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 the course of one week, we've moved from The New York Post's supposed "blockbuster" proving that Hunter Biden had arranged a meeting between an official with Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian gas company whose board the younger Biden sat on, and then-Vice President Joe Biden to a contrived controversy over Twitter banning the story from its platform because it contained personal email addresses and phone numbers and we ended up with reports about Rudy Giuliani's apparent involvement in a clumsy scheme to launder hacked emails through a Seth Rich-truther at a computer shop, the likelihood that the emails were forged and the FBI investigating the whole thing as a disinformation campaign undertaken by foreign adversaries. When they rolled out the "story" on Monday, they probably didn't expect headlines like "Rudy: Only ‘50/50’ Chance I Worked With a ‘Russian Spy’ to Dig Dirt on Bidens" to be prevalent by Saturday.
It's been a Helluva ride.
One should keep in mind that while the conservative media have run dozens of stories this week with "smoking gun" in their headlines, there's absolutely nothing here. That Hunter Biden leveraged his family name and connections he'd made at Yale to land a cushy directorship is sleazy but not illegal, unethical or uncommon among wealthy and powerful families. Burisma was a shady operation, and both Hunter and Joe Biden have acknowledged it was a bad decision for that reason, but the nontroversy rests on the entirely false claim that Hunter's association with Burisma played some role in the Obama administration's efforts, along with those of their European allies, to persuade the Ukrainian government to remove Viktor Shokin, the country's corrupt top prosecutor. And nothing "revealed" this week, by the New York Post (or other outlets like Breitbart), adds any weight to the previously debunked claim.
And while the legacy media have taken a lot of justifiable criticism for their coverage of the Trump presidency, this episode shows that they have learned a thing or two. Peter Schweizer, the former Breitbart editor, got a ton of mainstream coverage of his Uranium One non-scandal in 2016, even after it had been widely debunked. This time, the press has not only treated a similarly fact-free smear with appropriate skepticism, it's pursued the story of how it came to be. That's a significant change.
The Washington Post buried a lede this week when it reported that "maverick scientists who call for allowing the coronavirus to spread freely at “natural” rates among healthy young people while keeping most aspects of the economy up and running have found an audience inside the White House."
The real story is that the White House acknowledged that this has long been the regime's policy. According to the report, "a senior administration official told reporters in a background briefing call Monday that the proposed strategy — which has been denounced by other infectious-disease experts and called 'fringe' and 'dangerous' by National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins — supports what has been Trump’s policy for months."
Meanwhile, while the economy melts down, additional funding for testing and contact-tracing has become an obstacle to a deal on a relief bill. And The New York Times reports that the White House's opposition is being driven by the same crackpots referenced in The Post story. Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist who has gained prominence in the Trump regime because of his relentless efforts to downplay the seriousness of the virus, along with "other administration officials playing influential roles in the government’s virus response," say "that more widespread testing would infringe on Americans’ privacy and hurt the economy, by keeping potentially infected workers who show no symptoms from reporting to their jobs."
Meanwhile, "the FDA is resisting Trump administration pressure to rebrand the emergency authorization of a Covid-19 vaccine as a “pre-licensure,” over worries that it would appear the agency is politicizing its scientific determinations," according to Politico.
The $200 cards the Trump administration promised to send to older voters to defray the cost of prescription drugs won't likely reach households before the election, the Wall Street Journal reports.
One of the reasons for the delay, Politico reports, is that "the health department’s top lawyer is warning in an internal memo that President Donald Trump's plan to give seniors $200 discount cards to buy prescription drugs could violate election law."
Not all of Trump's clumsy attempts to buy votes with piles of taxpayer dollars are going so poorly. The New York Times reports:
For the American farmers President Trump counts on for support, the government money is flowing faster than ever.
Federal payments to farmers are projected to hit a record $46 billion this year as the White House funnels money to Mr. Trump’s rural base in the South and Midwest ahead of Election Day.
The gush of funds has accelerated in recent weeks as the president looks to help his core supporters who have been hit hard by the double whammy of his combative trade practices and the coronavirus pandemic. According to the American Farm Bureau, debt in the farm sector is projected to increase by 4 percent to a record $434 billion this year and farm bankruptcies have continued to rise across the country.
Reuters reports that a federal prosecutor in California who recently resigned "became the third career Justice Department official to claim in a recent newspaper letter or op-ed that Attorney General William Barr has politicized the department."
Phillip Halpern, a 36-year department veteran who prosecuted Republican former Representatives Duncan Hunter and Randy Cunningham in California, criticized Barr in the print edition of San Diego Union-Tribune on Thursday and said he had resigned.
“Confirming his scorn for honest apolitical prosecutors, Barr refers to some as ‘headhunters’ who pursue ‘ill-conceived charges against prominent political figures,’” Halpern wrote.
In related news, The Wall Street Journal reports that "more than 1,000 current and former officers of an elite disease-fighting program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have signed an open letter expressing dismay at the nation’s public-health response to the Covid-19 pandemic and calling for the federal agency to play a more central role.
“The absence of national leadership on Covid-19 is unprecedented and dangerous,” said the letter, signed by current and former officers of the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service of outbreak investigators. “CDC should be at the forefront of a successful response to this global public health emergency.”