only the best people”…

A senior Trump administration official has embellished her résumé with misleading claims about her professional background — even creating a fake Time magazine cover with her face on it — raising questions about her qualifications to hold a top position at the State Department…

Mina Chang, the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations, has inflated her educational achievements and exaggerated the scope of her nonprofit’s work…

Chang, who assumed her post in April, also invented a role on a U.N. panel, claimed she had addressed both the Democratic and Republican national conventions, and implied she had testified before Congress.

She was being considered for an even bigger government job, one with a budget of more than $1 billion, until Congress started asking questions about her résumé.

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Relatedly, this report from Politico would be a massive scandal in any other White House.

At least eight former White House, presidential transition and campaign officials for President Donald Trump were hired as outside contractors to the federal health department at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year…

They were among at least 40 consultants who worked on a one-year, $2.25 million contract directed by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma. The contractors were hired to burnish Verma’s personal brand and provide “strategic communications” support. They charged up to $380 per hour for work traditionally handled by dozens of career civil servants in CMS’s communications department.

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News that a senior White House advisor who’s played the central role in crafting the regime’s immigration and asylum policies is a virulent white supremacist would also generate big headlines for other administrations, but the political press appears to have concluded that the fact that Stephen Miller is such a well-known bigot makes this week’s revelations a dog-bites-man story.

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We’ll wrap up this week’s roundup with both a story that we think should have gotten much more attention than it did and a piece of genuinely good news.

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The report that we think should have featured more prominently was Gallup’s finding that “more than 13% of American adults — or about 34 million people — report knowing of at least one friend or family member in the past five years who died after not receiving needed medical treatment because they were unable to pay for it.” That’s both utterly shameful and a real crisis.

And “in a major victory for privacy rights, a federal court in Boston [ruled Tuesday] that the government’s suspicionless searches of international travelers’ smartphones and laptops at airports and other U.S. ports of entry violate the Fourth Amendment.” More details here via the ACLU.


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