This Is Not Okay

I know well that America is a democracy and I should respect people’s political opinions and their choice of candidate. After all, they are in their right on what to believe and who to vote for. If they disagree with me, it’s not big deal. However, while I am perfectly fine with people being conservative and Republican, I am absolutely not okay with them supporting a demagogue like Donald Trump. Now given that I have friends, family, neighbors, and other people in my life who support this fucking piece of shit, I try to think of them as decent people. Besides, while I may disagree with them, my hostility to Trump has nothing to do with how I view them or their beliefs. When I attack Trump, I don’t intend to attack them personally save their own blind allegiance to this Cheeto-faced fascist and willingness to let him get away with shit that would put an average American in jail. Let alone a president.

Rather, I don’t respect Trump as president because I don’t respect him as a man. Based on my research on him, I think he’s a sociopath with dangerous authoritarian impulses while he’s said and done many indefensible things. He’s an incompetent president who expects lavish praise without working for it and responds viciously to criticism. He doesn’t care about anything but his own interests and has no concern for how many bridges he burns to fulfill them. He takes no responsibility for his actions and will go out of his way to avoid the consequences. He’s a pathological liar who shows no affinity for the truth, democracy, American values, or the rule of law. And I know full well his racist Twitter tirades and rallies are part of his con to enact pro-corporate policies to satisfy his rich corporate donors and screw us all. Furthermore, he’s basically the epitome of America’s worst and bring out the worst in his acolytes. To have him in the White House is not okay.

But given that Donald Trump’s approval rating is sky high among Republicans who stand by him despite all the horrible stuff he’s done, I’m not so sure anymore. And given that Republicans have violated democratic norms to remain in power, I’m not sure if they believe in the rule of law and democracy. Or at least the rule of law and democracy when it’s not advantageous for them. Nonetheless, since Trump has assumed de facto leadership of the Republican Party, he’s somehow made the party into his own image and has led his supporters down to the point of no return. The fact Republicans are willing to excuse Trump’s loathsome conduct and actions greatly disgusts me. Because like I said before, supporting Trump in any capacity means accepting the unacceptable, defending the indefensible, excuse the inexcusable, tolerating the intolerable, denying the undeniable, and justifying the unjustifiable.

No more did my mantra ring true than on Sunday, July 14, 2019 when Donald Trump issued a series of racist tweets claiming that 4 Democratic congresswomen of color should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” He then tweeted, “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.” This is wrong in so many ways. For one, 3 of the 4 of these congresswomen were born in the US. One of them being New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who’s spent most of her life not far from where Trump lives. While Somali refugee and Minnesota US Representative Ilhan Omar came to this country at 6 and has been a US citizen for most of her adult life. Second, they’re Congresswomen so telling people how our government should be run is like a cop telling people how police should behave. Because that’ basically part of their job. Third, there’s nothing wrong with discussing what’s wrong with our country and what we can do better. Still, we can dissect from these tweets that Trump really doesn’t like having people of color in elected offices who don’t kneel down and kiss his ass.

Donald Trump’s attacks on these congresswomen extended into Monday, July 15, claiming that they owe the country an apology for their “horrible & disgusting actions.” Since what did these women do to him that was so bad besides having darker skin and hurting his ego? During a press conference later that day, Trump claimed he wasn’t concerned about backlash against his racist remarks or his use of a long-known racist trope saying, “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me. And all I’m saying — they want to leave, they can leave. Now, it doesn’t say, ‘Leave forever.’ It says, ‘Leave if you want.’” Just because many people may agree with what you say, doesn’t mean you need not be concerned. This is especially the case when some of those people wear white hooded robes and red swastika armbands, like many Trump supporters do.
Though Donald Trump’s ire targets have mostly gone unnamed, but the remarks clearly address Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar. All are freshman progressive women of color who’ve attracted considerable attention for their outspoken critiques of DC politics in general and Trump, in particular. Called “the squad” by reporters, some of the women have been locked in a fight with Democratic leadership on a recent border bill and the Democratic Party’s direction. But Trump’s comments have shifted attention away from that fight and to his longstanding racism and frequent attacks on high-profile people of color, which has not only drawn criticism from Democratic Party officials and foreign political leaders. While Trump’s remarks fit a broader pattern of attacks against his critics of color, with him regularly questioning their patriotism in an effort to undercut their arguments. Ultimately in his worldview and approach to the presidency, Trump sees his ability to inflame cultural and racial tensions as a political strength.

The media’s mixed reactions to these inflammatory remarks raised questions, with some outlets hesitating (namely Fox News) to call Donald Trump’s comments or actions as racist. Despite that their blatantly obvious. But even if some in the media don’t want to clearly acknowledge it (cough, cough, Fox News, talking to you), Trump has long positioned American identity as something only whites naturally inherit and conditionally granted to other races. While he often wields patriotism and citizenship as a cudgel he uses against people of color. His comments on the Democratic congresswomen show he’ll keep relying on this argument.

As I said, Minnesota US Representative Ilhan Omar is a Somali refugee, a naturalized US citizen, and one of the few Muslim women in Congress. Elected in 2018 by an overwhelming majority, Omar’s story embodies elements of the American Dream. Naturally, Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized her. Particularly, he’s framed her critiques (especially of Israel), as nothing more than open hate for the country and its main ally, the United States. As Trump said in the spring, “She’s been very disrespectful, frankly, to Israel,” adding that he believed Omar has been, “extremely unpatriotic and extremely disrespectful to our country.” Soon after, Omar reported receiving death threats. That week, Trump signaled out Omar again, claiming she “hates Jews” and has praised al-Qaeda. Except she doesn’t hate Jews and never praised al-Qaeda at all. She may have said something that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic, but she apologized for it. Nonetheless, the criticism closely mirrors Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s recent critique that Omar is “living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country.” The other women included in Trump’s tirade have also faced heavy criticism during their time in Congress. In addition to Ilhan Omar, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib “have been three of the most scrutinized, most frequently attacked new members of Congress,” according to Vox.

Two days later at an evening rally in Greenville, North Carolina, Donald Trump’s fans expressed their full-throated agreement with their cult leader. Trump himself spent on an extended Ilhan Omar rant:

“Representative Omar blamed the United States for the terrorist attacks on our country, saying that terrorism is a reaction to our involvement in our people’s affairs. … Omar laughed that Americans speak of al-Qaeda in a menacing tone and remarked that ‘you don’t say America with this intensity. You say al-Qaeda makes you proud. Al-Qaeda makes you proud! You don’t speak that way about America.’ And at a press conference just this week, when asked whether she supported al-Qaeda — that’s our enemy, that’s our enemy, they are a very serious problem that we take care of, but they always seem to come along somewhere — she refused to answer. … [S]he looks down on contempt on the hard-working Americans, saying ignorance is pervasive in many parts of this country. And obviously and importantly, Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic attacks.”

Except that none of that is true. Ilhan Omar didn’t do any of that. Furthermore, if there is anyone who looks down hard-working Americans with contempt, it’s Donald Trump given what I know about his shady business practices. Still, it’s the “anti-Semitic attacks” that promoted chants of “send her back.” Trump basked in them. Soon after, he told the audience, “if they don’t love it, tell them to leave it.” This moment arguably represents a new low in Trump’s long history of racial demagoguery. That Trump’s fans are fully on board with his racist remarks is no surprise. Polling conducted following Trump’s racist attacks among Republicans rose after he made them. But the moment indicates how ugly the 2020 campaign might get, especially amid reports that Trump thinks making racist attacks on Democratic women of color as a way of driving up turnout among white grievance voters, and thus a key part of his reelection strategy. Furthermore, Trump believes painting the Squad as representative (which isn’t the case), will effectively prove the Democrats are unhinged Socialists bent on destroying America.

Yet, that chant demanding that a naturalized citizen and congresswoman be “sent back” to her native Somalia booming through thousands in the audience, disturbingly illustrates the particular fusion of racism and authoritarianism that defines Trumpism as a political movement. “Send her back” isn’t the first such chant to break out at a Donald Trump event. We remember “lock her up” when Trump supporters demanded jailing Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. Well, “lock her up” and “send her back” together demonstrate beyond doubt that the Trumpian view sees the law is a vehicle for punishing political enemies and minority groups. In the Trumpian imagination, political opponents aren’t mere rivals but existential threats aligned with anti-American elements (like immigrants and minority groups) in a bid to undermine everything they love and cherish about America. As such, Hillary Clinton and Ilhan Omar shouldn’t merely be electorally defeated, they must be crushed. If that means abusing the state’s power and twisting the law, so be it. Cross-bred with bigotry, the authoritarian impulse has helped birthed some of the Trump era’s worst excesses from the Muslim ban to family separations to the failed attempt to circumvent the courts and place a citizenship question on the census. The Republican Party has permitted and made such behavior possible. While its leaders either willingly tolerate Donald Trump’s white revanchism in exchange for tax cuts and Brett Kavanaugh, or worse, actively agree with it. Nonetheless, Trump’s attack on Omar appears to be a preview of his broader 2020 strategy and there’s every reason to expect things to get worse.

According to The Atlantic, Donald Trump’s “go back to your country” argument continues a line of racist attacks that people of color have faced for generations. As Adam Serwer writes, “When Trump told these women to ‘go back,’ he was not making a factual claim about where they were born. He was stating his ideological belief that American citizenship is fundamentally racial, that only white people can truly be citizens, and that people of color, immigrants in particular, are only conditionally American.” The comments also continue a pattern since the Department of Justice indicted him and his father for racist housing discrimination in the 1970s, Trump’s racism has been well documented for decades. One notable example was when he called for the executions of the Central Park Five, a group of black and Latino teenage boys who were wrongly convicted (and later exonerated) for raping a white female jogger. Trump has still not apologized for a decade after the men’s exoneration. The closest analogue to Trump’s most recent remarks can be seen in his support for birtherism, the completely baseless conspiracy theory that then-President Barack Obama wasn’t an American citizen. It was one of Trump’s most potent efforts to tie race to citizenship and national identity, with Trump arguing that the nation’s first black president wasn’t simply just outside of the American political mainstream, but stood outside American national identity entirely. Since then, Trump has honed his argument and deployed it against different groups. At his 2015 presidential campaign launch, he referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals.” In 2016, he claimed US-born athlete and then-49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick should “find a country that works better for him” rather than protest police violence during NFL games. From a black college basketball dad to a grieving Muslim Gold Star family, Trump has painted his critics of color as un-American instigators.

Donald Trump has often and openly argued that that he views whiteness as a core feature of American identity. While his theory of nationalism’s automatically applied to white Americans, those with other identities like African Americans, Latinos, Muslim Americans, and recent immigrants have been quickly ostracized and treated as “other.” During his presidency, Trump has only further refined his white supremacist message. When a person of color criticizes him, Trump often presents them as ungrateful, disrespectful, and most importantly for his argument, unpatriotic. Whether it’s San Juan’s mayor, black women, or kneeling NFL players, and anyone in between, Trump has argued that their criticism is tantamount to openly hating America and its ideals. Despite that his critics of color don’t hate America while their criticism of Trump is deeply based on US ideals and how our country often fails to fulfill them. Rather, their criticism of Trump isn’t about hating America but wanting it to be a better place. They also just hate Trump and how he’s an anathema to these American ideals, especially when spouting his white supremacist rhetoric.

Alongside these arguments, Donald Trump has pursued policies that have punished many of these same groups. His 2018 tirade of “shithole countries” (a reference to places like Haiti and several countries in Africa), came as he fought to limit diversity visas and worked to end temporary protected status for several countries. While at the same time, Trump has conversely praised immigrants from predominantly white countries like Norway and previously called an all-white but mostly non-American NHL team “incredible patriots.” Trump’s attacks the perceived lack of patriotism of kneeling NFL players’ protest against police violence followed the Justice Department’s move away from enforcing police reform agreements with agencies that have a history of police misconduct. More recently, Trump’s attacks on 4 congresswomen came as these brave lawmakers criticized the US border migrant detention camps’ brutal conditions and as Trump ended his fight to get a citizenship question onto the 2020 US Census.

In doing so, Donald Trump has amplified a practice of using racist attacks on people of color that’s long occurred in American politics. But unlike in prior years when politicians would subtly deploy these attacks via dog whistles, Trump has largely abandoned coded language in favor of overt taunting, even as he argues using policy targeting specific minority groups as not racist or discriminatory. Despite being obviously otherwise. As the New York Times writes, “Much of Trump’s agenda rests on this idea that the boundaries of rights and citizenship are conterminous with race. Those within Trump’s boundaries enjoy the fruits of American freedom, while those outside them face the full force of American repression.”

In many ways, Donald Trump has taken advantage of America’s inability to discuss race. Even now after years of arguments that we really should, some national media outlets (like Fox News) and politicians keep hesitating to identify Trump’s remarks and actions as racist. When NYT’s Jemelle Bouie openly criticized Trump’s tweets as racist, earlier Times articles suggests his recent tweets played into a “racial fire” or used other euphemisms. Other outlets like CBS and NPR called Trump’s remarks “incendiary” or “racially charged.” When outlets called Trump’s comments racist, many hedged by relying on Democrats’ quotes criticizing him. Figures like Fox News’ Brit Hume called Trump’s remarks “nativist” and “xenophobic,” but failed to meet racism’s definition.

Meanwhile, Republican politicians looked away from the issue entirely. Much of this is due to a deeper problem on how America discusses racism. Too many Americans (particularly whites) rely on a racism definition focuses on individual acts intentionally committed by “bad” people. And it relies on a kind of racism that white people can clearly identify when they see or hear. Since I’m a Catholic leftist and a history major, I have no problem identifying Trump’s remarks as racism on this definition alone. Since Trump is a despicable person who’s used racist remarks to stir his political base or deflect attention from other scandals. And he’s done very racist things in the past that I can see as intentional. Yet, such narrow obscures the ways racism can occur even without slurs or obvious racist remarks as seen in Gentlemen’s Agreement. But I also think that many white people don’t see Trump’s comments as racist is that they don’t see him as that kind of person or agree with his comments. And I think politicians and the media pander to that audience.

Yet, it also helps explain how so many reporters and politicians can witness Donald Trump’s racism on full display and still not identify it as such. Analyzing Trump’s racist tweet coverage, the Columbian Journalism Review noted how many older outlets still struggle to see the term “racism” as a factual descriptor, adding there’s still “a residual, old-school squeamishness in newsrooms around charged words that—before Trump broke all the rules, at least—smacked of opinion or activism.” And it’s hard to separate this deep-seated belief from the media’s constant struggle to attract and maintain reporters of color. But this understanding of racism shows why some outlets and writers find it difficult to respond to Trump’s openly racist comments. In recent times, racism has come to be treated as an epithet among white people, with many arguing to be called racist is as bad as experiencing racism itself. Except that it’s not. That can really harm our ability to grasp the impact of Trump’s comments. But it also reflects a strong cognitive dissonance, a divide between what America currently looks like for marginalized communities and what America has long professed to be for all its citizens. As Adam Sewer explained, the recent discussion of racism “is not, fundamentally, a battle over facts, but a clash of values.” The question is how this clash will be understood moving forward.

Democracy depends and survives on the law’s fair and neutral application. You can’t arrest people without good reason to believe they broke the law. And you especially can’t arrest them simply because they’re a political rival. In theory, both major American parties are committed to this idea as it’s one of those “norms” you always hear about. But since Donald Trump’s rise, it’s become increasingly clear that Republicans and their voters are more willing to call for bending the system’s power to partisan, racialized ends. “Lock her up” isn’t merely an expression of a false belief that Hillary Clinton’s email scandal was criminal (it wasn’t, save maybe the overblown media coverage on it). “Send her back” isn’t the result of a bullshit theory that Ilhan Omar isn’t legally an American citizen (she is). Instead, these chants are meant to signal that Clinton and Omar are threats to the body politic who need to be purged if it’s to be preserved.

Donald Trump, along with numerous Republicans and Fox News hosts, have made this an explicit rhetoric feature. At a Florida June rally, Trump cast the Democratic Party as a threat to his supporters’ very lives. He thundered, “They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.” When you believe in this bullshit, there’s no longer any need to adhere to the liberal theory of law as a neutral protector of freedoms. In it’s place, you get the “send her back” legal theory: the notion that the purpose of holding legal power is defeating your enemies, an anti-democratic theory that Trump has encouraged in his rallies for years. Trump originated these chants when he openly mused about prosecuting Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign and has recently spent some time telling Ilhan Omar to go back to “her” country. The broader Republican apparatus including elected officials and their conservative media allies, didn’t condemn the chants or the so-called “presidential” statements encouraging them. Quite the opposite, in fact. For instance, future Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn led the crowd in a “lock her up” litany at the 2016 Republican National Convention. And this is not okay.

One thing we learned from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is that Donald Trump’s desire to prosecute Hillary Clinton isn’t an idle threat. Mueller’s report documents 3 separate occasions when Trump attempted to strong-arm then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions into launching a criminal investigation into the former Secretary of State. In March 2019, he openly hoped that current Attorney General William Barr would “do what’s fair” when it comes to going after the woman he routinely called Crooked Hillary. A deeply authoritarian attitude has taken root it one of our major parties. It manifests not just in words but also in actions. And that is not okay.

The Trump movement’s authoritarianism style can’t be fully understood without taking its racism into account. Donald Trump has labeled Mexicans “rapists,” invented stories about New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11 (they weren’t), and said there were “very fine people” among the white supremacists in Charlottesville. His administration has attempted to ban large numbers of Muslims from entering the country, held Latino migrant children in squalid detention centers, and gutted the Justice Department’s civil rights division. Study after study has found that Trump’s most loyal voters are defined by unusually high levels of racial resentment and animus. According to Axios, Trump himself seems to think that his 2020 reelection depends on rallying racist voters to his cause with outbursts like the one targeting Ilhan Omar. Racism powers authoritarianism. It helps identify who the enemies are, determines which people need to be crushed by Donald Trump and his Republican allies. The authoritarian idea of using the law to punish political enemies and the racist idea that a rising nonwhite population threatens something essential about America (like whiteness) have together been at Trumpism’s core almost since the get-go. And this is not okay.

Since Ilhan Omar is a black immigrant, Muslim woman, and Democratic Congresswoman is such a movement’s perfect target. Of course, she’s a naturalized citizen so Donald Trump can’t just order ICE to “send her back.” But the call for her deportation has a symbolic purpose as a rallying cry for those who feel Trump ought to be targeting people like her for legal sanction. In other words, it’s an extreme expression of fear of losing white America’s dominant status and a willingness to consider even authoritarian means to slow or reverse this decline. The campaign promise to bar Muslims from entering the United States, made manifest almost immediately after Donald Trump took office via the “travel ban” executive order. This initial policy was so broadly worded that the seemed to bar green card holders from the travel ban countries from reentering if they happen to be out of it. This is a moral absurdity: How could it be possibly fair to bar people who’ve already had permission to reside long-term in the US? But it makes sense if you view the law’s purpose through a “send her back” lens. According to that, the purpose of the legal tools isn’t to be fair but to hurt the right people like Muslims. And this is not okay.

Donald Trump had to quickly back down from the ban’s application to green card holders, and many of the other of the first travel ban’s most sweeping parts were struck down in court. But the pattern that the law be pushed and twisted as far as possible to exclude nonwhite individuals from the physical nation or its political life was set. That pattern has grown to include the Trump administration separating children from their parents at the border and making it difficult to seek asylum despite America’s commitments to openness under international and domestic laws. It explains why Trump attempted to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census, a question to suppress the number of immigrants counted in it. When the courts told him he couldn’t, he briefly tried to do it anyway. It remains to be seen what further actions Trump will take along these lines up until the 2020 election and the long-term consequences of such actions for American democracy. But the fact is that Trump appears to see the “send her back” chanters as his base, and the GOP is perfectly willing to let him court them because they care more about beating Democrats. There’s no reason to believe that any of this will end well. And this is not okay.

However, we must accept the fact that Donald Trump will eventually screw the “send her back” crowd, too if he hasn’t already. Sure loud racist chants may be music to Trump’s ears but money from corporate donors speak louder. Trump may cast himself as a champion of the typical white American Christian who’s beset by various alien forces by politically correct allies. But if you follow Trump’s business career, you’ll realize he’s actually a scam artist who profits from his fans’ misplaced trust even as president. From Paul Ryan’s speakership to Mick Mulvaney’s tenure as White House Chief of Staff and Federalist Society judiciary domination, a major agenda of the Trump administration and the Republican Party is to completely neuter or dismantle government institutions that are supposed to check the wealthy and powerful’s ability to run roughshod over the rest of us. Under Trump, polluters can pollute more, scammers can scam more, bankers can go back to running the risks that blew up the global economy, and no legislation that would impair the rich and powerful’s privileges can pass. Beyond acts of formal deregulation, Trump’s scaled back on enforcing existing laws so much that law firms seem to be panicking about the possibility that some clients won’t bother to hire them anymore.

No less than Donald Trump’s racism, this plutocratic agenda is an absolute disaster for America’s immigrants and communities of color who are generally lower-income and more vulnerable to corporate abuses and pollution than more privileged people. But critically, it’s also an absolute disaster for the vast majority of white people, too. There are few people who benefit from a combination of more pollution and less economic competition. And there’s no way for the tax cutting to balance that out unless you’re part of that tiny minority of the public whose income is mostly derived from stock ownership. Trump’s politics of racial division aren’t particularly popular. But it’s still true that framing Trump as a symbol of white privilege is almost certainly more favorable to him than framing him as a guy whose governance has concrete and material implications for Americans of all ethnic backgrounds. Racism’s function in American politics has always been in part to serve as a kind of scam. The Jim Crow South had the lowest standards of living for white people of any American region alongside even lower standards for African Americans. Trump is nothing more than a connoisseur of cons and scams. And that is not okay.

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The Border Concentration Camps

At any given time, for the past several weeks, the US Border Patrol has held more than 2,000 children in custody without their parents. Legally, border agents aren’t supposed to hold them for more than 3 days before being sent to the Department of Health and Human Services as they’re responsible for finding their closest US relative to house them while their immigration are adjudicated. However, in practice, Border Patrol’s holding the kids for days, sometimes weeks, in facilities without enough food or toothbrushes. And the children go for days without showering, overcrowded and undercared for.

Earlier this year, Reuters reported that asylum seekers detained in ICE-overseen private detention centers could buy toothpaste in the commissary for $11.02 per 4 oz tube of Sensodyne. Bob Barker doesn’t sell Sensodyne but does sell Colgate Cavity Protection by the case at $2.32 per 4 oz tube, and an off-brand sensitive toothpaste for even less. On the $1/day that detainees at Adelanto Detention Facility can earn for working menial jobs, the decision comes down to maintaining hygiene verses managing hunger. As Ramen is only 58 cents, over half a day’s labor at Adelanto. Meanwhile, employees of at least one company doing business with Border Patrol are speaking out against their CEO. In late June, 550 Wayfair employees staged walkouts outside company headquarters in San Francisco and Boston after reports of a $200,000 order including kids’ beds for a contractor known to work for detention centers emerged.

Low wages for undesirable work drive the US prison economy. Inmates serving long sentences at federal, state, and for-profit prisons hope to save enough money to call loved ones, send and receive email, hire lawyers and contribute to their defense, and send money home, let alone take basic care of themselves. As Racked reported in 2016: “But prison laborers are not commensurately paid. They’re not protected by OSHA. They’re forbidden from organizing into unions. They’re not eligible for workers’ comp. Inmates can be ordered to work for nothing. None of this is illegal.” Rules on what personal care items detention centers must give detainees are few and far between. In June, Justice Department lawyer Sarah Fabian argued in court that the law’s “safe and sanitary” stipulation doesn’t mandate that the government provide detained children soap and toothbrushes, a position baffling judged as well as anyone who believes in what constitutes as basic hygiene. According to the National Institute for Jail Operations (NIJO), touted as “your primary resource dedicated to serving those that operate jails, detention and correctional facilities,” soap, toilet paper, toothbrush and “cleaning agent,” comb, sanitary napkins or tampons, and lotion (if medically needed) “should be provided at no cost to inmates.” But the NIJO states these are only guidelines since laws and statutes are left to the states and jails’ jurisdiction.

Because detention centers don’t provide immigrants with their basic needs, many with the chance to work have no choice but to. As Reuters puts it, “Detainees are challenging what they say is an oppressive business model in which the companies deprive them of essentials to force them to work for sub-minimum wages, money that is soon recaptured in the firms’ own commissaries.” And yet, many detention centers are meant to be temporary facilities despite violating that promise by holding kids for months rather than days. As such, many don’t create opportunities to make income, however minimal. Though there’s at least one unofficial route for detainees. Although attorney Warren Binford told the New Yorker of a teen at Clint tasked by Border Patrol with maintaining order among the other kids as “an unofficial guard” in exchange for more food.

In late June, conditions at a detention facility in Clint, Texas became public. When investigators checked on US obligations under the Flores Agreement governing the care of immigrant children in US custody, they were so horrified that they turned whistleblower and told the Associated Press what they saw. Their stories disturbed the American public into national outrage that the acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol resigned, despite officials’ denial. But like in most situations, the problem goes beyond one official or facility. The story gained even wider traction after New York US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s reference to the detention facilities as “concentration camps” and the ensuing debate over whether that term was appropriate (it is).

On Monday, June 24, 2019, officials confirmed that all 350 of the Clint facility’s children would be moved to other facilities by the next day. But about 250 have been placed with HHS and the rest were being sent to other Border Patrol facilities. At least that was supposed to be the case. However, on Tuesday morning, a Customs and Border Protection official told a New York Times reporter on a press call that about 100 children are currently being housed in Clint. Of course, that just illustrates the Trump administration’s hectic improvised response to the current border influx. But it’s a much, much bigger problem than what’s going on at a single facility. Since the problems investigators identified at Clint linger elsewhere as well.

One legal investigator from the Clint team visited the El Paso facility where many of the Clint children were sent to. Called “Border Patrol Station 1,” that investigator told Vox that conditions there were just as bad as in Clint and with the same problems like insufficient food, no toothbrushes, and aggressive guards. Thus, the problem isn’t the Clint facility, but the hastily-cobbled-together facility system Customs and Border Protection has thrown together during the last several months, as an unprecedented number of families and children coming into the US without papers has overwhelmed a system designed to deport single adults. Thus, it’s apparent that even an administration acting with the children’s best interests in mind at every turn would be scrambling right now. But policymakers are split on how much the current crisis is simply a resource problem Congress could help by sending more and how much is deliberate mistreatment or neglect from an administration or neglect from an administration that doesn’t deserve any money or trust. But come on, it’s most likely the latter given how Donald Trump and his swamp cronies peddle xenophobia and racism to his supporters.

According statistics sent to congressional staff in late June, between May 14 and June 13, 2019, US Border facilities housed 14,000 people a day, sometimes as many as 18,000. With most recent tally as of June 13, 16,000. Most of these were single adults, or parents with kids. But consistently, over that month, around 2,000 were “unaccompanied alien children,” or children held without adult relatives in separate facilities. In an early June press call, a CBP official said, referring to the total number of people in custody, “when we have 4,000 in custody, we consider that high. 6,000 is a crisis.”

Traditionally, an “unaccompanied alien child” refers to a kid who comes to the US without a parent or guardian. Increasingly as lawyers have reported and as investigators who’ve have interviewed detained children in late June, kids have been coming to the US with a non-parent relative and being separated. And because the law defines “unaccompanied” without a parent or legal guardian here, border agents can’t keep a child with a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or older sibling over 18. Though advocates have also raised concerns that border agents are separating relatives even when there’s evidence of legal guardianship. Under US law terms (especially after the 1997 Flores Settlement), immigration agents are obligated to get immigrant children out of immigration detention as quickly as possible, and in the least restrictive conditions possible while there. Save for emergencies, children aren’t supposed to be in Border Patrol custody for more than 3 days before being sent to HHS, which is responsible for finding and vetting a sponsor to house a child (usually a relative in the US). However, this isn’t happening. Attorneys, doctors, and even human rights observers have consistently reported are being detained by Border Patrol for days or longer before HHS picks them up. In the meantime, they’re being kept in facilities to hold adults for that time period, or in improvised “soft-sided” facilities that resemble (and are commonly referred to as) tents. Put the kids in blue Civil War uniforms and it’s a kiddie version of Andersonville (though that may be exaggerated).

Since late 2018, US immigration agents have been overwhelmed by the number of families coming across the border. Since the US immigration system was built to quickly arrest and deport single Mexican adults crossing the southern border to work, doesn’t have the capacity to deal with tens of thousands of families (mostly from Central America) who are often seeking asylum in the US. The length of time migrants are spending in Border Patrol custody (and the conditions there) have attracted some alarm before. In April, pictures of migrants held outside under an El Paso bridge, fenced in and sleeping on the ground, attracted outraged and led Border Patrol to stop holding migrants there. In May, the DHS Office of the Inspector General released an emergency report about dangerous adult overcrowding in 2 facilities: with 900 people being held in a place designed to hold 125.

The Clint reports broke when the Trump administration was already playing defense about its compliance with the Flores Settlement. While the administration’s working on a regulation that would supersede the agreement’s terms, which isn’t expected to be published in its final form until this fall and may well be held up in court. Anyway, in an earlier 9th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing about whether the administration needed to allow a court appointee monitor conditions for children in ICE and CBP custody, Department of Justice lawyer Sarah Fabian told judges that kids don’t necessarily need towels or toothbrushes to be in “safe and sanitary” conditions in a clip that looked especially bad when the Clint stories came out showing children being denied just that.

As The Atlantic explains, Fabian’s cringeworthy “safe and sanitary” argument came from the Trump administration’s awkward stance taken on this litigation: in order to challenge the court appointment of a special monitor, arguing there’s a difference between a promise to keep kids in “safe and sanitary” conditions (which the government has agreed to for decades) and a guarantee of particular items like toothbrushes. The court was unimpressed and the stories about Clint and other facilities coming out in the ensuing days certainly bolstered the case that the Trump administration has either willingly violated agreement to keep kids safe and healthy (which is more likely), or has been unable to keep it. Perhaps a mix of both.

What problems investigators identified at Clint such as too many people, not enough food, no toothbrushes, weren’t inherent to that facility. They were indications of an overloaded or neglected system. And it’s already clear these problems go beyond Clint. ABC News obtained testimony from a doctor visiting another Texas facility in Ursula and witnessed, “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.” She claimed the conditions were so bad they were, “tantamount to intentionally causing the spread of disease.” The children are now being sent from Clint to a facility that’s just as bad. According to Human Rights Watch, Clara Long who was the only member of the Clint investigative team who visited another center in El Paso known as “Border Patrol Station 1,” was mostly being used as a transit center where migrants were supposed stay for a few hours before being transferred. But she spoke to one family who’d been held in a cell there for 6 days and who voiced the same concerns that the kids in the Clint facility did. Long said the mother was ashamed for not having clean teeth. Since like Clint, the El Paso facility wasn’t providing enough toothbrushes that, “when she was talking to you she would put her hand up in front of her mouth and wouldn’t take it down.” The teenage son said he was afraid of the guards. Because when he’d get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, a guard had shoved him back into his cell and slammed the door on him. For 2 nights, the family had to sleep on the cold floor without blankets.

Most of the kids who were at the Clint facility the investigators visited in late June were set to be sent to HHS custody by the next day. But questions remain about what’s happening to the other 1,750 or so children in Border Patrol custody. That is, if levels remained static since mid-June and why the government could only place 250 children over 5 days with the agency that’s supposed to take responsibility for all kids within 72 hours. It’s not clear where the bureaucratic breakdown really is and whether it’s due to resource constraints or choices about how resources are used. The Trump administration has definitely made the choice to keep single adults in detention, even if it can release them. Border Patrol chief Carla Provost told Congress that, “if we lose (the ability to keep and deport) single adults, we lose the border.” This raises questions whether overcrowding in adult facilities could be avoided.

But it doesn’t address the unaccompanied children issue who simply can’t be released with an immigration court notice. While kids with parents in the US can be theoretically placed with them, the government is supposed to vet potential sponsors to make sure it’s not placing kids with traffickers. But that’s HHS’ job and the vetting doesn’t start until the kids are released from Border Patrol custody. Observers and policymakers agree that HHS simply doesn’t have the capacity to take migrant kids in. One Democratic Capitol Hill staffer compared it to a “jigsaw puzzle”: Not only are there only so many spaces available, but the facilities available might not match the child’s particular needs. For instance, you can’t put a baby in an HHS shelter for teens. But another Hill staffer that HHS claims it never refused a transfer for space reasons, muddying the waters.

Then there’s the question whether CBP is really doing all it can to care for kids in their custody. One Clint observer told the New Yorker stories of cruelty from some guards, indicating they were deliberately punishing children for the sin of coming to the US without papers. But she also claimed of many sympathetic guards and told the observers that the children shouldn’t be in their custody, implying they were doing the best they could and simply didn’t have the resources to do more. Advocates also said they’ve tried donating supplies to Border Patrol facilities but had their contributions rejected. As have other Texas citizens who’ve done the same. It’s not clear if Border Patrol decided this or if a 19th century state legal complication bans outside donations. Former CBP policy adviser Theresa Brown told the Texas Tribune, “It’s partially a constitutional thing about Congress controlling the purse and only being able to spend money that Congress gives, but it’s also about ethics.” Ethics? For God’s sake, refusing donations because of an outdated law doesn’t even hold water for me.

On Monday, July 2, 2019, a congressional Democrat delegation visited 2 overcrowded detention centers in El Paso and Clint, Texas. They were met by children and adults denied access to safe drinking water, kept in cold windowless warehouses, and were separated from their families. These were immigrants were hungry, scared, and hungry. One woman handed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a clear plastic pamphlet of Meridian shampoo that the congresswoman tweeted, “[S]he told me that this is all they give women to wash their entire body. Nothing else. Some women’s hair was falling out. Others had gone 15 days without taking a shower.” Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues’ accounts accompany new detailed reports on the inhumane conditions pervading inside Border Patrol facilities, and about many Border Patrol agents’ online behavior, given that they police the grounds. While the law requires that detention centers housing children to be safe and sanitary. However, lawyer and child advocate Warren Binford told the New Yorker “And there is nothing sanitary about the conditions they are in. And they are not safe, because they are getting sick.” With reporting from the New York Times on “the stench” permeating the Clint detention center, an odor belying stained clothes, diaperless toddlers, and babies caked in dirt, questions emerge on the lack of necessary health and hygiene toiletries. The Meridian shampoo packet sheds light on what little the detainees have access to and more critically, what they don’t.

According to its website, “Meridian Clear Shampoo Packet, .35 Oz” hails from Bob Barker “America’s Leading Detention Supplier.” Using the Federal Procurement Data System’s records, Vice reported that US Customs and Border Protection contacted Bob Barker in at least 10 instances between 2013 and 2017. Line items for “Personal Toiletry Articles” are listed at $3,177.93 in 2013 and $0 in 2017. Among Meridian’s ingredients: Methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone, 2 preservatives that nonprofit Environmental Working Group report are associated with allergic and irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs. Lab studies on former indicate that the chemical may also be neurotoxic or, carry potential damage developing nervous systems. Bob Barker sells Meridian Clear Shampoo at $94.07 at 1000 packets, among the supplier’s cheaper offerings. Bob Barker also sells a lot of other products on its Personal Care & Hygiene, including body washes from Olay, Suave, and Dove along with bar soap from Dial, Zest, and Bob Barker-branded antibacterial. Oh, and they sell toothbrushes and toothpaste, 2 of the items that the New York Times reported aren’t distributed to the kids held at Clint.

Whether or not Border Patrol’s hands are tied in supplying detainees with basic care amenities, a secret Facebook group’s existence rife with hate speech indicates that some agents don’t have migrants’ health and survival in mind. On July 1, 2019, ProPublica released a report on a secret Border Patrol Facebook group around 9500 members strong, almost half of the country’s 20,000 Border Patrol agents. And as Ocasio-Cortez points out, where current and former agents make light of migrants’ deaths as well joked about inciting violence against Democratic congresspeople during their July 1 facilities tour, and questioned the authenticity of an Associated Press photo depicting a father and his 23-month old daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande after Border Patrol denied them immediate US entry in their asylum case. Post comments range from racist (“throw a […] burrito at these bitches”), to sexually violent (“Fuck the hoes,” not to mention a lewd photoshop of Ocasio-Cortez), and apathetic (“If he dies, he dies”). In response, US Border Patrol chief Carla Provost tweeted, “These posts are completely inappropriate & contrary to the honor & integrity I see—& expect—from our agents. Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable.”

However, it’s not just hygiene and nutritional needs that aren’t being met. The abhorrent living conditions seen in these reports show that some detained migrants find it nearly impossible to sleep. Overhead fluorescent lights remain on 24/7, intense cold temperatures blast the warehouse, kids and adults lie on concrete floors, sometimes under aluminum blankets, sometimes not. Without access to clean drinking water, Border Patrol agents have directed Clint women detainees to drink from the toilet. The lack of clean water to drink, wash hands, and bathe along with much needed medicine, combined with overcrowded quarters and poor nutrition have resulted in flu and lice outbreaks. Physician Dolly Lucio Sevier’s medical review of a McAllen facility in Texas, as ABC News reported, declared the conditions “tantamount to intentionally causing the spread of disease.” In May, a 16-year-old Guatemalan girl died at the McAllen facility from flu. And as of June 2019, 2 dozen detainees have died in ICE custody since Donald Trump took office.

In anecdotal reports, Border Patrol agents appears to have made certain health-related products available as needed. But as Warren Binford reports in one New Yorker story, the lice shampoo and 2 lice combs allotted to a group of 25 kids at Clint came at a great cost. “And then what happened was one of the combs was lost, and Border Patrol agents got so mad that they took away the children’s blankets and mats. They weren’t allowed to sleep on the beds, and they had to sleep on the floor on Wednesday night as punishment for losing the comb.” A 2007 Clinical Infectious Diseases article on jail and prison infections found that inmates pose a high risk of catching any number of diseases, including airborne viruses and treatment resistant staph infections. Jails and prisons weren’t designed “to minimize the transmission of disease or to efficiently deliver health care,” as California Correctional Health Care Services chief Joseph Bick wrote. “The probability of transmission of potentially pathogenic organisms is increased by crowding, delays in medical evaluation and treatment, rationed access to soap, water, and clean laundry” among other factors. Bick then adds, “the abrupt transfer of inmates from one location to another further complicates the diagnosis of infection, interruption of transmission, recognition of an outbreak, performance of a contact investigation, and eradication of disease.”

Congress is currently considering a package to give the Trump administration billions more dollars to deal with migrants coming into the US. To Democratic leadership, the solution to poor conditions in custody is to throw more money to improve them. They emphasize the funding’s bulk will go to HHS to increase capacity for migrant kids and that ICE and CBP funding will be strictly limited to humanitarian use. But some progressives, led in Congress by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, decry that giving any money to immigration enforcement agencies right now endorses the current state of affairs. The not-one-more-dime camp, in part, is taking a bright-line stance against child detention. However, in part, they’re demonstrating a lack of trust in the Trump administration to adhere to any law or condition. And they assume that any money for migrant kid transit will, in some way or another, encourage ICE to detain more families and arrest more immigrants in the United States.

On the other hand, the “smart money” camp firmly believes that without the funds to improve detention conditions, things will only get worse. That’s especially relevant in the case of kids “unaccompanied” who have to remain in custody until a sponsor is found. The past couple weeks have demonstrated that children are extremely vulnerable and that much of the American public wants their situation change. It’s not clear how.

Can We Just Impeach the Motherf**ker Already?

During an ABC News interview on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, Donald Trump told George Stephanopoulos that he’d likely accept “information” offered by a foreign government for use in his reelection campaign. He said, “I think you might want to listen. I don’t — there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country — Norway — ‘We have information on your opponent’ — oh, I think I’d want to hear it.” He then continued that if he thought there’s “something wrong” with the offer, he’d “maybe” tell the FBI. But Trump nevertheless asserted that accepting “oppo research” from a foreign government was perfectly fine, telling Stephanopoulos, “They have information, I think I’d take it.”

These recent remarks have obviously caused intense controversy and reopened wounds from the Mueller investigation and the 2016 campaign. In fact, Special Counsel Robert Mueller had just finished a 2-year investigation into this very thing. We have to recall that in mid-2016, Donald Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. took a meeting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton allegedly from the Russian government. Mueller investigated Trump Jr.’s conduct for a potential campaign finance violation but decided not to charge him. Since word about it got out in 2017, Trump has continued defending his son’s actions, but his assertion poses legal and ethical issues. It’s also interpreted as yet another sign that Trump doesn’t seem particularly alarmed with broader Russian effort to help him win in 2016, including by hacking and leaking Democrats’ emails. Trump’s latest comments appeared to go too far for some of his allies. Fox & Friends’ Brian Kilmeade noted on June 13, “You don’t want a foreign government or foreign entity giving you information because they will want something back. If anybody knows that, it’s the president. There is no free lunch. If someone wants information, then they’re going to want influence. I think the president’s got to clarify that.” South Carolina US Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted, “I believe that it should be practice for all public officials who are contacted by a foreign government with an offer of assistance to their campaign — either directly or indirectly — to inform the FBI and reject the offer.” While Texas US Senator Jon Cornyn stated that Trump’s remarks were “dangerous territory.” Of course, in a move of classic whataboutism, those 2 backtracked with arguing how Hillary’s campaign funding the Steele Dossier was equally problematic (it’s not) so they can continually kiss Trump’s.

Back in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. received an email from an acquaintance named Rob Goldstone, a British publicist who worked with the Agarlov family, an Azeri-Russian father-son pair of wealthy real estate developers who worked with the Trumps before. Goldstone claimed that Aras Agarlov had met with the “Crown prosecutor of Russia,” who had “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” He then added: “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.” Trump Jr. enthusiastically responded, “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” They soon agreed to set up a meeting in Trump Tower to discuss the information. However, the meeting appears to be a dud since the Mueller report doesn’t document any information being passed or any deal being struck. Nor did Mueller find any indication that the offered information had any connection to the Russian hackings. But Donald Trump Jr.’s eagerness to accept dirt allegedly coming from a foreign government was viewed as scandalous. Some experts even argued it’s criminal since it’s a campaign finance law violation to accept or even solicit “thing of value” from a foreign source.

So when George Stephanopoulos asked Donald Trump about Donald Trump Jr.: “Should he have gone to the FBI when he got that email?” Obviously, the answer is yes. However, Trump said no, arguing that such a thing would be naïve, claiming, “Give me a break. Life doesn’t work that way.” What the fuck? Instead, he said that if something shady was going on, the correct response should be, “throw somebody out of your office,” since calling the FBI would be too much. When Stephanopoulos said that the FBI director (a guy Trump appointed, by the way) said that candidates should call them in such a situation, Trump answered: “The FBI director is wrong.” Then Stephanopoulos asked the question that would cause Trump so much trouble: “Your campaign this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?” Trump gives the odd answer: “I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. I don’t — there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country — Norway — ‘We have information on your opponent’ — oh, I think I’d want to hear it.” Note that Trump used a benign country like Norway instead of responding to the specific question about Russia and China.

Pressed by Stephanopoulos, Donald Trump distinguished between foreign, “interference” and simple “information” and “oppo research,” which he claimed was perfectly fine to accept from a foreign source. Here’s his answer:

“It’s not interference. They have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research. (mockingly) ‘Oh, let’s call the FBI.’

“The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressmen, they all do it. They always have, and that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.”

Note that Donald Trump left open the possibility that if he “thought there was something wrong,” he’d go to the FBI. And he doesn’t say it’s okay to accept hacked or stolen material from a foreign power. Still, the idea that a foreign government would offer damaging information on your opponent in an election year should be cause for suspicion, since it’s a glaring red flag it wants to interfere in your political process and want something from you in terms of policy. This is especially the case if the government in question is a known adversary like Russia. And that is why you go to the FBI.

Nonetheless, Trump probably thinks accepting dirt about a political opponent from a foreign power is totally fine even if the info material is hacked or stolen. After all, he publicly asked Russia to “find” Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. Not to mention, he privately asked Michael Flynn to try and get a hold on those emails. Still, the whole idea seems to be: Donald Trump Jr. did nothing wrong. And if a foreign government has information that would help Trump’s reelection campaign, Trump would be happy to hear it.

Obviously, people are appalled by Donald Trump’s remarks. Some argue it’s simply unethical to accept “opposition research” from a foreign government, particularly an adversary like Russia. Federal Election Commission head Ellen Weintraub tweeted why it’s illegal for US political candidates to accept contributions from foreign governments, along with “I would not have thought I needed to say this.” She then went on to clarify: “Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept. Election intervention from foreign governments has been considered unacceptable since the founding of our nation.” Others pointed to the practical problem claiming that said foreign government might expect a reward. But there’s also an underlying legal issue on which Trump seems to be giving really bad advice. In other words, Trump doesn’t think it’s a problem for a campaign to accept “opposition research” because it’s just information. However, federal election law states that campaigns can’t accept foreign money contributions or any “thing of value” from foreign sources. Given that knowledge is power and information is very valuable resource in political campaigns, is opposition research like the “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” promised to Donald Trump Jr. a thing of value? Well, Trump Jr. seemed to think so that he was willing to go through all the trouble to set up a meeting at Trump Tower for it.

The Mueller report explored this very subject, and concluded: probably. The report reads, “There are reasonable arguments that the offered information would constitute a ‘thing of value.’” After all, knowledge is power. While political campaigns do tons of opposition research on a candidate in hopes for finding dirt on their opponents. As Robert Mueller writes:

“These authorities would support the view that candidate-related opposition research given to a campaign for the purpose of influencing an election could constitute a contribution to which the foreign-source ban could apply.

“…Political campaigns frequently conduct and pay for opposition research. A foreign entity that engaged in such research and provided resulting information to a campaign could exert a greater effect on an election, and a greater tendency to ingratiate the donor to the candidate, than a gift of money or tangible things of value.”

But Robert Mueller doesn’t unreservedly endorse this view. Since he also expressed concerns about how this interpretation would fare in court:

“At the same time, no judicial decision has treated the voluntary provision of uncompensated opposition research or similar information as a thing of value that could amount to a contribution under campaign-finance laws. Such an interpretation could… raise First Amendment questions. These questions could be especially difficult where the information consisted simply of the recounting of historically accurate facts. It is uncertain how courts would resolve those issues.”

Nonetheless, leaving the issue aside, Robert Mueller didn’t end up bringing charges against the meeting’s participants for 2 separate reasons. First, is establishing willfulness. Did Donald Trump Jr. and the other meeting participants know they were breaking the law? As Mueller wrote, “The investigation has not developed evidence that the participants in the meeting were familiar with the foreign-contribution ban or the application of federal law to the relevant factual context.” Secondly, Mueller said that Rob Goldstone’s promised information is difficult to value at above $2,000, the threshold for a criminal violation, writing “Although damaging opposition research is surely valuable to a campaign, it appears that the information ultimately delivered in the meeting was not valuable.” Besides, when Trump Jr. agreed to take the meeting, he might’ve understood the information “as being of uncertain worth or reliability.” So Mueller most certainly didn’t say that accepting opposition research from a foreign government is very legal and very cool (quite the contrary). However, he chose not to bring charges in this particular instance. For reasons relating to specific evidence and the situation. In all, Mueller didn’t establish coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. But his report makes it clear that the Trump campaign, “expected it would benefit from information stolen and released through Russian efforts” during the 2016 campaign.

Now the United States has laws to govern how political campaigns can and can’t operate. Many of these laws are meant to limit or in some cases, just illuminate the amount if outside money trying to influence political candidates. When it comes to foreign influence, the law is clear. As Weintraub wrote: it’s “illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.” In most cases, the meaning’s quite obvious: foreign nationals can’t donate money to a presidential campaign. In addition, it’s also illegal for candidates to solicit or receive money contributions from foreign nationals. But while a “thing of value” is easy to define when it comes to money, services, or in-kind contributions, it’s a lot more complicated in the realm of information like opposition research or campaign dirt. Northwestern University law professor Michael Kang told Vox, “Campaign-relevant information from a foreign national definitely can be an illegal in-kind contribution, but it gets trickier when the information does not have obvious cash value and isn’t necessarily something that a campaign regularly needs to buy. The policy concern is that any valuable advice or tip from a foreign national could, at least in theory, become an illegal in-kind contribution.”

As part of his investigation into the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, Special Counsel Robert Mueller grappled with this question, where Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign members met with a Russian national who had promised them “dirt” on Hillary Clinton as part of Moscow’s effort to support Donald Trump. Mueller concluded in his report that, “candidate-related opposition research given to a campaign for the purpose of influencing an election could constitute a contribution to which the foreign-source ban could apply.” But he added that the issue hasn’t been court-tested and could also have freedom of speech implications. Nonetheless, Mueller ultimately decided not to prosecute Trump Jr. over enigmas in regards to information value and criminal intent, making it hard to prove campaign finance violations beyond reasonable doubt. But experts are split mostly because as Loyola University law professor Jessica Levinson told Vox, “There’s a reason campaigns pay for opposition research: We literally value it. It can be much more useful and valuable than walking in with a check.”

Nevertheless, given the blowback, Donald Trump has tried to sort of walk back in a Fox & Friends interview on June 14. He told them, “You’d have to look at [the information being offered], because if you don’t look at it, you won’t know it’s bad. But, of course, you give it to the FBI or report to the attorney general or somebody like that.” While it wasn’t an unequivocal condemnation, it’s renewed questions on what’s legal and what’s not in regards to foreign nationals in US campaigns. And to ensure that it’s illegal, House Democrats have promised to roll out a bill requiring campaigns to report any foreign government offering dirt on their opponents to the FBI. He also said that he doesn’t, “think anybody would present me with anything because they know how much I love the country.” But his comments during his interview with George Stephanopoulos suggest otherwise. Also, his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner also won’t say in an Axios interview the previous week whether he’d call the FBI if offered dirt again. So that refusal to be unequivocal about foreign interference undermines a thing of value for all Americans: the belief in the integrity of the vote.

Nearly 2 months after the Mueller report’s release, Congress remains at an impasse about what to do next. The special counsel didn’t end up charging any crimes related to collusion with the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. He also chose not to say whether Donald Trump criminally obstructed justice. One House Democrat faction supports a beginning an impeachment inquiry against Trump, based on the conduct described in the report. Yet, the most of the caucus, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, doesn’t want to go down that road. Namely because Republicans control the US Senate and they’re all currently kissing Trump’s ass. So they’ll not only acquit him, but also frame the impeachment proceedings as a Democratic political stunt and a waste of everyone’s time.

Looming over all this is the question of what, exactly, this might mean in the 2020 election. Foreign powers could certainly interpret Donald Trump’s comments as a green light to send him whatever information he might find helpful. That said, Trump and foreign governments are all surely aware of what that might lead to: another lengthy investigation like Robert Mueller’s, which even though it didn’t end disastrously for Trump (unfortunately), surely wasn’t a pleasant experience. As Ellen Weintraub noted, America’s founders knew that when foreign governments seek to interfere in elections, it’s always to advance their interests, not ours. And that’s a bigger problem with Donald Trump’s apparent dismissal of the seriousness regarding foreigners reaching out to offer dirt to rival candidates. University of Miami law professor Frances Hill told Vox that while criminal law discussions are important, Trump’s “acting in a way that undermines national security.” As of 2019, just about the only thing Democrats and Republicans agree on the Mueller report is that Russia interfered in the 2016 Election. The intelligence community has said that Russia will certainly try again in 2020. While other countries like China and Iran will have learned 2016’s lessons and be eager to follow suit.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that even if Donald Trump’s campaign didn’t collude, he sees no problem with accepting dirt on opponents from foreign government, which should be reason enough to see Trump as a national security liability. Furthermore, the Trump campaign was willing to benefit from Russia’s election interference in 2016. Besides, not only does Trump not care that Russia’s actions in the 2016 election not only threatened American interests, sovereignty, and national security, but he’ll openly on Vladimir Putin to do it again. Still, let’s accept Trump’s “America First” nationalism for what it is: an exclusive nationalism centering on hating foreigners and difference. Or more accurately, xenophobia by another name. Any principled nationalist would see foreign efforts to interfere with a US election as an unacceptable infringement on American sovereignty and independence. Obviously, Trump isn’t principled nor does he value American independence. And if a president doesn’t have principles nor values independence should be impeached, especially if they pose a significant danger to the United States. Trump has. Furthermore, he’s personally profited off the presidency in flagrant violation of the Emoluments Clause in the US Constitution, especially since foreign dignitaries have stayed on his resorts and in his hotels on the taxpayer’s dime. So the question is not whether he should be impeached, but why he hasn’t been impeached now.

Our Unfair Tax System

The great Benjamin Franklin once said that there are few things inevitable in life than death and taxes. Nonetheless, like many things in American life, the tax system is also rigged. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the richest Americans pay less of their income in taxes than the rest of us. Not to mention, rich people are also known to take advantage of various loopholes in the tax code they take advantage of since we’ve all heard about the Panama Papers. But often we don’t realize how screwed up the American tax system could be, especially in recent years.

Over the past 8 years, budget cuts have crippled the IRS. As a result, enforcement staff has dropped by a third and audits have declined across the board. Now since everyone dislikes paying taxes, you may not see much of a problem with it. But when government agencies suffer from lack of funding long enough, you realize how much the American public needs them to adequately do their jobs. The IRS is no different. Without enough staff, it has slashed even basic functions. It has drastically pulled back from pursuing people who don’t bother filing their tax returns. Since 2011, new “non-filer” investigations dropped from 2.4 million to 362,000 in 2017. Since tracking down these people and businesses down, determining what they owe, and reviewing what they submit in response can be time consuming. According to the IRS inspector general, this results in at least $3 million in lost revenue each year. Collections from people who do file but don’t pay have also plummeted. Since tax obligations expire after 10 years should the IRS not pursue them. Before the budget cuts began, such expirations were relatively infrequent. In 2010, only $482 million in expirations lapsed. In 2017, the number was $8.3 billion, which is 17 times as much. While the IRS’s ability to investigate criminals has been stymied as well. All in all, these IRS budget cuts have cost an estimate of $18 billion a year, but the true cost can run tens of billions more. So much that many current and former IRS employees fear that the United States could be on the verge of an era of brazen tax cheating from which it can’t recover. By any objective this is catastrophic of law enforcement that deprives an already cash-strapped government of hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue every year.

What’s worse is that the IRS faces a structural political problem. After all, it’s never been a popular agency since nobody likes paying taxes to support vital government services that benefit the American people. On one side are the anti-tax Republicans who are perfectly happy with passing tax-cuts for the rich and has been very anti-IRS since the 1990s. In fact, decades of Republican attacks and budget cuts have left the IRS a shell of its former self. On the other side are Democrats afraid of publicly supporting the taxman since nobody likes paying taxes. Not to mention, not all rich tax evaders are Republican donors either.

For rich people and corporations, it means less thorough audits on their assets should the IRS stop by and more leeway to send their money in an overseas tax shelter. After all, they’re the biggest beneficiaries of the IRS’s decay since it takes specialized well-trained personnel to audit a business or billionaire or to uncover a tax scheme. Those IRS employees are leaving in droves and are taking their expertise with them, often to the private sector. Auditing taxpayers with accounts in tax havens is difficult. Revenue agents have to investigate the cheating’s scope to and figure out whether it’s intentional. Tracking down necessary documents from foreign countries can add frustrating delays. Thus, the average time for an offshore audit is usually 3 years. For the country’s largest corporations, the danger of being hit with a billion-dollar tax bill has greatly diminished. Since the rich evade taxes the most simply because they have the resources to do so, the IRS has become less of a force to be feared. For studies have shown that audits have made people less likely to dodge taxes in the future. Take away the enforcement, evaders are emboldened and grow in number.

For the poor who receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, it may mean less audits. Yet, the audits are much more punishing. For someone living month-to-month, such exams can be devastating. That when ETIC recipients are audited, they’re less likely to claim the credit in the future. And because of a 2015 EITC law, EITC recipients are more likely to have their refund held. In 2017, ETIC recipients were audited at twice the rate of taxpayers making between $200,000 and $500,000 a year. Only those making more than $1 million were examined at significantly higher rates. In 2018, the IRS audited 381,000 ETIC recipients, which was among 36% of all audits the agency conducted that year, up from 33% in 2011 when the budget cuts began.

Now the Earned Income Tax Credit has had bipartisan support from both Democrats and Republicans alike since the 1970s. Conceived as a “work bonus” and welfare alternative, the program has grown over the subsequent decades. These days, the average credit is about $2,500 but the amount can exceed $6,000 for larger families. While the US Census Bureau has estimated that the EITC and the child tax credit together boost millions of children out of poverty every year more than any other government program. But unlike food stamps and Social Security, the EITC has no application process. Instead, taxpayers simply claim the credit on their tax returns. According to IRS estimates, millions of people get it wrong in both directions. Since about a fifth of US taxpayers don’t seek EITC while almost a quarter of the $74 billion paid out was “improperly” issued. And it’s that $17 billion estimate of “improper payments” is why the IRS focus on the EITC so much. However, some experts, including the IRS’s Tax Advocate Service, think this estimate is way too high. While one reason is it’s based on the outcome of audits. Since low-income taxpayers are much less likely to have competent representation to dispute the IRS’s conclusions.

Regardless of the precise error rate, the IRS acknowledges the problem’s primary cause isn’t fraud but the law itself. Since the law is too complex that it’s too easy for someone to think themselves eligible for EITC when they’re not. For instance, the same child might be a “dependent” but not a qualifying child under the EITC. While the IRS’s instructions to claiming credit run to 41 pages. As Washington and Lee law professor Michelle Lyon Drumbl told ProPublica, “My third-year law students, they sit down and study this material, and sometimes they still don’t get it.” And if third-year law students can’t determine who qualifies for EITC, then we shouldn’t hold low-income taxpayers’ improper claims against them.

In addition, since the 1990s, congressional Republicans have focused on these major problems and harshly criticized the IRS for failing to stop them. Despite that their rich donors’ overseas tax shelters pose a much larger problem than improper IRS refund payments to poor people. In 2015 congressional Republicans passed and President Barack Obama signed a bill requiring the IRS to hold EITC refunds until February 15 each year. The law’s purpose was to give the IRS more time to match tax returns with the corresponding W-2s to avoid misstatements of income. But it also meant that people to be audited are more likely to see their refund held instead of receiving the credit then undergoing the audit. For low-income taxpayers, that’s a crucial difference.

Furthermore, the IRS has a difficult task in auditing taxpayers claiming EITC because low-income families are often complicated. They’re more likely to be more multi-generational than more affluent filers as well as more likely to add or subtract household members from year to year. According to a study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, only about 48% of low-income households with children were married couples, while it was 75% for other households.

IRS computers choose who to audit. Should those taxpayers respond, someone must review the documents. According to attorneys from the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic program, fewer employees to do that result in delays mounting in an already arduous process. Thus, it regularly takes more than a year to release a taxpayer’s refund, even if they have representation. As Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorney Mandi Matlock told Pro Publica, “If the service doesn’t have the personnel to evaluate evidence submitted in a timely manner, then they should not be initiating the exams in the first place.” The IRS makes the situation needlessly worse by conducting virtually all EITC audits by correspondence, which are automated as with most Americans’ interaction with the IRS. And the computer-generated letters are far from simple that a survey by the Taxpayer Advocate Service found that more than a quarter of audited EITC recipients didn’t understand why the IRS put them under a microscope.

Generally, in regards to taxes, we generally accept the notion that the more money you make, the more likely you’ll get audited. EITC recipients who normally make less than $20,000 a year have long been the major exception and are already under more scrutiny compared to other taxpayers. Why? Many people claim the credit in error. And due to consistent pressure by congressional Republicans, the IRS has kept the audit rates higher. Because God forbid that poor people shouldn’t be carefully scrutinized any time they receive help staying alive. This is how you get the EITC audits along with drug tests and work requirements for food stamps and Medicaid just to make the poor ashamed of their poverty that’s out of their control. At the same time, there hasn’t been similar pressure to address more costly problem areas like tax evasion by business owners and rich people. Despite that they’re more likely to evade taxes and the IRS receives more revenue from auditing them. Besides, even if they owe money, rich people are way less likely to experience any financial hardship. Yet, as far as the GOP is concerned, rich people and corporations should do whatever they want like dodge taxes, engage in insider trading, and take advantage of ordinary workers.

Budget cuts and staff losses make this distortion starker. Despite that the richest taxpayers get audited at higher rates than the poorest, the gap’s been closing. Former deputy IRS Commissioner John Darlrymple told ProPublica “What happens is you have people at the very top being prioritized and people at the very bottom being prioritized, and everyone else is sort of squeezed out.” In other words, as the IRS has shrunk in size and capability, audits of the poor have accounted for more of what it does. Oregon US Senator Ron Wyden told ProPublica, “Those struggling to make ends meet are being unfairly audited while the fortunate few dodge taxes without consequence. The IRS needs more manpower to go after tax cheats of all sizes, and working Americans need a simpler way of obtaining a tax credit they’ve earned.” Thus, the more the IRS focuses on auditing poor tax cheats who are trying to get by, the rich ones are increasingly more able to dodge their taxes without consequence. It’s kind of like how a business executive who steals millions of dollars in insider trading get a short jail sentence at a minimum security facility while the desperately poor kid gets at least 5 years in prison for armed robbery at a convenience store. Sure, neither are right to do what they did, but the rich guy’s crimes inflict far more damage to society than the convenience store robber ever could. While the convenience store robber receives a disproportionately harsh sentence.

Taxpayers of all kinds cheat since cheating is part of human nature. While no social class has a monopoly on moral values. Yet, despite the scrutiny, IRS studies found that EITC recipients aren’t the worst offenders. For instance, in regards for certain kinds of business income, people pay only 37% of what they owe because they simply don’t report the income. As a result, hundreds of billions in government revenue is lost, which is way more than even the highest improper EITC payment estimates. But people owning business are audited by the IRS at the same rate as EITC recipients. National taxpayer advocate Nina Olson told ProPublica that the IRS disproportionate focus on stopping “improper payments” to EITC recipients is misguided. She asked, “What’s the difference between an erroneous EITC dollar being sent out and a dollar attributed to unreported self-employment income not collected?” Since she noted that unreported business income is “where the real money is.”

When EITC cheating does occur, tax preparers are usually the culprits. According to the National Consumer Law Center’s Chi Chi Wu, “They know the system, they game the system and ultimately the taxpayer ends up on the hook if there’s an audit.” While undercover NCLC and Government Accountability Office investigations found multiple preparers advising taxpayers to file bogus EITC claims. Using a tax preparer to figure out your taxes isn’t unusual in the US since 60% of American taxpayers use one. But commercial tax preparers have a dubious reputation as a predatory industry targeting the poor. And when EITC recipients are audited in the future, they’re less likely to claim credit in the future. But most states don’t require tax preparers to be licensed and the IRS has limited ability to oversee them. In fact, after launching a program certifying preparers and subjecting them to regular compliance checks, a federal appeals court ruled in 2014 that the IRS doesn’t have that power. Congress could pass a bill to confer that authority to the agency and should. But despite some bipartisan support for the idea, it hasn’t.

In any case, as soon as Donald Trump and his cronies lose the vestiges of political power, we must reform the tax system. While most Americans see tax evasion as illegal and morally wrong, the wealthy and powerful abide by a different set of rules than the rest of us. Not only does the tax system enable the wealthy to take advantage of tax loopholes, it also lets them to blur the line between legal tax avoidance and illegal tax evasion with little consequence. We must reform the tax system to close the loopholes rich people use to dodge taxes and substantially increase funding to the IRS to ensure that the laws we do enact are strongly enforced.

The Insidious Inauguration Committee

In previous posts about President Cheeto Fascist, I have talked about how he manages to make almost any kind of charity or fundraising into a moneymaking scheme. And I talked about how he’s much more inclined to listen to donors willing to buy access to him through staying at his resorts and joining his clubs. Anyway, on Thursday, December 13, 2018, prosecutors in the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced they were looking into Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, according to the Wall Street Journal. Apparently, investigators are interested in the committee’s spending and into the potential corruption involving favors for its donors. While the Journal reports that the criminal probe stems at least in part from material during the FBI’s April raid on Michael Cohen’s residence and office.

Even before this, multiple media outlets reported earlier in 2018 that special counsel Robert Mueller was investigating potential Russia-tied donations to Donald Trump’s inaugural committee. Yet, this news is the first confirmation of a broader probe into his inauguration and its money. After all, aside from working as Paul Manafort’s henchmen, Rick Gates also helped run it. Nonetheless, given Trump’s history involving making money off his campaign and presidency, this news shouldn’t come as a surprise. Since there have long been glaring questions behind Trump’s inauguration and where it went. Because his inaugural committee raised a truly astonishing $106.7 million, doubling the previous record Barack Obama‘s 2009 inaugural set. But what they did with it remains unclear. Nonetheless, in a 2018 ProPublica and WNYC report, former chair of George W. Bush’s second inauguration, Greg Jenkins was dumbstruck. He told ProPublica, “They had a third of the staff and a quarter of the events and they raise at least twice as much as we did. So there’s the obvious question: Where did it go? I don’t know.”

After that truly unfortunate night in November when Donald Trump unexpectedly won the 2016 presidential election, he was tasked with setting up an inauguration that would be worthy of his name and “opulent” reputation, which would be a gilded trash heap. Now the federal government pays for the swearing-in ceremony and logistics. But Trump would have to pay for all the before and after parties and events like the pre-inaugural National Mall concert, dinners and events for elite supporters, and the inaugural ball. So he needed a lot of money. Of course, raising money for one’s inauguration isn’t unusual for an incoming president. Rather than fund the festivities himself, the so-called wealthiest not-my-president-elect ever, Trump decided to follow suit raising the cash from billionaires, wealthy financiers, and corporations.

So a week after his horrifying electoral victory, Donald Trump named a murderers’ row of superrich Republicans as “finance vice chairs” for the event. These included:

  • Sheldon Adelson– casino billionaire known for donating to Republican causes and had his wife receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom that she didn’t seem to deserve.
  • Steve Wynn– casino billionaire Donald Trump might’ve screwed over in Atlantic City who was later accused of sexually abusing his employees.
  • Elliot Broidy– a defense contractor and well-known Republican fundraiser who was later involved in hush money payments to a Playboy model and a client to Michael Cohen. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to paying bribes to get investments from the New York state pension fund. His felony conviction was later downgraded to a misdemeanor. He’s also come under scrutiny in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
  • Anthony Scaramucci– some corporate guy who was Donald Trump’s communications director for 10 days during the summer of 2017 and had to resign over an obscene interview with the New Yorker.

The committee’s treasurer Doug Ammerman was named by prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in a tax shelter fraud during the early 2000s. He was also a partner at accounting firm, KPMG, which later admitted to criminal liability. A Senate investigation at the time include emails from Ammerman suggesting he was aware of the scheme. In addition, he’s currently accused in a shareholder lawsuit of dumping stock in a grilled chicken chain, El Pollo Loco, where he served on the board, ahead of a bad quarterly report.

The chair of the inaugural committee in charge of it all was Tom Barrack, a real estate billionaire investor and close friend of Donald Trump for 4 decades. Anyway, Barrack’s business interests have recently been concentrated in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. According to him, his goal was for the inauguration to have a “soft sensuality” and “poetic cadence.” Though I would more or less the event as akin to something between The Hunger Games and Titanic. To assist with planning and fundraising, Barrack turned to Manafort right-hand man, Rick Gates. After all, Barrack had known Paul Manafort since the 1970s and helped convince Trump to bring him on to the campaign. But to no one’s surprise, the choice raised eyebrows since Manafort had been ousted as Trump’s campaign chairman after the release of several scandal-laden stories about his work in for pro-Russian Ukranian politicians. And yet, Gates became instrumental in the committee’s activities as a possible “shadow” inauguration chair and Barrack’s “chief deputy.” As we know both Manafort and Gates have agreed to plea deals with Robert Mueller and promised to cooperate with government investigators. Gates kept his word. Manafort didn’t.

While Donald Trump’s inauguration crowd was nowhere near the largest in history, the inaugural fundraising certainly was. Tom Barrack, Rick Gates, and the team racked in more than $106 million, a jaw-dropping sum doubling the previous record set by Barack Obama’s team in 2009. However, the fundraising scheme went like this: the more you give, the more exclusive events you got access to. According to the Center for Public Integrity, listed perks with each donation target include:

  • $250,000 will get you a Union Station candlelight dinner with the Trumps and Pences.
  • $500,000 will get you a dinner with then Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
  • $1 million will get into the “Leadership Luncheon” at Donald Trump’s Washington DC Hotel.

OpenSecrets.org provided a donor list of those willing to fork over large sums. Among those include:

Finance Industry Big Shots (all donate $1 million each):

  • Robert Mercer– a rich eccentric billionaire who owns Brietbart and Cambridge Analytica that the New Yorker called “the reclusive hedge-fund tycoon behind the Trump presidency.”
  • Paul Singer– another hedge-fund billionaire who funds the Washington Free Beacon website which had ironically paid the opposition firm Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Donald Trump during the primaries. Their efforts resulted in the infamous Steele Dossier which famously alleged the pee-pee tape situation. Wonder what inspired him to change his mind about the guy.
  • Steve Cohen– a man whose hedge fund group was closed down due to insider trading allegations.

Corporate America:

  • Contributed $2 million: AT&T
  • Contributed $1 million: Bank of America, Boeing, Dow Chemical, Pfizer, and Qualcomm
  • Contributed at least $500,000: JP Morgan Chase, FedEx, Chevron, Exxon, Fidelity, Citgo, and BP America.

Secret Conservative Groups (Donated $1 million each):

  • The American Action Network– a dark money nonprofit that’s spent tens of millions on elections since 2010.
  • “BH Group LLC” – a mysterious shell company whose true source remained unknown for more than a year. Only in 2018 did journalist Robert Maguire trace that contribution to a group tied to the conservative legal movement and Federalist Society executive Leonard Leo who’s found a prominent role advising Donald Trump on judicial nominations.

But these are only samples all of the donors who contributed vast sums from their bottom lists of cash reserves so they can have input in shaping policy that benefits their bottom line. After all, they didn’t just hand over their cash for the inaugural festivities. Nonetheless, they’re not the only kinds of donors who forked over their cash to Donald Trump’s inaugural committee either. For we must not forget those donors with major ties to Russia and other foreign countries who reportedly caught Robert Mueller’s eye. ABC News reported that Mueller questioned “about millions of dollars in donations to President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee” — specifically about “donors with connections to Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.” As far as the Associated Press is concerned, Mueller’s investigators have interviewed inauguration chair Tom Barrack. But the AP’s sources gave conflicting accounts on what they asked him about. One claimed they only asked him about Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. Another claimed questioning included, “financial matters about the campaign, the transition and Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.” In June 2017, another ABC News report stated that Mueller investigators why several billionaires with “deep ties to Russia” got access to “exclusive, invitation-only receptions” during the inauguration.

Nevertheless, beyond the many questions about the money Donald Trump’s inauguration committee collected, there have long been many questions about money going out of it. Though I highly suspect that much of it went straight to the Trump Organization. In the ProPublica and WNYC piece, several people involved in previous inaugurations were stumped over how Trump’s team could have possibly spent more than $100 million for what they got. Unfortunately, unlike in political campaigns, the inaugural committee isn’t required to disclose very much about its spending. Yet, in its nonprofit tax form, the committee does have to break down its expenses in broad categories. But they need not explain every line item.

In any case, according to the tax form, about half the money (more than $50 million) went to just 2 vendors. $25.8 million went to WIS Media Partners, an event production firm started by a now-former adviser to Melania Trump. Another $25 million went to Hargrove, Inc. for “event production.” What did these firms do with these massive sums? God only knows. But that leaves about $50 million remaining. From that, another $10 million in total went to another 3 vendors, $4.6 million was paid out in salaries, and $5 million was left over and given out as grants. Yet, where tens of millions more went remains a mystery, beyond the broadest categories given on the disclosure forms. For now, whether this was sloppy financial mismanagement or something shadier is unclear. Though given Donald Trump’s propensity for moneymaking schemes, it’s more likely the latter. Not to mention, if there’s anyone who knows where the money went, it’s Rick Gates. And whatever he knows, prosecutors know, too.

But whatever the case, the fundraising involved with Donald Trump‘s inauguration should show us that this unrespectable man is no savior to his white working class supporters. In fact, he just sees them as suckers gullible enough to buy into his fraudulent promises he never intends to keep. He is a man who can be bought and usually is. He may appreciate his supporters’ votes and constant praise they bestow on him at his ego boosting rallies. But if they really want his ear, then they will have to accumulate more wealth than most will ever be able to make in their lifetimes. Maybe even get a membership at his exclusive clubs and resorts that can cost thousands of dollars. If not, then millions. Besides, Trump has a well known history of screwing his employees just to enrich his own coffers. And he’s currently getting rich from the presidency with our taxpayer dollars.

Donald Trump as President Is the Real National Emergency

After weeks of battling over funding for a worthless border wall that won’t do shit, overseeing the longest government shutdown in US history, and finally signing on to a deal to fund the government, Donald Trump has declared a national emergency over a contrived crisis at the US Mexican Border. On Friday, February 15, 2019, Trump invoked this power in a unilateral effort to make progress on the stupid border wall Congress has previously denied him. Initially, he demanded $5 billion for constructing a 200-mile barrier at the border. Naturally, congressional Democrats have repeatedly refused to go anywhere near that number. In the final deal, he got about $1.3 billion for border fencing, far less than the desired amount. So unhappy with the money and not getting his way, Trump went to declare a national emergency to get more.

So where will all this money come from? Well, Donald Trump will try cobbling together from a number of areas and redirect them for border wall construction. According to White House officials, this money would comprise of $600 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund or money seized by the US government, $2.5 billion from the Department of Defense’s counter-drug activities, and $3.6 billion from other military construction accounts. Though Trump won’t try to take anything from disaster relief, yet.
Now the fact Donald Trump has declared a national emergency in addition to a spending deal isn’t surprising since he’s been wavering on the idea for weeks. So why declare a national emergency when he’s already got a spending deal? Because Trump doesn’t want to admit he lost. Since he’s already getting less for border fencing than he would’ve gotten in the bill he refused to sign in December and caused a 35-day shutdown over it. So he’s going for executive action instead despite that it’s debatable whether he can since no emergency at the border exists.

Since 1976, many presidents have declared national emergencies since there were 31 before Donald Trump’s declaration. However, the National Emergencies Act of 1976 only allows presidents to declare national emergencies in specific circumstances. So Trump can only use specific powers Congress has already codified in law. And he has to say which power he’s using. Besides, thanks to a little incident called Watergate, the 1976 law was meant to rein in presidential power and how presidents declared national emergencies. But it doesn’t define what counts or doesn’t.

Despite Donald Trump’s fearmongering about an influx of dangerous undocumented immigrants and terrorists at the US Mexican border, no such crisis exists. In fact, there’s no significant shift in the situation in recent days or weeks suddenly rendering such urgent action needed. However, we do have lingering crises with healthcare, opioids, climate change, aging infrastructure, family separations at the border, economic inequality, environmental devastation, right-wing and white supremacist terrorism, and more. But no. Besides, Trump has spent 2 years of an entirely-controlled Republican Congress to do something about immigration. While there’s been no significant shift in the situation that suddenly renders urgent actions unnecessary.

This isn’t the first time that Donald Trump has invented an immigration crisis when it’s convenient. Ahead of the midterms, he warned about a dire threat from a migrant caravan, only to essentially drop the issue after the elections. Sure, asylum seekers in the US have been on the rise, but seeking asylum is legal. But Trump’s not focusing on that. Congress won’t pay for his stupid border wall. And Trump thinks he’ll lose his base if he abandons it. So he’s creating a panic and going to any length possible to get it done.
Essentially, given the context, Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration is illegal and sets a dangerous precedent if it succeeds. Under Article I of the US Constitution clearly states, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” So only Congress can make such laws relating to public funds in non-emergency situations. Thus, no one person can seize control of our nation’s public funds. And even if Trump can declare a national emergency to get the money he wants, that’s not enough to build a wall. He also needs the authority of eminent domain from numerous unwilling owners, which must be expressed by the legislature. And there’s no clear authorization here.

This also puts a test on the Republican Party’s lack of willingness to stand up to Donald Trump. After spending years of complaining about Barack Obama’s overreach, they have so far deferred to Trump and encouraged Americans to do the same. But in this case, Republicans have expressed concern that Trump’s emergency declaration might lead to future Democratic presidents doing the same on issues like healthcare or climate change. Of course, their fears are well founded, since healthcare and climate change are actual national emergencies. The fact Trump basically declared a national emergency at the border before golfing at Mar-a-Lago for the weekend, it’s clear he’s abusing his power. Thus, Trump’s emergency declaration is an obvious fraud since in a real emergency, you act fast.

As usual, Donald Trump will likely face court challenges over this declaration and he’ll probably see it as some vast radical left-wing conspiracy that’s out to get him. While he deserves to lose, it’s possible he could prevail since courts often give presidents undue deference on immigration and national security issues. But should he win, it would set a very dangerous precedents. Again, he can also see pushback from Congress, which can pass a joint resolution to override it with 2/3 majority in both houses. But that’s not going to happen since the Republicans have control of the Senate and will do whatever Trump wants. Nonetheless, the fact Trump basically declared a national emergency at the border before golfing at Mar-a-Lago for the weekend, it’s clear he’s abusing his power. Thus, Trump’s emergency declaration is an obvious fraud since in a real emergency, you act fast. In fake national emergencies, you act when the political timing is right to cover your ass because you need to back down from an ill-advised congressional fight followed from an ill-advised campaign promise.

Of course, US-Mexico border security isn’t perfect. But the world is full of problems that aren’t “emergencies” in the sense of requiring some kind of urgent extralegal repurposing of funds. Nonetheless, by robbing the nation’s drug interdiction and military construction budgets for his stupid border wall, Donald Trump will more likely make the nation’s problems worse than better. Since fencing our southern border has been ongoing for decades and is subject to diminishing returns, with valuable sections already fenced in.

In the past couple of months, the real crisis on display is Donald Trump’s total incompetence you can see from miles away. For he doesn’t understand a policy agenda or get anything done. Without Paul Ryan around to drive a legislative agenda he could rubber stamp, he’s failing. First, it’s shutting down the government and throwing millions of people’s lives into chaos. Second, it’s reopening the government having gotten nothing he could’ve had in December while adopting a “Hail Mary” scheme that will only make things worse. Though it’s better than a real shutdown, we should all be worried that Trump can’t handle a real crisis if it’s staring at him in the face.

This whole stupid wall farce began back in 2015 when Donald Trump promised to build a wall across the entire US-Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it. Even anyone with half a brain could see that this was an extremely stupid idea that was wasteful and unworkable in every way. But somehow thanks to racism and xenophobia, Trump transmogrified his opponents‘ mockery into a test of will. According to him, the political establishment didn’t want to secure the border, but Trump did. And the wall was proof. Now that Trump is in office much to our nightmares, he has been confronting the reality that his critics were right in every way. Since Mexico obviously won’t pay for his stupid border wall, he needs congressional appropriations and the cost-benefit analysis is valid. Trump has long ago conceded that he can’t build a wall across the entire border since there are places where It’s infeasible and useless. Not to mention, he’s also conceded that there won’t be a wall at all, but the previous steel bollard anti-pedestrian fencing he had previously mocked is a useful barrier and that Border Patrol prefers its see-through quality.

Thus, on a practical level, this whole dispute is simply about the spending levels and construction pace of a type of border hardening that’s been underway for years. While Republicans think it’s important, Democrats find this border hardening rightfully wasteful. Any halfway competent president would see this as the most banal political controversy imaginable. Since if you want to get money for a pet project, you have to offer something to your opponents in exchange. But Donald Trump’s problem here is that the wall is such a terrible idea that his allies and staff know it. The sort of illicit border crossings that these pedestrian fences are supposed to prevent have already fallen to very low levels and the immigration conversation has moved on to other things like the treatment of asylum-seeking families from Central America. But because the wall is bad, immigration hawks don’t want to make any meaningful concessions to get it. Anytime talks seem to take off about some swap of help for DREAMers in exchange for wall money, the hawks swoop in with a bunch of other demands having nothing to do with the wall. That conservatives don’t want to make concessions on an inherently bad idea is reasonable. But at the same time, if your allies aren’t willing to make concessions on a bad idea, it’s better to let the matter slide, not throw a tantrum. But Trump won’t do that.

First, the shutdown and now the “emergency” both stem from the basic fact that Donald Trump will neither admit the whole spiel was crock nor decide to act like someone who genuinely wants a wall and make a deal to get it. Instead, everyone’s time and money will be wasted on litigation while money will be taken away from duly authorized programs and sent to a useless construction project nobody really wants. This isn’t the worst thing anyone has done in American politics. Hell, it’s not even close to being the worst thing Trump has ever done. But it’s arguably the most absurd. Not to mention, it once again raises the fundamental question about Trump. When you have a president who can’t handle relatively banal problems like a $5 billion appropriation for a pet project, what will happen when a real crisis hits? Oh, wait, he is the crisis.

The Mad Hatter Gets Cuffed

In the early daylight hours of Friday, January 25, 2019, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone was arrested at his Florida home in connection with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. He was indicted for obstruction, making false statements, and witness tampering. These charges center on Stone’s lies to the House Intelligence Committee during a 2017 hearing about his statements and efforts to get in touch with WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign. The indictment conspicuously mentions that “a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone” about what WikiLeaks might have on Hillary Clinton. However, the indictment doesn’t attempt to explain why Stone would lie about this or tell a definitive story about what happened between him and Wikileaks at the time. Nor has he been charged with any criminal activity during the campaign. In fact, the actual charges against Roger Stone don’t allege that he committed any crimes during the 2016 campaign. Instead, they alleged him attempting to obstruct investigations into what happened afterward.

The hacking and leaking of the Democrats’ emails has long been the centerpiece of the Mueller investigation. Already, Robert Mueller has charged several Russian intelligence officers with this. Eventually, WikiLeaks publicly posted many of these emails with the Democratic National Committee’s in July 2016 and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s 4 months later.

Roger Stone’s various statements including public ones, raised questions on whether he had some sort of inside knowledge about WikiLeaks or its plans. He’s denied knowing anything about it, claiming that anything he knew about WikiLeaks came from an intermediary, radio host Randy Credico. Now Stone has been accused of lying to the House Intelligence Committee in 2017 (on 5 counts) and trying to tamper with Credico as a witness so that he’d stick to that false story. Overall, while the indictment aptly establishes that Stone lied about WikiLeaks, it doesn’t tell the full story about what happened between Stone, WikiLeaks, and the various intermediaries in 2016.

Dressed like a super villain, Roger Stone has been a longtime GOP operative whose reputation for dirty tricks days all the way back to Richard Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign. During the mid-1980s, Stone has been an on-and-off adviser to Donald Trump and co-founded a famous lobbying firm with Paul Manafort during that same decade. When Trump began his presidential campaign in 2015, Stone was a part of his original team. But he lasted only a month, departing the operation in early August after clashing with staffers. Nevertheless, he remained in Trump’s orbit, communicating with the candidate himself afterward. In fact, he helped engineer Manafort’s hiring on the campaign. As the 2016 general election neared, Stone frequently spoke about the hacks and leaks of Democratic emails and other documents. In August, he praised a Russian intelligence run online persona said to be responsible for them, “Guccifer 2.0.” In addition, he claimed that he “communicated” with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange who posted the DNC emails. While he repeatedly hinted of more damaging Clinton material coming during the next 2 months. Only after the election did we learn about his private communication with both entities.

According to the new indictment, after July 22, 2016, “a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact Roger Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information” WikiLeaks “had regarding the Clinton Campaign.” This indicates that the Trump campaign wanted to stay updated on what WikiLeaks had about Hillary Clinton and that Stone was the guy who kept them in the know. But prosecutors don’t give away any more details about who directed that campaign official to reach out to Stone. For that reason, this tidbit implication isn’t totally clear. But prosecutors certainly included this tantalizing detail for a reason.

Around this time, Roger Stone also had a set of communications with conservative author and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, regarding getting contact from Julian Assange. On July 25, Stone emailed Corsi telling him to “get to” Assange in the “Ecuadorian Embassy in London and get the pending” WikiLeaks “emails.” Corsi forwarded the message to an “overseas individual.” On July 31, Stone wrote to Corsi that Trump campaign adviser Ted Malloch ”should see” Assange. On August 2, Corsi emailed Stone claiming knowledge of Assange’s plans. According to him, “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back [from a trip in Europe]. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging..” Corsi continued: “Would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke — neither he nor she well. I expect that much of next dump focus, setting stage for [Clinton] Foundation debacle.”

Not long afterward on August 4, Roger Stone emailed fellow ex-Trump adviser Sam Nunberg, “I dined with Julian Assange last night.” Though Stone said it was a joke when the email became public long afterwards.The day after he emailed Sam Nunberg, Stone penned a Brietbart article taking Guccifer’s story about being the lone hacker who stole the DNC emails at face value and argued that Russia probably didn’t do it (despite that they certainly did and that Guccifer was a Russian intel official). He also tweeted, “Julian Assange is a hero.” On August 8, 2016, Stone began publicly claiming to have inside information, saying “I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation but there’s no telling what the October surprise may be.”

A few days later, Roger Stone began tweeting and DMing with Guccifer 2.0 (who again, has been identified as a Russian intelligence officer). Some of these DMs later leaked, leading Stone to post what he claimed was the full exchange (it wasn’t). Not surprisingly, the posted messages were mainly friendly chitchat and not particularly substantive (which weren’t mentioned in the new indictment). On August 21, 2016, Stone tweeted an odd prediction, “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary.” Months before the Podesta emails became public, many would point out to this and ask whether Stone had any advance knowledge of the Podesta email leak. But Stone later claimed that since this came in the midst of a scandal surrounding Paul Manafort’s Ukraine work, he merely predicted “Podesta’s business dealings would be exposed.”

In October 2016, Roger Stone took on a new role of WikiLeaks hype man. He again claimed inside knowledge saying a “friend” of his met with Julian Assange and learned “the mother lode is coming Wednesday.” He tweeted: “Wednesday @HillaryClinton is done. #Wikileaks.” When nothing came that Wednesday, Stone tweeted: “Libs thinking Assange will stand down are wishful thinking. Payload coming. #Lockthemup.” Assange posted the Podesta emails 2 days later. Immediately, there were questions about whether the garrulous operative have been involved. This spurred WikiLeaks to tweet that the group “has never communicated with Roger Stone.” The Atlantic reported that Stone DMed the WikiLeaks Twitter account afterward, complaining they were “attacking” him. WikiLeaks responded, “The false claims of association are being used by the democrats to undermine the impact of our publications. Don’t go there if you don’t want us to correct you.” Stone shot back, “Ha! The more you ‘correct’ me the more people think you’re lying. Your operation leaks like a sieve. You need to figure out who your friends are.”

By 2017, Roger Stone was putting forward an apparent cover story for whatever actually happened in 2016. He insisted that everything he heard about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks came from his “intermediary” talk radio host Randy Credico. When Stone went in to testify before the House Intelligence Committee during a closed session in September, he stuck to that story.

Roger Stone had also put an effort to get Randy Credico to stick to his false story, sometimes using Godfather references. When Credico repeatedly asked Stone to correct his testimony, Stone refused. When Credico was called to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in November 2017, Stone tried to convince him to lie in support to Stone’s initial testimony. According to prosecutors, Stone did this quite colorfully, telling Credico he should claim that he was his only contact to Julian Assange, that he didn’t remember what he told Stone, or what Stone referred to as pulling a “Frank Pentangeli,” recanting testimony during a hearing. In December, according to prosecutors, Credico informed the House Intelligence Committee that he’d plead the Fifth if subpoenaed to testify in part to “avoid providing evidence that would show Stone’s previous testimony to Congress was false.”

But Roger Stone and Randy Credico continued to discuss the Russian investigation. While Stone repeatedly made it clear that Credico would pay if he talked to law enforcement and contradicted his statements. He texted the radio host at one point, “‘Stonewall it. Plead the fifth. Anything to save the plan’ … Richard Nixon.” Stone later said, “If you turned over anything to the FBI you’re a fool.” Eventually, when Credico wouldn’t stick to his story, Stone got angrier, writing in April 2018, “You are a rat. A stoolie. You backstab your friends.” He then threatened to steal Credico’s therapy dog before deciding he’d threaten the host’s life instead.

There’s ample documentary evidence that Roger Stone’s story about Randy Credico being his only contact with Assange is indeed, false. For the email exchanges with Jerome Corsi show that Stone talked to both men (with Stone and Credico’s correspondence telling a similar story). While there are allusions to what Stone had told top Trump campaign members about WikiLeaks’ plans. But it doesn’t read as any sort of final effort from prosecutors to sum up what happened back then. Or perhaps the Mueller crew don’t have sufficient evidence to show it.

In his book, Silent No More: How I Became a Political Prisoner of Mueller’s “Witch Hunt,” conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi goes into a lot of detail about what Robert Mueller’s prosecutors asked him and what evidence they had. Here, Corsi makes some surprising disclosures and admissions that really could shed light in the Mueller investigation. These parts of Corsi’s book are based on notes his lawyers took during the question sessions, according to him. In fact, he’s released a draft plea document Mueller put together, backing up some of them. According to his book, Corsi went in to talk with Mueller prosecutors in September 2018. At the time, he had little to offer, denying he helped Roger Stone get in touch with WikiLeaks. Instead, he claimed warning Stone that such activity that could expose him to surveillance and investigation. Mueller’s team broke off the interview with a prosecutor stating they have “demonstrable proof that what you said was false.” They suggested he review his old emails and come back for another session.

But before the next session, Jerome Corsi writes, Mueller prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky agreed to give his lawyer David Gray more details about what to expect next time. According to Corsi, Zelinsky told Gray:

  • They had evidence Corsi told multiple people that Julian Assange had John Podesta’s emails as early as August 2016, 2 months before that news became public.
  • That Corsi said that Assange had planned to release those emails in October, in a “drip-drip-drip” fashion, which proved spot on.
  • That they had evidence that Roger Stone had called Corsi shortly before the infamous Access Hollywood tape was released and urged him to get word to Assange to start dumping the Podesta emails to counteract the fallout. (This is a particular interesting claim because the first Podesta email batch was released a half an hour after the Access Hollywood tape was. There had long been speculation that the timing was connected, but there hasn’t been any evidence to support that).

In Jerome Corsi’s second round of questioning with Mueller’s team in September 2018, he admitted that all this is true. He also confessed to helping Roger Stone concoct a “cover story” to explain away the suspicious Podesta tweet. This seems to suggest that Trump associates had good advance information about the stolen (Russian-hacked) Podesta emails and that some sort of effort at coordinating their release to benefit Donald Trump’s campaign. Of course, Corsi walks back on the information he provides but what he does admit is a huge problem for Stone. Even worse, Corsi wrote that he explained on that during a conference call with the staff of the WorldNetDaily so there would be witnesses to back up this version of events, if it’s true. And perhaps those witnesses talked to Robert Mueller already.

Though most of Jerome Corsi’s book is untrustworthy conspiracy-fringe nonsense, he doesn’t appear to fabricate these emails and phone records. Since the Roger Stone indictment cited much of the email evidence Corsi cites in his book. Yet, the draft plea deal document alleges that Corsi deleted from before the Podesta release before the Mueller team found them. And he tried shifting his story in an attempt to hide what actually happened. Nonetheless, what this book seems to suggest is that Mueller had been intently interested in making some sort of case against Stone directly involving WikiLeaks and the Podesta emails. And he assembled a great deal of evidence toward that end even if investigators didn’t have enough to indict Stone on this. But the special counsel could still be pursuing that part of the probe so more charges against Stone and possibly Corsi.