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.
Four years ago, a victorious Donald Trump insisted that he had only lost the popular vote due to widespread fraud while raising tens of millions of dollars for his inauguration. Now, as his baseless, often goofy lawsuits get laughed out of courtroom after courtroom, a defeated Trump and his allies are raising tens of millions of dollars from his easily-enraged MAGA base to "stop the steal." And the lion's share of the $207 million Trump has raised since the election hasn't been spent on his legal campaign, but will instead fund his new political slush fund, among other things.
This week, Ivanka Trump was deposed in an ongoing investigation into how those inaugural dollars were spent. We know that they more than raised twice as much money for Trump's inaugural as Obama raised for his, and that the actual events were done on the cheap. We know that prosecutors allege that Trump's hotel charged his inaugural fund above market rates, and that a parallel investigation was undertaken by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. If and to what degree Trump got a cut of the $40 million in funds that weren't accounted for, is unknown.
And it may stay that way. During the 2016 campaign, The Wall Street Journal warned that Trump uses a "web of privately held LLCs and other entities to house his assets," a practice that make his financial stakes difficult to scrutinize and made him uniquely prone to conflicts of interest. The Journal offered this example:
President-elect Donald Trump owns a helicopter in Scotland.
To be more precise, he has a revocable trust that owns 99% of a Delaware limited liability company that owns 99% of another Delaware LLC that owns a Scottish limited company that owns another Scottish company that owns the 26-year-old Sikorsky S-76B helicopter, emblazoned with a red “TRUMP” on the side of its fuselage.
We were reminded of that opaque web of LLC's this week, when Mother Jones reported that the RNC's top vendor this election cycle was a company called Digital Consulting Group, which did not exist until 8 months ago, and appears to be a shadow firm. According to the report, "no other political campaign or committee has reported any payments at all to the company. While a number of organizations share the name, this particular Digital Consulting Group — a Delaware company founded Jan. 15, 2020 — does not appear to have a website, and a Delaware business entity search does not reveal an owner or location. The RNC's spending reports list a virtual address in Wilmington, but beyond that the company cannot be traced." We know the company raked in $42 million the RNC raised from Republican donors, but not exactly what that money was for.
The Washington Post reported this week that "Trump’s campaign and its affiliated committees spent more than $1.1 million at Trump’s own properties in the last weeks of the 2020 campaign — continuing a pattern of self-enrichment in which Trump has converted $6.7 million from his campaign donors into revenue for his businesses since taking office," and according to The Daily Beast, the RNC "paid more than $300,000 in October to a company"--a Delaware LLC--"owned by Donald Trump Jr. to purchase copies of his new, self-published book." It doesn't take a wild imagination to suspect that Trump or members of his family may have gotten a cut of that $42 million that went to Digital Consulting Group for ad-buys--even as the campaign went dark in key states in the final stretch of the campaign--but we may never know.
One thing that we do know for sure, based on years of reporting on Trump's various businesses, is that he's always working some shady angle with other people's money.
In related news...
Over 25 PPP loans worth more than $3.65 million were given to businesses with addresses at Trump and Kushner proper… https://t.co/yxYG3rQJwB— Emma Kinery (@Emma Kinery)1606916492.0
The analysis found that tenants paying rent at properties owned by the Trump Organization as well as the Kushner Companies, owned by the family of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, benefited financially from the program. These tenants received loans, which they then were required to put toward rent for the loans to be forgiven.
Speaking of unknowns, what is going on at the Pentagon?
Politico reports that "the White House removed nine members of the Pentagon's Defense Business Board on Friday and installed people loyal to President Donald Trump in their place, including presidential allies Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie."
"The Trump administration has refused to allow members of President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team to meet with officials at U.S. intelligence agencies that are controlled by the Pentagon, undermining prospects for a smooth transfer of power," according to The Washington Post.
This one, via CNN, isn't surprising, but it is alarming: "Trump's nominee to become a senior Pentagon official spread debunked conspiracies on Twitter that called Trump's election loss to Joe Biden a 'coup' attempt and shared tweets that suggest Trump should declare martial law."
"In a last-minute push, the Trump administration announced Thursday that it will auction off drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in just over a month, setting up a final showdown with opponents before President-elect Joe Biden takes office," reports NPR. "The sale, which is now set for Jan. 6, could cap a bitter, decades-long battle over whether to drill in the coastal plain, a pristine expanse that's home to migrating caribou, polar bears and other wildlife."
Expect to read lots of stories like this one, via WaPo, over the next six weeks:
"The Department of Transportation has set new standards for how it would determine whether airlines are being unfair or deceiving passengers, giving a boost to the industry in the Trump administration’s final weeks by issuing rules that consumer groups say will make it harder to rein in bad behavior and craft new protections."
This would not be the first time that the regime's malevolence has been undermined by its incompetence:
Census Bureau experts have uncovered serious flaws in a section of the 2020 head count that potentially affect the enumeration of millions, according to people familiar with the census operations, delaying still further the completion of state-by-state population totals that the White House has demanded before President Trump leaves office next month.
On Friday, people involved with the census but not authorized to make official comments said the latest delay — adding 10 to 14 more days to a process that was already set to end well beyond the Dec. 31 statutory deadline — appeared to doom that last-ditch rush...
The Trump administration needs the bureau’s state-by-state population totals if it is to fulfill the president’s plan to strip undocumented immigrants from the state counts used to reapportion the House of Representatives. Such a move, unprecedented in American history, would produce an older, whiter, more rural population base for reallocating House seats that would mostly benefit Republicans, analysts say...
ICE is a rogue agency, continued...
"Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators issued a subpoena this week demanding BuzzFeed News identify its sources — an extraordinary attempt by the government to interfere with a news outlet acting under the protections of the First Amendment, and a move that the agency’s former chief lambasted as 'embarrassing.'” More at Buzzfeed.
Finally, we leave you with some good news for Dreamers via The New York Times: "A federal judge on Friday ordered the Trump administration to fully restore an Obama-era program designed to shield young, undocumented immigrants from deportation, dealing what could be a final blow to President Trump’s long-fought effort to end the protections."