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.
A perfect storm propelled New York’s sleaziest real estate developer to an Electoral College victory in 2016 despite winning three million fewer votes than his opponent, but Nate Silver made a compelling argument that the letter James Comey sent to Congress just 11 days before Election Day announcing that the FBI was re-opening its probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails was decisive.
Donald Trump remains the most unpopular president* in the modern polling era, and would be vulnerable to criminal prosecution if he doesn’t win in 2020. His relentless efforts to gin up a criminal investigation into Joe Biden–which continues even as he’s being impeached for it–show that Trump’s fully cognizant of how the cloud of such a probe hanging over his opponent leads voters to think that they face a choice between two equally venal politicians, which is a race that he can win.
Attorney General Bill Barr has made it clear since his successful campaign to spin the Mueller report that he sees himself as Trump’s damage control consultant rather than the American people’s top law enforcement officer. (Just this week, his Department of Justice argued in federal court that Congress would have to pass a law making it illegal for a president to accept foreign emoluments if they wanted Trump to comply with the Constitution and “quietly” released a series of “never-before-seen internal legal opinions that could help President Donald Trump block congressional requests as he faces impeachment by the US House and a trial in the Senate.”) But it was his rush to discredit his own Inspector General’s report, which blew up Trump’s “Deep State coup” nonsense, that should remove any lingering doubt about his willingness to abuse the power of the DOJ on Trump’s behalf. It was one thing to go overseas and seek assistance from foreign intelligence agencies in order to discredit his own, but his black-is-white/ up-is-down response to the FBI IG’s report makes it clear that he is unconcerned with his legacy and that there’s no line that he’s unwilling to cross.
If Joe Biden becomes the Democratic nominee, Trump’s playbook–and that of his DOJ–is obvious. If they nominate another candidate, he or she had better be prepared for a similarly flimsy nontroversy to become the subject of a major criminal investigation.
The DOJ IG also uncovered a number of messages from pro-Trump FBI employees (in addition to issues with the FISA process): pic.twitter.com/ges74P6lgF
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) December 9, 2019
Speaking of Trump’s defenders, The New York Times reported that the president* hasn’t disclosed the value of 20 months of Rudy Giuliani’s pro bono legal assistance “on the annual financial disclosure he filed in May, which requires that the value and source of gifts — including free legal work — be publicly listed.”
But disclosure isn’t the issue–or it isn’t the only issue–according to a Yahoo News story from October:
In 1994, as a slew of scandals were popping up around President Bill Clinton, an attorney who worked with his defense team visited the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) in Washington to ask a simple question in person: Could the president of the United States accept free legal services from his personal lawyers?
An unambiguous answer came back from the OGE, the executive branch’s in-house experts at preventing conflicts of interest: No.
“An inquiry was made very early on after the president retained legal counsel,” the attorney, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Yahoo News. “Meetings were held with the OGE, and the OGE advised that any provision of legal services would have to be done at market rate.”
The OGE’s concern, the attorney explained, “was the appearance of undue influence.”
Speaking of the swamp, The Times also reported this week that “allies of President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine have met with lobbyists with close ties to the Trump administration, hopeful of creating new channels of communication.” (You’ll recall that Zelensky also told Trump that he had stayed in the Trump Hotel during that fateful July 25 call–the guy knows what he’s doing.)
The Center for Public Integrity sued the regime for internal communications related to Trump’s hold on military aid to Ukraine, and a Judge agreed that “the public needs access to relevant information” about the block “to ensure “informed public participation” in the impeachment process that it kicked off.
This week, the White House and Department of Defense released the documents but all of the information was redacted. CPI says it will go back to the court for relief.
Speaking of politically-motivated and illegal holds on aid, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, led by Ben Carson, missed “a legally required deadline” to fund disaster relief in Puerto Rico three months ago.
According to NBC News, “Congress had mandated the housing agency to issue funding notices to 18 disaster-stricken states and territories no later than Sept. 4,” and “they published all the notices except Puerto Rico’s.”
A lawless regime…
The CBP officials who left Carlos Vasquez to his death may have committed crimes. https://t.co/WVYrCA33yW
— America’s Voice (@AmericasVoice) December 9, 2019
“The Pentagon inspector general has launched a review to determine whether the U.S. military deployment to the southern border is legal, according to a Department of Defense memo obtained by NBC News.
The review was opened three months after 30 members of Congress requested an investigation into whether the deployment violates a law that prohibits active duty military troops from carrying out law enforcement duties inside the U.S.
In a memo to military leaders, Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general, said the evaluation will look into a range of areas, including the type of activities the troops are doing at the border, the training they received, and the cost of the deployments.
What could possibly go wrong?
A new Trump rule will reduce government food safety inspectors in pork plants by 40% and remove most of the remaining inspectors from production lines.
Reducing meat consumption greatly helps the environment-seems like a good time to give it a try. https://t.co/SN1GdhuySA
— Amee Vanderpool (@girlsreallyrule) December 8, 2019
Trump had a good week on one of his signature issues: trade. First, Democrats gave him a win–one that I found inexplicable–on his modified NAFTA, the USMCA. Then it was announced that he’d finally struck a deal with “Jinah.” But Robert Reich suggests that the deal doesn’t mitigate the damage from Trump’s crackpot trade war.
Trump’s China deal:
China agrees to buy $50b of ag products next year.
That’s a gain of $29b from before Trump tariffs.
Trump tariffs have cost US farmers $11b.
U.S. taxpayers have spent $28b on emergency payouts to farmers.
So loss to US is $39b.
You do the math.
— Robert Reich (@RBReich) December 13, 2019
A couple of stories from the states this week are worth mentioning.
First, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution conducted an exhaustive analysis of the impact of state officials shutting down 8 percent of the state’s polling places and relocated 40 percent of its precincts between 2012 and 2018.
Most of the precinct closures and relocations occurred after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 ended federal oversight of local election decisions under the Voting Rights Act.
The AJC’s analysis, vetted by two nonpartisan statistics experts, showed a clear link between turnout and reduced voting access. The farther voters live from their precincts, the less likely they are to cast a ballot.
Precinct closures and longer distances likely prevented an estimated 54,000 to 85,000 voters from casting ballots on Election Day last year, according to the AJC’s findings.
And the impact was greater on black voters than white ones, the AJC found. Black voters were 20% more likely to miss elections because of long distances.
Without those precinct relocations, overall Election Day turnout in last year’s midterm election likely would have been between 1.2% and 1.8% higher, the AJC estimated.
Brian Kemp, who was the secretary of state over that entire period, won last year’s gubernatorial race by 0.4 percent.
And Kentucky’s outgoing Republican governor, Matt Bevin, issued a slew of pardons on his way out the door, including one for a guy who had impersonated a police officer, broke into a family’s house and shot a man to death. What’s striking about this story is that the convicted felon’s family only had to raise $21,000 for Bevin’s campaign, which seems cheap. The killer’s two accomplices, who didn’t pull the trigger, continue to languish in prison, no doubt regretting that their families didn’t think of coming up with twenty grand to spring them.
But what appears at first blush to be a matter of brazen corruption may just be Bevin telling Kentucky to go fuck itself by releasing a bunch of the state’s nastiest convicts. His other last minute pardons include “one offender convicted of raping a child, another who hired a hit man to kill his business partner and a third who killed his parents,” according to the Courier-Journal. Law and order and family values!
Another recipient of Bevin’s largesse: a guy who murdered and decapitated a woman and then “stuffed her body into a barrel.”
We leave you this week with a story that probably should have gotten more attention than it did. Rolling Stone reports:
According the IMF, the world spent $4.7 trillion — or 6.3 percent of global GDP — in 2015 to subsidize fossil fuel use, a figure it estimated rose to $5.2 trillion in 2017. China, which is heavily reliant on coal and has major air-pollution problems, was the largest subsidizer by far, at $1.4 trillion in 2015. But the U.S. ranked second in the world.
The human, environmental and economic toll of these subsidies is shocking to the conscience. The authors found that if fossil fuels had been fairly priced in 2015, global carbon emissions would have been slashed by 28 percent. Deaths from fossil fuel-linked air pollution would have dropped by nearly half.
Trump is handing the Democrats a powerful new weapon that will cripple his re-election campaign: GOP consultant
While Donald Trump seems to be reveling in his daily press conferences that handing him hours of free airtime prior to his re-election drive, one Republican campaign consultant is warning that the president is handing Democrats highly damaging quotes on a daily basis that will come back to haunt him in November.
According to a report in the Washington Post, Trump's assertion "I don’t take responsibility at all” for the failure to provide tests for the coronavirus will continue to be a centerpiece in attack ads Democrats will be spending millions on to remind the country of his many failings.
‘Reckless’: Chaos expected in Tuesday’s elections after Wisconsin Republicans refuse to cancel in-person voting
"The whole country should tune in to what Republicans are doing now in Wisconsin. It's a preview of how they'll politically weaponize coronavirus on a national scale."
Despite warnings from public health experts and legal challenges by voting rights groups, the Democratic primary and state and local elections are set to go forward on Tuesday after Republican state legislators refused to take up a proposal to cancel most in-person voting in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bernie Sanders urged to end 2020 bid — by his own campaign manager and longtime strategist: Washington Post
Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders is receiving advice to quickly exit the 2020 presidential campaign, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
"A small group of Bernie Sanders’s top aides and allies — including his campaign manager and his longtime strategist — have encouraged the independent senator from Vermont to consider withdrawing from the presidential race," the newspaper reported, citing "two people with knowledge of the situation."