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.
In 1974, as the Watergate scandal swirled around him, Richard Nixon was a hot mess. He was depressed, withdrawn and drinking heavily. He would rant and rave about his enemies, real and perceived, and the gross injustices that had befallen him just for committing a bunch of crimes. His aides and cabinet became increasingly alarmed--especially when, during a private meeting, Nixon told a group of representatives, “I can go in my office and pick up a telephone, and in 25 minutes, millions of people will be dead.”
According to historian Garrett Graff, then-Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger "recalled years later that in the final days of the Nixon presidency he had issued an unprecedented set of orders: If the president gave any nuclear launch order, military commanders should check with either him or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger before executing them." For the final day of Nixon's presidency, they just took the nuclear "football" away from him. And in the days following Nixon's departure from the White House, The Washington Post reported that Schlesinger had had informal conversations with top military brass in which he urged them to clear any deployment orders with him first.
The parallels to today are inescapable. Following his return from Walter Reed Medical Center, Trump spent the past week babbling about all sorts of obscure grievances that only people who consume a steady diet of conservative media could even understand. He called for all of his political opponents past and present to be arrested for unspecified crimes that he assumed his audience would be familiar with. He rambled about Lebron James being too tall to endorse Hillary Clinton (or maybe Hillary Clinton being too short to earn Lebron's endorsement). His first two interviews were with the friendliest media--Fox News Maria Bartiromo and Rush Limbaugh----but both ended with music being played over Trump's continued babbling.
Trump's currently down by 10 points nationally and five points in the swing-states, and he can't get the media to focus on anything but his catastrophic mismanagement of Covid-19--and how it's come back to bite him in the ass. Aides are frightened, Secret Service agents are leaking their frustrations to the press and Trump is still blathering on about Hillary Clinton's emails. Whether it's the mood swings associated with the powerful steroids he's been taking or just the stress of losing bigly to a guy he accuses of hiding in his basement, Trump's been even more erratic than usual of late.
It would be comical if it weren't real life. But it is, and hopefully someone is considering committing the kind of benevolent and patriotic act of treason that James Schlesinger and other senior Nixon officials modeled 46 years ago.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drafted a sweeping order last month requiring all passengers and employees to wear masks on all forms of public and commercial transportation in the United States, but it was blocked by the White House," according to The New York Times.
In related news, William Foege, a former CDC director "and public health titan who led the eradication of smallpox," asked the current CDC leader, Robert Redfield, "to expose the failed U.S. response to the coronavirus, calling on him to orchestrate his own firing to protest White House interference," according to USA Today.
Foege, who has not been a vocal critic of the agency's handling of the novel coronavirus, called on Redfield to openly address the White House’s meddling in the agency’s efforts to manage the COVID-19 crisis, then accept the political sacrifice that would follow. He recommended that Redfield commit to writing the administration's failures – and his own – so there would be a record that could not be dismissed.
As if working for a decompressing Donald Trump in a White House that's become a Petri dish brimming with the Coronavirus weren't bad enough, Politico reports that Trump's 30-year-old former body man and now Director of Personnel may ask all of his political appointees to tender their resignations before the election.
The personnel office would then decide which ones to accept and which to reject — giving President Donald Trump maximum flexibility in choosing his team in a possible second term.
The potential maneuver has angered some officials as appointees calculate their next career moves — weighing their loyalty to the president and his agenda against the danger that he may lose in November and leave them scrambling for gainful employment....
The officials said that once such a request for a resignation letter becomes widely known in the administration, it’s certain to hit morale. The personnel office’s move would backfire on the White House, they said, and cause disgruntled officials to leak damaging information on the president or his top aides.
"Two political appointees at the federal agency that oversees the Voice of America recently investigated one of its most prominent journalists to make the case he was biased against President Trump," according to NPR.
In so doing, the two men appear to have violated laws and regulations intended to protect the federally funded news outlet from political interference or influence. That has set off alarms within the VOA newsroom, already unnerved by investigations of coverage of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden by VOA's Urdu language service and the tenor of language used to describe his wife, Jill Biden, to introduce a segment on VOA's French to Africa language service.
It's not clear whether Trump's tweet calling for declassifying everything related to the Russia investigation was really an order, but according to Politico reporter Kyle Cheney, a judge hearing a Freedom of Information Act suit asking for the classified portions of the Mueller report to be made public asked the DOJ to weigh in on whether it has now been declassified by Trump on Twitter.
This certainly looks like a serious crime on its face. CNN reports:
The Justice Department said Wednesday that it "inadvertently" altered documents that it recently submitted to a federal court as part of its ongoing effort to dismiss the criminal case against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.
At the request of Attorney General William Barr, federal prosecutors began reviewing the Flynn case earlier this year and have been sharing internal FBI and Justice Department documents with Flynn's lawyers. After a recent batch of handwritten notes were released, two former FBI officials wrote to the court saying that their notes contained dates and markings that were not authentic.
The Intercept reports that "a full accounting of DHS agencies’ misconduct may be impossible not just in real time but well into the future. The Border Patrol has petitioned the National Archives and Records Administration to designate thousands of its internal records documenting abuse as 'temporary,' slating them for destruction in as early as four years. A similar request by ICE was granted last year." If Trump wins re-election, those records will never see the light of day.
Career HHS officials warned against separations. Career DHS officials warned against separations. Now we’ve learn… https://t.co/zGY0SxipUQ— Jacob Soboroff (@Jacob Soboroff)1602285678.0
Finally, we've noted in the past that the Trump regime is not only venal and cruel, but also petty and often deeply weird. Case in point: The US Fish and Wildlife Service holds an annual competition in which artists and wildlife enthusiasts submit pretty depictions of ducks for the duck stamps that the agency has sold to supplement its conservation work since the Great Depression.
According to The Audubon Society, this year's submissions were a bit different than in the past.
In scene after scene, wooden duck calls—which hunters use to lure in the birds—drift along the water or rest in the reeds. In several others, empty plastic shotgun shells litter the shallows and the shore.
This unusual abundance of hunting paraphernalia is the result of the Trump administration’s recent rewrite of the rules for the annual competition sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)... In May, the FWS changed the competition’s rules to make its permanent theme “celebrating our waterfowl hunting heritage.” And it added a requirement that all submitted artworks “must also include appropriate waterfowl hunting-related accessories or elements.”
Like we said, they're deeply weird.