corruption

The Art of the Swamp (Smile Through)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Michael D. Cohen in New York City, 13 April 2018. (Detail of photo by Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

The setup, via Jonathan Chait:

Viktor Vekselberg. (Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images)Earlier this month, when Michael Avenatti reported that Michael Cohen’s Delaware shell company received half a million dollars from a firm linked to a Russian oligarch, it looked quite shady. But the firm, Columbus Nova, quickly asserted the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, had only a tangential relationship to it, and had not used it as a conduit to pay Cohen. Columbus Nova released a statement insisting it was “owned and controlled by Americans and not Vekselberg, and denied that Vekselberg had ever owned the company or used it as a conduit for payments.” So maybe it wasn’t a Russian bribe. Maybe it was just an investment firm, which happened to have a large Russian client, looking to get influence with the administration the way many businesses do.

As more information has dribbled out, the innocent explanation has looked less and less plausible.

And the punch line, from the New York Times:

Eleven days before the presidential inauguration last year, a billionaire Russian businessman with ties to the Kremlin visited Trump Tower in Manhattan to meet with Donald J. Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, according to video footage and another person who attended the meeting.

In Mr. Cohen’s office on the 26th floor, he and the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, discussed a mutual desire to strengthen Russia’s relations with the United States under President Trump, according to Andrew Intrater, an American businessman who attended the meeting and invests money for Mr. Vekselberg. The men also arranged to see one another during the inauguration festivities, the second of their three meetings, Mr. Intrater said.

Days after the inauguration, Mr. Intrater’s private equity firm, Columbus Nova, awarded Mr. Cohen a $1 million consulting contract, a deal that has drawn the attention of federal authorities investigating Mr. Cohen, according to people briefed on the inquiry.

(Rashbaum, Protess, and McIntire)

Such as it is, something about gravity goes here. There is a certain point at which it is not so much the notion of everything going downhill from there, but, rather, the appearance of trying to smile through a screaming, flaming plummet into a cursed abyss. No, really, there is even a clown car taxi joke in there having to do with a “series of coincidences” that really does sound like a its own manner of comedic setup about how there they all were minding their own business when all of a sudden . . . .

Something, something, #WhatTheyVotedFor.

____________________

Image notes: Top — Michael D. Cohen in New York City, 13 April 2018. (Detail of photo by Jeenah Moon/Reuters)  Right Viktor Vekselberg. (Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images)

Chait, Jonathan. “Did a Russian Oligarch Funnel Money From Russia to Michael Cohen?” New York. 25 May 2018.

Rashbaum, William K., Ben Protess, and Mike McIntire. “At Trump Tower, Michael Cohen and Oligarch Discussed Russian Relations”. The New York Times. 25 May 2018.

Advertisements

The Pruitt Watch (Peat Fire)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Detail of 'Lucifer', by Franz von Stuck, 1890.

While the idea of a rioting dumpster fire experienced brief vogue among media commentators trying to describe the Donald Trump presidency, the slowburning, filthy corruption of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt seems to describe something akin to a peat fire. The lede from the New York Times:

Since moving to Washington, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has attracted the attention of federal investigators because of his unusual association with lobbyists, including his rental of a condominium last year owned by the wife of a lobbyist with business before the E.P.A.

As a state senator in Oklahoma 15 years ago, Mr. Pruitt went even further: He bought a home in the state capital with a registered lobbyist who was pushing for changes to the state’s workers’ compensation rules—changes that Mr. Pruitt championed in the legislature.

And as with the condominium rental in Washington, Mr. Pruitt never publicly disclosed his financial relationship with the lobbyist, who, like Mr. Pruitt, lived in the home when in Oklahoma City on business.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment, on Capitol Hill, 26 April 2018, in Washington D.C. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)But if for some reason the Pruitt Watch seems frustrating, or even verges toward incomprehensible, perhaps the striking report from The Atlantic suggests a flashpoint:

As Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt faces a seemingly endless stream of scandal, his team is scrambling to divert the spotlight to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. And the White House isn’t happy about it.:

In the last week, a member of Pruitt’s press team, Michael Abboud, has been shopping negative stories about Zinke to multiple outlets, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the efforts, as well as correspondence reviewed by The Atlantic.

“This did not happen, and it’s categorically false,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said.

To the other, an unnamed White House official claiming knowledge of the situation explained: “Absolutely nothing Scott Pruitt did would surprise me.” And, yes, that last might as well include, the prospect of the EPA Administrator simply persisting and enduring, though the article did not.

(more…)

The Pruitt Watch (#swamped)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. (Photo: Jason Andrew/Getty Images)

The list from Steve Benen might, ‘twixt now and Monday, have become obsolete; it’s hard to tell, some days.

1. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s controversial travel habits.

2. The House Oversight Committee is also exploring the EPA chief’s use of public funds for first-class travel.

3. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s behind-the-scenes talks with the National Mining Association.

4. Pruitt’s exorbitant spending on an around-the-clock security detail is the subject of three inspector general investigations.

5. The House Oversight Committee is also examining the EPA chief’s security expenditures.

6. The Government Accountability Office has already investigated Pruitt for exceeding federal spending limits when he bought a $43,000 phone booth for his office.

7. The White House Office of Management and Budget is also investigating the phone booth.

8. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s use of funds set aside for the Safe Drinking Water Act and diverting the money to give generous raises to two of his top aides.

9. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s four-day trip to Morocco late last year.

10. The Government Accountability Office is investigating Pruitt’s ouster of scientists from the EPA’s science advisory committee.

11. The Government Accountability Office is investigating whether Pruitt broke lobbying laws with comments he made to the National Cattleman’s Beef Association.

12. The House Oversight Committee is investigating Pruitt’s living arrangement at a lobbyist’s condo.

13. And as noted above, the EPA’s inspector general is now also taking a closer look at Pruitt’s time at that condo.

Before the day was out, the msnbc blogger found himself adding to the list, sort of, noting a “controversy that should become the 14th” in a Reuters report describing a financial hardship waiver Pruitt’s EPA granted to an Oklahoma facility for a company owned by former Trump administration hand Carl Icahn:

The waiver enables Icahn’s CVR Energy Inc (CVI.N) to avoid tens of millions of dollars in costs related to the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. The regulation is meant to cut air pollution, reduce petroleum imports and support corn farmers by requiring refiners to mix billions of gallons of biofuels into the nation’s gasoline and diesel each year.

And it does, you know, just keep going downhill.

(more…)

The Pruitt Watch (#swampstyle)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees in Washington, D.C., 21 February 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The lede from Bloomberg ought to be enough—

President Donald Trump called his embattled environmental chief Monday to assure him his job is safe amid mounting scrutiny of Scott Pruitt’s travel, hiring practices and an unorthodox condo rental arrangement last year, according to two administration officials.

—to beg the question: So, the clock is ticking, then, right?

(more…)

Your Tweet of the Day: McCabe Memos

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

This is the thing about melodrama and hyperbole:

Republican source to me just now: “The McCabe Memos are the new Pentagon Papers.” #MuellerTime

Joy Reid

For all the times Republicans bawled about the Obama administration as a Watergate-valence scandal, it is easy enough to be wary of an invocation so spectacular as the Pentagon Papers. Nonetheless, we might recall that melodrama and hyperbole are precisely #WhatTheyVotedFor, even if it hurts who they voted for.

And this does not begin to account for the long Republican habit of challenging thresholds, because the hard part about explaining that is found in the aspect of what is appropriate or not to speculate, project, conclude, or otherwise say about our neighbors.

(more…)

What They Voted For: Why Government Doesn’t Work (Educational Remix)

#wellduh | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Betsy Devos (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

It is said, sometimes, that there are no stupid questions, and we all know better, but that really does not seem the problem challenging Steve Benen when his consideration of Education Secretary Betsy Devos would seem to wonder after the obvious:

There’s a reason Betsy DeVos doesn’t sit down for a lot of interviews.

My question, however, is for the 51 Republicans who put elevated her to her current post: any regrets?

Of course not; they’re Republicans. This is the party that tells us government does not work; we ought not be surprised, and instead remember that Secretary DeVos only “embarrasses herself (and the 50 senators who voted to confirm her)” according to contexts by which competence and functionality are considered admirable, desirable, or, at the very least, a necessary component according to purpose. To the other, it seems worth reminding that even into the twenty-first century it was inappropriate to presume so poorly of public servants as we would to account for the incompetence, corruption, and sheer stupidity of the Trump administration.

Sixty-two million nine hundred eighty-four thousand eight hundred twenty-five. This is what they voted for.

____________________

Image note: Betsy Devos (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Benen, Steve. “DeVos embarrasses herself (and the 50 senators who voted to confirm her)”. msnbc. 12 March 2018.

The Republican Character (Even More Fuckless)

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees in Washington, D.C., 21 February 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

This is unsurprising, though perhaps saying so risks overstating the point. Via Washington Post:

The EPA inspector general’s office announced in August that it had opened an inquiry into Pruitt’s frequent travel to his home state of Oklahoma. The internal watchdog at the time said its investigation was triggered by “congressional requests and a hotline complaint, all of which expressed concerns about Administrator Pruitt’s travel—primarily his frequent travel to and from his home state of Oklahoma at taxpayer expense.”

The probe was triggered in part by findings from the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit group that detailed through public records that Pruitt had spent nearly half of the days in March, April and May in Oklahoma. Initially, EPA investigators said they planned to audit Pruitt’s travel records, as well as those of his security and top aides, through the end of July.

But on Friday, the inspector general’s office said it would expand that inquiry to include all of Pruitt’s travel through the end of September, and not just trips to Oklahoma.

(more…)

The Republican Character (Flying Fuckless)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo)

This should be surprising. No, really, at some point it seems significant that this basic, commonsense, “Republicans just spent twenty-five years complaining about all this!” stupidity of two-bit, everyday corruption in the Trump administration is anything but surprising.

A summer visit that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made to the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team is now under two investigations by federal watchdogs.

The Interior Department’s inspector general has added concerns about Zinke’s meeting with the new NHL team and use of a private jet from Las Vegas to an investigation it opened Friday looking into the secretary’s travel, an IG spokesperson confirmed to CNN Wednesday.

The Office of Special Counsel has also opened a Hatch Act investigation into Zinke’s meeting with the hockey team.

The OSC probe is the sixth known investigation into travel by the administration’s cabinet members.

(Green)

This is not really so obscure. In the long history of abusing the -gate suffix, there was “Travelgate”. This had to do with Republicans complaining about Clinton White House hirings in the Travel Office. Something goes here about Bill Clinton’s successor, political hiring, and that bit even ties into a Republican email scandal, if you can believe it. No, really. Private email server. Twenty-two million missing emails discovered right at the time we needed to know what was going on about the replacement of career bureaucrats with political favors. An actual travel scandal? To the one, we ought not be surprised. To the other, Republicans just aren’t trying. For all the trauma they drag the nation through in fevered scandalmongering, Republicans owe us an appearance of trying to at least pretend an appearance of giving a flying fuck.    (more…)

Inward Focus (Split Canyon Distraction Mix)

[#resist]

Protesters demonstrate on 16 September 2017 in Tunis against parliament passing an amnesty law for officials accused of corruption under toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. (Photo: Agence France-Presse)

There is nearly a joke waiting here—

Hundreds of Tunisians protested on Saturday in the streets of the capital against a widely contested new law that grants officials from the former regime involved in corruption amnesty from prosecution.

Tunisia’s parliament on Wednesday approved a law protecting officials accused of graft during the rule of autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, triggering angry protests by the opposition and activists.

Waving flags and banners saying “No to forgiveness”, “Resisting against mafia rule”, around 1,500 people marched through the capital’s central Avenue Habib Bourguiba in the company of opposition leaders.

After months of protests, the law was amended from an original draft which would have also granted amnesty to corrupt businessmen. Now they will be liable to prosecution for crimes committed during Ben Ali’s 24-year rule.

(Reuters)

—because it should not be quite so easy for Americans to empathize so proximally.    (more…)

Just Another One of Those Things No Republican Has the Courage to Answer For

#WhatTheyComplainedAbout | #WhatTheyVotedFor

U.S. President Donald Trump dances with a sword as he arrives to a welcome ceremony by Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at Al Murabba Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 20, 2017. (Photo: Thomson/Reuters)

“The announcement that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will donate money to her fund was a ‘pay to play’ far more blatant than anything Hillary Clinton ever dreamed of.”

Anne Applebaum

The lack of complaint from Republicans and Trump supporters about the sort of thing they usually complain about is, historically speaking, precisely unsurprising.

____________________

Image note: U.S. President Donald Trump dances with a sword as he arrives to a welcome ceremony by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud at Al Murabba Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 20 May 2017. (Photo: Thomson/Reuters)

Appelbaum, Anne. “Trump’s bizarre and un-American visit to Saudi Arabia”. The Washington Post. 21 May 2017.