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.
It was an especially fascist-y week in Donald Trump's America.
His trial balloon about postponing the election drew rebukes from just about everyone, including his erstwhile defenders on the right. He vowed that he would cancel TikTok, whose teens have caused him so much consternation. We learned that the Trump regime had been content to let Covid-19 spread like wildfire across blue states because "[their] people" weren't getting sick and dying and they were eager to shift blame for the economic fallout to their governors. It was reported that the Department of Defense is referring to protesters as "adversaries," and that the Department of Homeland Security has been tracking and issuing intelligence reports about journalists covering the uprising against discriminatory policing. And Attorney General Bill Barr removed any lingering doubts--if there any remained--that he's become the latest in a long line of sleazy lawyers who have served as Trump's corrupt "fixers."
Department of Homeland Security issued internal legal guidance telling officers they would not be held liable for t… https://t.co/FMqX6m16Bv— Ken Klippenstein (@Ken Klippenstein)1596139996.0
If you get your news from Fox and the conservative media, you probably only heard about Trump's blather about postponing the election. But in less partisan outlets, all of these stories were relatively prominent, and caused rightful alarm. But every week, there are so many less prominent acts of corruption and authoritarianism that go largely unnoticed by the public.
Consider just a few examples from this past week. You may have heard that Trump installed Louis DeJoy, a wealthy GOP donor, to serve as Postmaster General, and that he immediately instituted organizational changes that are slowing mail deliveries and could undermine the integrity of absentee ballots this fall. But the fact that "DeJoy and his wife Aldona Wos, the ambassador-nominee to Canada, have between $30.1 million and $75.3 million in assets in Postal Service competitors or contractors," according to The Arkansas Democrat Gazette, has largely been absent from reporting on DeJoy's leadership.
"The Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it will continue to defy a federal court order compelling the full restoration of DACA," reported Slate's Mark Joseph Stern. "By doing so, the administration has chosen to flout a decision by the Supreme Court, effectively rejecting the judiciary’s authority to say what the law is."
While Trump's argle-bargle about saving "the suburban lifestyle dream" for America's housewives got some attention, the policy change behind it didn't. The regime rolled back a rule "that requires communities that receive federal funds work to undo their patterns of residential segregation." And just as the Supreme Court overturned Trump's push to kill DACA because his staff didn't follow the procedures to rescind it that were required by law, they replaced the measure in the 1968 Fair Housing Act with a new rule while "bypassing all the required procedural hurdles for reviewing it first," according to Bloomberg.
The EPA Inspector General is opening up an investigation into Trump's rollback of a key Obama-era measure to curb greenhouse gas emissions, citing doubts about whether it was done “consistent with requirements, including those pertaining to transparency, record-keeping, and docketing, and followed the E.P.A.’s process for developing final regulatory actions.”
CREW alleges that Jared Kushner's Coronavirus Task Force is violating "multiple laws," including "both the Presidential Records Act (PRA) and Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) by using private email accounts with no assurance their communications are being preserved and by meeting in secret." (Private emails are a big nothingburger unless major news outlets call it a giant scandal for a year or two.)
Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee may have been “extremely alarmed” by news "that the American ambassador in Brazil had signaled to Brazilian officials they could help get President Trump re-elected by changing their trade policies," but that story will fly under the radar of most Americans.
There's a guy working as a White House lawyer named Michael Williams. He used to be the general counsel of the American Suppressor Association, which lobbies on behalf of silencers (because of course there's a silencer lobby). Did he play a key role in "the Trump administration’s decision to lift a ban on firearm silencer sales to foreign private buyers that had been enacted to prevent the devices from being used against American troops"? It's likely he did, but we'll surely move on to other things by the time the investigation is completed, if it ever is.
What Fresh Hell is a roundup of these kinds of less prominent stories of conflicts of interest and corruption and abuses of power throughout the federal government. But that is an impossible task. Every week, we begin by narrowing down our focus from 60 or 70 stories of graft and rule-breaking to a manageable number. You could write a book detailing this regime's under-the-radar outrages over a period of just a couple of weeks. Most of them pass unnoticed by the American people. It's just too much.
And with that, here's what made the cut this week...
"A senior Department of Homeland Security official told a Senate committee earlier this month that the department had not collected, exploited or analyzed information from the electronic devices or accounts of protesters in Portland, Ore," reports The Washington Post. But now "an internal DHS document... shows the department did have access to protesters’ electronic messages and that their conversations were written up in an “intelligence report” that was disseminated to federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, as well as state and local governments."
Following the federal crackdown in Portland and elsewhere, the Scottish government "has called for the immediate suspension of exports of riot gear, tear gas and rubber bullets to the United States," according to The Independent.
Last week, the UN Commissioner for Human Rights warned that Trump's goons were committing human rights violations by targeting journalists and peaceful protesters with violence.
The Trump campaign reportedly continued to pay White House Spox Kayleigh McEnany after she took her government position, "a clear ethical breach" that "could indicate violations of the laws governing campaign finance and payments to political appointees," according to Salon.
Per The Wall Street Journal, "Trump’s re-election effort is alleged to have paid more than $170 million to companies affiliated with former campaign manager Brad Parscale without disclosing the ultimate recipients of the money," which would be a rather egregious violation of campaign finance disclosure laws.
Javanka raked in "at least" $36 million in outside income last year, according to WaPo.The Daily Beast reports that Jared's haul included "as much as $3 million from projects benefiting from Trump administration initiatives in 2019, plus up to $1 million more in rent money from firms which later received COVID-related small business loans from the government."
And WaPo's editorial board blasted Trump for "blatantly boost[ing] his own hotel in the relief bill" floated by Senate Republicans this week.
❗️HUGE—an @NPR investigation uncovered info about private firm awarded contract taking over CDC hospital COVID data… https://t.co/YCzqLlKRyA— Eric Feigl-Ding (@Eric Feigl-Ding)1596121398.0
The House Foreign Affairs Committee subpoenaed records from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week, alleging that Pompeo is participating in the campaign to smear Joe Biden and that by turning over "documents to Senate Republicans but not House Democrats" he has "has turned the State Department into an arm of the Trump campaign."
This comes as Democrats accuse the intelligence community of suppressing information about foreign interference in the 2020 election on behalf of Donald trump.
"The Trump administration has lifted a major hurdle for development of a massive gold and copper mine in the wilds of Alaska despite fears that it will poison the world’s largest sockeye salmon run," according to The Los Angeles Times. "Pebble Mine, which would become an open pit the size of 460 football fields at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, has long been opposed by environmentalists and the commercial fishing industry." Under Obama, the EPA concluded that the mine would cause irreversible damage to an important fishery.
Finally, The New York Times reports that "Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said in a televised address that Iran will expand its nuclear program and will not negotiate with the United States, doubling down on his defiance of the Trump administration’s 'maximum pressure' policy." Having walked away from the historic multilateral agreement signed by his predecessor, Art of the Deal guy has little leverage and our traditional allies aren't eager to give him any.