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 New York Times reported this week that Donald Trump was briefed in March that a Russian intelligence unit that “has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats” offered Afghan insurgents bounties to kill US troops. “Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money,” according to the report, which was confirmed by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. Twenty US service members were killed in Afghanistan last year.
Trump was given “a menu of potential options” to respond to the attacks, but “the White House has yet to authorize any step.”
A month later, in late April, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin “issued a rare joint statement” commemorating US and Russian forces linking up in Germany during World War II, saying it was “an example of how our countries can put aside differences, build trust, and cooperate in pursuit of a greater cause.”
Two weeks later, in early May, he bragged about his efforts to forge closer ties with Russia to a gathering of Republican lawmakers, saying, “all of a sudden, we have this great friendship. And, by the way, getting along with Russia is a great thing, getting along with Putin and Russia is a great thing.”
Later that month, he outraged other Western leaders by inviting Putin to attend the G7 meeting. He then spoke to Putin about getting Russia re-admitted to the organization that had expelled it over Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
There has long been speculation that Russia has some sort of kompromat on Trump. Mythical “pee tapes” aside, Trump has longstanding ties to the Russian mob dating back 30 years. Russian money poured into Trumpworld when no bank would give him a loan after his casinos went belly-up. Russian oligarchs and other members of the country’s elite have reportedly snatched up $100 million worth of his tacky properties in Florida alone. He made over $50 million on one “strange” real estate deal with Dmitry Rybolovlev, a billionaire oligarch.
If Russia has dirt on Trump, that may be the best-case scenario. Because what are the alternatives? That he’s such a narcissist that Putin’s praise so flatters him that he’s willing to overlook Russia putting bounties on US troops’ heads? That he’s thanking them for meddling in the 2016 and 2020 elections on his behalf? That it’s just an act of trolling or revenge against the intelligence community and the FBI for embarrassing him with their reports of Russian interference and subsequent investigations? Or is he looking to assure that Russian cash continues to flow into his businesses after he leaves office? Maybe he still has high hopes to get that Trump Tower Moscow deal off the ground.
If the Commander-in-Chief is continuing to do Russia’s bidding after being informed that they’re paying people to kill US soldiers because they could destroy him, or possibly land him in prison, that would at least be an act of self-preservation. The alternatives are pettier, and would show that not only can he be bought off, but that he can be had cheaply.
This is troubling, to say the least…
The Pentagon is facing a hemorrhage of talent as senior officials resign amid continued efforts by the White House to purge those perceived as political foes, including the Army lieutenant colonel who testified in the House impeachment hearings…
In all of the cases, [Defense Secretary Mike] Esper tried to push back against the White House, officials said, but failed and was left to offer only a thanks for their service. The departures come as Mr. Trump has precipitated a standoff with the military over a number of issues, including whether to deploy active-duty troops against protesters or rename military bases that honor Confederate officers. [New York Times]
Rick Bright, the department of Health and Human Services (HHS) whistle-blower who detailed how the agency’s pandemic response was hobbled by cronyism and corruption, has filed another complaint alleging ongoing retaliation against him for bringing those problems to light, which is illegal.
There never was a “China deal.” China and the Trump regime gave different accounts of their “phase one” agreement, which was unenforceable. But Trump got his headlines.
Fast-forward to this week: “A trade deal worth $200 billion between China and the United States is ‘fully intact,’ President Donald Trump said Monday night, just hours after his senior trade adviser rattled markets by saying the pact was ‘over,'” according to NBC.
Four days after Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to ramp up the production of PPE, “Eric Beach, who had no experience in supplying medical goods, formed Colt International, Inc. touting connections with 3M. Beach is also the co-founder of the Great America PAC, which has raised more than $40 million for Mr. Trump. The PAC has produced attack ads against the president’s opponents, including rival Joe Biden.” CBS has that story.
Meanwhile, “a company created by a former Pentagon official who describes himself as a White House volunteer for Vice President Mike Pence won a $2.4 million dollar contract in May — its first federal award — to supply the Bureau of Prisons with surgical gowns,” according to ProPublica.
We’ve had at least one story like this in our roundups virtually every week. The grifters are out in force.
If only we had a law-and-order president who would stand up to looters…
In a newly announced rule, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has signaled she is standing firm on her intention to reroute millions of dollars in coronavirus aid money to K-12 private school students.https://t.co/60APnN1tcV
— NPR (@NPR) June 26, 2020
Officials from the Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of Inspector General (OIG) and outside colleagues were shocked to learn that President Trump replaced Acting IG Mitchell Behm, a longstanding member of the office, with a political appointee, according to new documents obtained by CREW.
At the time of his demotion, Behm was overseeing a high profile investigation of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s alleged favoritism benefiting her husband Senator Mitch McConnell’s political prospects. The records CREW received suggest that one of the subjects of that investigation informed Behm of the shakeup, and allude to larger concerns about Trump’s pattern of installing loyalists.
Only the best people…
The White House’s nominee for a top Pentagon post repeatedly spread conspiracy theories that a former CIA director tried to overthrow President Donald Trump and even have him assassinated in newly discovered comments from radio and television appearances as well as on social media.
Retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata, who was nominated to become the under secretary of defense for policy at the Department of Defense, promoted conspiracy theories that John Brennan, the former CIA director, wanted to oust Trump from office, and pushed a bogus conspiracy theory that Brennan sent a coded tweet to order the assassination of Trump in 2018. [CNN]
Trump ripped as a ‘traitor’ by veterans for his mask photo-op at Walter Reed Hospital
The veteran advocacy organization Vote Vets on Sunday blasted President Donald Trump for holding a photo-op at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
After a round of golf on Saturday, Trump traveled to the hospital to be photographed by the press pool wearing a mask, which was a first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vote Vets, which says it has raised over $120 million since being founded in 2006 and made over 50 million voter contacts, released a new video on Trump's visit.
The ad says it shows "what wounded warriors see when Trump comes for a photo-op."
Trump’s push to reopen schools prematurely is an assault on states’ rights that may prove deadly
It’s hard to avoid a sense of déjà vu as the Trump regime threatens to withhold federal education funding from states that refuse to re-open their schools this fall. The contours of the “debate,” such as it is, perfectly align with the one we had a couple of months ago about re-opening businesses in the midst of a pandemic.
Then, as now, conservatives tried to frame the issue as a choice between re-opening and staying stuck in quarantine indefinitely. Those less moored to reality, including the President, insisted that proponents of quarantines were only motivated by a desire to undermine Trump’s prospects for re-election. The real divide at the time was between those of us who wanted to follow the science, build up adequate testing and contact-tracing capacity and re-open safely once the rate of infection had declined, and those, mostly on the right, who wanted to re-open prematurely either because they believed we’d achieve herd immunity if we let the outbreak run its course or because they thought Covid-19 was a “hoax” that was no more serious than the seasonal flu.
How 68,000 COVID-19 survivors created a world-class patient resource group in just four months
Diana Berrent was one of the first people in her hometown of Port Washington, New York, to get COVID-19. Back then, in early March 2020, only immunocompromised and seniors were believed to be high-risk; hence, as a 46-year-old yoga practitioner and runner, Berrent was "shocked" when she woke up with a 103-degree fever and respiratory infection — symptoms that strongly suggested she had coronavirus, which was later confirmed by a test.
This article first appeared in Salon.