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Senate Probe Finds NRA Knowingly Served Russian Agent’s Scheme

Earlier this year, Maria Butina was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy charges. The Kremlin-linked founder of Russia’s equivalent to the National Rifle Association’s had, without registering as a foreign agent, been working to infiltrate America’s NRA and other conservative organizations.

A new report by the Senate Finance Committee’s Democratic staff reveals that the NRA knew about Butina’s links to Vladimir Putin’s regime and welcomed her anyway, offering her access to the conservative movement.

The same, they found, was true of Butina’s then-boss, former Russian government official Alexander Torshin — a “lifetime member” of the NRA who was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Treasury in April 2018.

According to their investigation, “the NRA, its officers, board members, and donors engaged in a years-long effort to facilitate the U.S.-based activities of Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin.” They also found that some NRA officials who traveled to Moscow for a December 2015 meeting with Butina’s group used the trip for their own business interests, a possible breach of the NRA’s tax-exempt purpose.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Finance Committee’s ranking member, observed that the officer’s “apparent use of the NRA for personal gain fits a larger pattern of reported self-dealing” and suggests the organization may be violating tax laws.

The report notes an email sent to two senior NRA staffers in which Butina wrote that the aim of that 2015 trip was “many powerful figures in the Kremlin are counting on Torshin to prove his American connections.” She also offered to attendees that she might be able to introduce them to “Russia’s highest leader,” Putin himself.

Despite knowing this, the NRA apparently used its own resources to pay for both Torshin and Butina to attend conservative political various events.

Butina repeatedly showed up at 2016 campaign events and even got to ask Donald Trump a question at a 2015 FreedomFest event in Las Vegas.

In a 2016 email, Butina amusingly told ThinkProgress, “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but there is no international conspiracy at work surrounding the organization I founded, ‘The Right to Bear Arms.'”

“The Right to Bear Arms and your American NRA are completely separate organizations,” she continued. “We have no political or financial ties of any kind. Though we are literally ‘comrades in arms’ in a shared belief that a right to own a firearm makes people safe.”

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Getting Restless Under The Rule Of The Republican Minority

Assuming that the White House errs on the side of sanity, Democrats may be unable to prevent President Trump’s Supreme Court pick from being confirmed. But if they play their cards right, they may be able to highlight the single most important issue now confronting American democracy: increasingly unrepresentative minority rule.

On issue after issue, majority views are stifled. Regarding the Supreme Court, Republicans have become precisely what they have long pretended to abhor: a party relying upon unelected, “elitist” judges to win political disputes in the courts that they can’t win at the ballot box.

As New York ‘s Jonathan Chait trenchantly points out, Democrats have received more votes than Republican nominees in six out of the last seven presidential elections—starting with Bill Clinton in 1992.

Yet four of the eight Supreme Court justices whose judicial activism has dominated American politics since Bush v. Gore—the nakedly partisan decision handing the presidency to George W. Bush, Lion of Baghdad—have been appointed by a Republican president.

The results have been damaging to our democracy, none more than the 2010 Citizens United decision, in which the Supremes essentially ruled that corporate money is speech, rendering virtually all campaign finance laws toothless on First Amendment grounds. This has corrupted our politics almost beyond measure. In his dissent to the 5-4 decision, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that the ruling “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation….[a] democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.”

Who could now believe anything else?

Then there’s D.C. vs Heller, the 2008 decision invalidating gun control laws based upon an absolutist reading of the Second Amendment, at odds with the plain text, which includes the phrase “well-regulated.” Over 200 years, such an interpretation never occurred to anybody until Justice Antonin Scalia dreamed it up. In view of the subsequent carnage, even Scalia had second thoughts, telling a Colorado audience after a grisly mass murder committed by a mental patient wielding an AR-15 that the right to keep and bear arms was not absolute.

The brilliant jurist gave as an example of a weapon that might be forbidden—I am not making this up—a hand-held rocket launcher capable of bringing down an airplane. He was a real card, Justice Scalia.

Although the great majority of gun owners (myself included) would favor laws taking military weapons out of civilian hands and imposing strict background checks, a Republican Party completely in thrall to the National Rifle Association—whose money, even Russian money, is deemed speech after all—resists sensible legislation. In consequence, mass shooting incidents have become an increasingly common feature of American life, rendering the sane majority helpless and fatalistic—a bad state of mind in a democratic republic.

Should a Republican Senate jam through  the nomination of yet another cookie-cutter Federalist Society ideologue before November’s congressional elections, Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker predicts some rulings we can expect.

The Supreme Court, he writes, “will overrule Roe v. Wade, allowing states to ban abortions and to criminally prosecute any physicians and nurses who perform them. It will allow shopkeepers, restaurateurs, and hotel owners to refuse service to gay customers on religious grounds. It will guarantee that fewer African-American and Latino students attend élite universities. It will approve laws designed to hinder voting rightsIt will invoke the Second Amendment to prohibit states from engaging in gun control, including the regulation of machine guns and bump stocks.”

None of these outcomes is favored by the majority of American voters. Not even close in most cases. Take Roe v Wade, for example. Polls show that two-thirds of voters nationwide favor keeping government out of people’s bedrooms and doctor’s offices. The conservative in me, for example, sees it as a straight-up Fourth Amendment privacy issue.

Regardless of your own or your church’s view that abortion is a terrible sin, how does government even know when a woman becomes pregnant? It’s simply nobody’s business. Nothing could be more private or personal. Where does anybody, much less government, get off making so intimate a decision for anybody else? It’s not a matter of being pro-abortion, but pro-liberty.

So are we headed for a country where citizens in New York, California and other highly-populated places have dramatically different personal freedoms from those in what H.L. Mencken called the “cow states?” Could be.

Indeed, much of the nation’s political paralysis derives from the outsized power the Constitution gives about 30 thinly-populated states in the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College. As things stand, the average citizen of Wyoming has approximately 70 times more power than a Californian. Exacerbated by an authoritarian president and enshrined in a Supreme Court dominated by Republican ideologues, this undemocratic division of power is tearing at the nation’s foundations.

Senate Democrats can make a great show of resisting a Trump nominee, but the only long-term solution lies in voters’ hands.

IMAGE: Pro-abortion rights protesters and anti-abortion protesters jostle with their signs as they demonstrate in the hopes of a ruling in their favor on decisions at the Supreme Court building in Washington, June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

5 Ways Trump Is A Living Parody Of Conservative Beliefs

Who shows up at the opening of a nursery school opened to care for AIDS patients, demands to speak as if he were an honored guest, and then leaves without ever offering a donation?

The man who would eventually become the current Republican nominee for president.

That’s the stunning opening ancedote of a new blockbuster account of Donald Trump’s charitable giving by The Washington Post‘s David A. Fahrenthold.

Fahrenthold first got on the Trump charity beat to investigate a “veterans’ charity” event Trump conjured as a diversion when he decided to skip a Republican debate to protest Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who attempted to point out that his foul treatment of women might become an issue in the campaign. The Post reporter wondered what had happened to the “millions” promised to vets, including a million pledged by Trump himself. The money finally showed up — but only four months later, after a story in the Post questioned the donation.

Since then, Fahrenthold has used Twitter as his notebook and ally in his effort to document the “tens of millions” the Trump campaign claims its candidate has given to charity. Our David Cay Johnston pointed out over a year ago that Trump hadn’t given to his own charity in a decade. And in months of digging, Fahrenthold found that the largest gift the Donald J. Trump Foundation had given was $264,631 to renovate a fountain outside Trump’s Plaza Hotel.

Along the way, the now-star reporter also was the first to report on the Access Hollywood tape that revealed Trump bragging about sexual assault. But Fahrenthold’s look into Trump’s attempts to present himself as a generous man are invaluable, because he has revealed a hollow man who has come to represent the Republican Party —  the epitome of the sort of unchecked greed and exploitation the conservative movement was built to enable.

With charity for none and malice toward all, Trump exemplifies the perfidy of Republican policies in these five special ways:

  1. He pays no taxes.
    In the first debate, Donald Trump said it was smart not to pay taxes — seeming to contradict Mitt Romney’s point in the famed “47 percent” tape. In the next debate, Trump seemed to confirm a New York Times story suggesting that he hadn’t paid taxes for 18 years. In those nearly two decades, he declared bankruptcy over and over and took millions out of Atlantic City while leaving his workers and the town to rot. Meanwhile, Republicans were so concerned about the plight of the rich that they donated much of the budget surplus from the late 90s to making them richer with tax breaks that helped create the worst inequality between the rich and poor in America since before the Great Depression.
  2. He still seems to give almost nothing to charity.
    Get rid of high taxes and you won’t need a safety net! The rich will rush in to help the poor. Or so conservative theory tells us. Except that Donald Trump seems to have nearly erased his entire tax burden and then responded by creating a foundation that gets other people to help him pay for things —  like $7.00 for his son’s Boy Scout dues.
  3. He outsources almost anything he can and uses non-citizen labor while stoking fear of minorities.
    Trump’s protectionism is supposed to be a break from conservative orthodoxy, but his own business practices show him be a perfect example of why American workers are suffering. He seems to outsource anything he can put his name on; he used undocumented workers to build Trump Tower; and right now he’s employing non-citizens over citizens at his Mar-a-Lago resort. His excuse? “You shouldn’t let me do it.” He claims he will make the best trade deals that will stop robber barons like him from robbing. Meanwhile, he wants to roll back the Wall Street reforms designed to prevent the sort of crash that cost us eight million jobs after 2008. Yes, trade can hurt workers, but nothing has cost America more than unchecked greed. And Trump is promising to uncheck it. Before his advisers warned him off, he insisted that wages are too high. And in Michigan last year he revealed his real plan: outsourcing within the United States. Shipping good union jobs to states where they workers will earn a pittance for the same work. That makes him an old-fashioned, anti-labor conservative. As does his stoking of ancient hatreds against minorities and foreigners to distract from the war on the middle class — waged by men just like him. It’s classic “dog whistle” politics from a man whose businesses have been accused of racial discrimination over and over. Only now, it’s so obvious that it has sparked the rise of bald-faced white racism like America hasn’t seen in generations.
  4. He claims to be the world’s biggest hawk, yet avoided the draft and lies about his record of backing wars.
    This is Trump’s military record: He avoided the draft five times. He backed the Iraq War, the intervention in Libya, and the bombing of Syria. Now he claims to have been against all three and yet is the “most militaristic person” who “knows more than the generals.” This is a man who recognizes that Republican adventurism overseas now repulses Americans, but can’t help revealing his belligerence by calling for the bombing of civillians, torture, and stealing Iraq’s oil — all war crimes. He proposes weakening NATO,  wants to be friendlier with Russia (which has enabled the worst massacre of this century in Syria), and threatens the nuclear deal with Iran. He’s proposing a world where despotism reigns and American and Western European leadership retreats, recognizing that the American people are sick of our endless engagement in undeclared wars throughout the Middle East. But who knows what he’s really proposing when he contradicts himself constantly and seems only interested in building himself up and nurturing those who flatter him? Maybe that’s why prominent national security experts in his own party say they don’t trust him with nuclear codes, although he has the qualified support of Dick Cheney.
  5. The only traditional value he believes in is controlling women’s bodies.
    Republicans have long made a mockery of their crusade for “traditional marriage” with champions like the Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh, who have been married seven times between them (but never to each other). Trump takes the GOP’s disrespect for personal values and the dignity of women to another level. It isn’t just that he appeared on the cover of Playboy, brags about his adultery and conquests, and made a career of marketing women for their looks. He has no history of religious conviction or moral compunction or respect for the “sanctity” of marriage. So his vows to embrace the far right agenda of ending Roe, defunding Planned Parenthood, and outlawing same-sex marriage expose a man who is willing to surrender to any position in order to gain power. But it’s even worse than that. His bragging about sexual assault on that Access Hollywood tape and the subsequent accusations of assault from a dozen women reveal a man who believes he has the right to control any woman’s body. Now he is united with the conservative movement in the effort to make this principle, which is at the core of the anti-choice agenda, the law of the land.