Discover more from Letters from an American
October 17, 2022
Today the Biden administration opened the website to apply for relief from student debt, a policy that is expected to benefit 43 million Americans directly and others tangentially as debt relief frees up family resources. The administration also announced that the Food and Drug Administration’s final rule concerning Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy went into effect today, making hearing aids available over the counter and thereby lowering costs for the devices by as much as $3,000 a pair.
The administration has also recently achieved a historic diplomatic victory by brokering an agreement between Israel and Lebanon, two countries that have been formally at war since 1948, to establish a maritime boundary.
But all that news got drowned out by the continuing drama coming from the Republican Party. As Republican political strategist Sarah Longwell wrote in The Bulwark today, the Republican Party is facing an “extinction event,” having been taken over by former president Trump to become the right-wing MAGA Party. As Longwell wrote, “In the Republican party as it is currently constituted, political power emanates completely and totally from Donald Trump.”
Longwell explains that Republicans have been stuck in a “Triangle of Doom,” in which Republican base voters want their media to confirm their biases. Fringe media outlets confirming those biases gain traction. In order to reach voters, Republican politicians have to go on those fringe outlets, and that, in turn, normalizes fringe media. Over time, this triangle radicalized the party until 70% of Republicans now believe the lie that Democratic president Joe Biden didn’t win the 2020 election.
“Say goodnight,” she writes. “The party’s over.” All but the MAGA Republicans have left. “The Good Republicans are gone,” Longwell writes. “Probably for good.”
Today, Fox Nation began a mock trial of Hunter Biden, with reality TV personality Judge Joe Brown saying that “something’s way wrong here, way wrong,” and suggesting that the legal investigations into Trump and the lack of them into the Bidens give the appearance that Trump and Biden “don’t live in the same country.”
Hunter Biden is not in the government, of course, and is not under indictment; Trump and the Trump Organization are embroiled in a number of lawsuits that suggest the former president and his associates saw government service not as a way to improve American lives but as a way to make money. Ginning up a show trial for Hunter Biden seems an attempt to rile up the base and undercut the many legal issues in the news concerning the former president. But such a show trial is also a fundamental rejection of the rule of law, suggesting that the law is simply a political tool to use against enemies rather than a body of laws before which we are all treated equally.
There is a reason Trump supporters are trying to undermine the rule of law. In New York, Trump’s wealthy friend and financial backer Thomas Barrack is on trial for selling his access to Trump to the leaders of the United Arab Emirates in exchange for investment money. The U.S. government says that Barrack fed confidential information to UAE leaders while permitting them to shape Trump’s speeches and policies. In the first three years of Trump’s term, Saudi Arabia and the UAE invested about $1.5 billion in Barrack’s real estate company.
In Northern Virginia the trial of Igor Danchenko for making false statements to the FBI, led by John Durham and other holdovers from the Trump Justice Department, suggests the Trump administration played fast and loose with national security in an attempt to undermine the Russia investigation. Witnesses in the trial have testified that the “highly unusual” decision by Trump attorney general Bill Barr to declassify an interview with Danchenko and share it with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) hurt national security. Graham promptly made a summary of the interview public to bolster the argument that the Russia investigation was “corrupt.” But that release meant that internet hobbyists quickly figured out who Danchenko was, exposing a key FBI informant as well as his friends and family in Russia.
This exposure for political reasons not only burned a key source, it weakened the ability of the U.S. to cultivate informants.
Last week, Drew Harwell of the Washington Post broke the story that Will Wilkerson, an executive who had been in on the ground floor of Trump’s “Truth Social,” filed a whistleblower complaint against the company with the Securities and Exchange Commission last August 28. Wilkerson alleges that Truth Social and the special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) enlisted to finance the media company behind Truth Social violated federal securities laws. The Trump Media and Technology Group and one of those SPACs, Digital World Acquisition Corporation (DWAC), have been under criminal investigation since the summer; Wilkerson’s cooperation should advance that case.
Without laws, governmental office can be used simply as a way to amass money and power. Today the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis issued the third installment of its report. This one detailed how the Trump administration “engaged in an unprecedented campaign of political interference in the federal government’s pandemic response, which undermined public health to benefit the former president’s political goals.”
Angry that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for masks and lockdowns, Trump and his aides attacked CDC scientists and suppressed reports. Political operatives downplayed the risks of the novel coronavirus and used the power of the CDC to achieve Trump’s political goal of shutting down legal immigration across the southern border. The administration also used “hundreds of millions” of dollars of CDC funds to “what amounted to a celebrity vanity campaign to ‘defeat despair and inspire hope’” before the 2020 election.
Today, Carol D. Leonnig at the Washington Post wrote that records obtained by the chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), show that when Trump was in office, his company charged Secret Service agents as much as five times the government rate to stay in his hotels while providing protection for Trump and his family. Secret Service supervisors frequently asked for special waivers to enable them to pay rates higher than approved government guidelines.
Leonnig noted that billing documents representing “a fraction” of those expenses show that U.S. taxpayers paid at least $1.4 million to the Trump Organization for rooms at Trump properties, which he visited more than 500 times during his presidency and continued to visit with security after he left office.
Eric Trump took issue with the story, saying that the Trump Organization provided services to the Secret Service at the agents’ request, and that services were provided “at cost, heavily discounted, or for free.” “The company would have been substantially better off if hospitality services were sold to full-paying guests, however, the company did whatever it took to accommodate the agencies to ensure they were able to do their jobs at the highest levels.”