December 6, 2021
On June 3, 2021, President Biden vowed to combat international corruption in order to protect democracy. [C]orruption threatens United States national security, economic equity, global antipoverty and development efforts, and democracy itself,” he said. “[B]y effectively preventing and countering corruption and demonstrating the advantages of transparent and accountable governance, we can secure a critical advantage for the United States and other democracies.”
Today, two days before the Biden administration will host the Summit for Democracy, a gathering of 110 countries to consider ways to strengthen democracy, it released a comprehensive strategy for countering corruption. In a Washington Post op-ed, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Samantha Power, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), focused on money laundering and tax evasion as the key tools of financial corruption that are eroding democracy.
The new strategy pulls together the Departments of State, Treasury, and Commerce, along with the USAID, to expose global financial shenanigans, hold corrupt actors to account, and protect journalists who dig into stories of corruption, the stories that often bring down corrupt autocrats (as Alexei Navalny did to undermine Vladimir Putin in Russia before Putin had him thrown into prison).
That latter point is significant, since tomorrow Biden will have a phone call with Putin about Russia’s troop buildup on its border with Ukraine. The release of this document before the call reinforces the message Biden is expected to deliver: if Russia invades Ukraine again, it will pay an enormous financial price through sanctions and exclusion from international financial markets.
In the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin points out that combating the rise of authoritarianism overseas is all well and good, but the administration ought to start at home. “[T]he Republican Party in the United States is conducting itself precisely as illiberal movements in other countries,” she writes, “seeking to corrupt our election system, limit access to the ballot, discredit the sanctity of elections and wink at violence. Unless defenders of democracy recognize and identify the party as the most serious threat to American democracy, we will be in a poor position to halt the advance of illiberalism.”
Indeed, in an interview on the Fox News Channel last night, former president Trump appeared to say that he fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017 to prevent his own removal from office. This sure sounds like the crime of obstruction of justice.
More currently, Trump’s venture into a media company is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The announcement that Trump Media and Technology group would merge with Digital World, a special purpose acquisition company (known as a SPAC), sent shares of Digital World up by as much as 1,657%, according to CNN Business (that number is not a typo). Little is known about Trump’s venture, and so far it hasn’t produced anything; it missed the November date by which it claimed it would release a preliminary product.
Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) announced today he is retiring from Congress at the end of December to run Trump’s new media company. Nunes has been a staunch Trump loyalist. In California’s redistricting after the recent census meant it would lose a congressional seat, Nunes’s district was reshaped, making winning reelection look like an uphill battle. Announcing the deal, Trump called Nunes “a fighter and a leader…[who] understands that we must stop the liberal media and Big Tech from destroying the freedoms that make America great.” But that Nunes is going to work for Trump’s apparently dormant company suggests he does not have a lot of options.
This morning, Politico revealed the contents of a 36-page memo written by Colonel Earl Matthews of the D.C. National Guard to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. In the memo, Matthews called two Army generals “absolute and unmitigated liars” for their account of what happened on January 6. He says that General Charles Flynn, who served as deputy chief of staff for operations on January 6 and who is the brother of Michael Flynn, and Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, the director of Army staff, would not authorize the deployment of the D.C. National Guard despite the pleas of then–Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund. In testimony before Congress, both men denied they had stood in the way of the deployment; Matthews says their very careful testimony was “willful deception of Congress.”
But not everyone is ignoring behavior that may be criminal. The January 6 committee has been gathering testimony, and we learned today that Marc Short, who was chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, is cooperating. Short has worked for Pence for years and objected fiercely to the Eastman memo demanding that Pence overturn the election. Short was with Pence on the day of January 6. According to CNN reporters Jamie Gangel, Michael Warren, and Ryan Nobles, several members of Pence’s inner circle in addition to Short are cooperating with the committee.
Also today, the Department of Justice sued the state of Texas for violating the Voting Rights Act, saying its aggressively gerrymandered new districts discriminate against minority voters. Ninety-five percent of Texas’s population growth in the past decade has come from Black, Latino, and Asian people, but the new maps dilute their voting power and strengthen that of white voters. Voting rights expert Ari Berman explains that the new maps mean that whites make up 40% of the population but control 60% of the districts, Latinos make up 39% of the population but control 20% of the districts, Blacks make up 12% of the population but control 2% of the districts, and Asians make up 5% of the population but control 0% of the districts.