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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

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Republican Racist: Same Old Poison, Brassy New Salesman

Whatever the outcome of the midterm elections, the Republican Party under Donald Trump has awakened bad memories of the racially divisive campaign that helped to elect George H.W. Bush to the presidency exactly three decades ago.
Politics in America was never quite the same after the “Willie Horton” ad aired during the final weeks of the 1988 campaign. Its appeal to white fears and its insinuation that every black man might be a criminal were too blatant even for Lee Atwater, the bare-knuckle consultant then running the Bush campaign.
The ad was primitive, opening with grainy headshots of Bush and his Democratic opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. A deep voice told viewers that Bush “supports the death penalty for first-degree murderers,” while Dukakis “not only opposes the death penalty, he allowed first-degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison.” Up came the mug shot of a stereotypical urban marauder, scowling beneath an uncombed Afro. “One was Willie Horton, who murdered a boy in a robbery, stabbing him 19 times. Despite a life sentence, Horton received ten weekend passes from prison.” The hapless Democrat appeared again as the voice intoned: “Weekend prison passes. Dukakis on crime.”
The 30-second Horton ad was suspected of being an illegal expenditure on behalf of the Bush campaign, although it was attributed to an independent committee called “Americans for Bush.” Under Federal election law, such an advertising campaign is illegal if the ad’s beneficiary or his representatives in any way encouraged or coordinated with the ad’s authors.
The official Bush-Quayle spokesmen not only scoffed at the idea that their campaign had been involved, they vociferously denounced the ad and demanded that it appear no more. Roger Ailes, the adman who was running the Republican Presidential campaign that year, even threatened to sue anyone who wrote that he had been responsible for the shameful Horton ad. 
Many months later, after Mr. Bush had won the election in a landslide, certain facts emerged which implied that there might have been illicit coordination between Americans for Bush and the official Bush-Quayle campaign. A former top employee of Ailes Communications had written the ad, and a current Ailes contractor had produced it. A Bush campaign researcher had just gone over to the “independent committee” around the time that the Horton ad aired.
There were figures on the right who eagerly claimed “credit” — and not surprisingly, some of them are associated with Trump today. Ailes, of course, went on a few years later to create Fox News Channel, a vector for bigotry ever since, even though its creator has gone to his reward somewhere.
Flash forward to this midterm’s closing weeks, when the Trump campaign is directing America’s attention to the leering image of Luis Bracamontes, a convicted cop killer who stars in their latest campaign commercial. Echoing the Horton ad in its crude production, this specimen blames Democrats for the thug’s murderous rampage and warns that they have invited more “illegals” like him to pillage the country. (The ad is so outrageous and so vile that even Fox stopped running it, after a while).
Naturally, all the facts point the opposite way. Yes, Bracacmontes entered the country illegally. But the Clinton administration deported him. He returned and landed in a Maricopa County jail, from which Sheriff Joe Arpaio released him. He landed in a Maricopa jail again, and Arpaio released him a second time. He crossed the border unlawfully again during the Bush administration, which was when he shot two deputies. 
In short — and try not to act surprised — Trump is lying brazenly and absurdly. There is no more evidence that Democrats are responsible for Bracamontes’ crimes than that they sponsored the migrant “caravan” — which is to say, nada. If Trump wants to frame someone for loosing Bracamontes, Arpaio looks good for it.
The difference between today and 1988 is that back then the party’s presidential nominee had enough residual decency to distance himself from an infamous ad that exploited racist images and tropes. Now the Republican president eagerly promotes the same brand of racist poison under his own name, and his party’s cowardly leadership chimes in.

Such is the degenerated condition of the party of Lincoln.

IMAGE: President George Herbert Walker Bush and the late Republican National Committee chair Lee Atwater.

Why New York’s District Attorney Should Reopen That Fox News Investigation

For well over three decades, Robert M. Morgenthau served as the Manhattan District Attorney. A law enforcement legend, Morgenthau became renowned for his zealous pursuit of white-collar offenders.

He believed that “crime in the suites” deserved to be punished just as consistently as crime in the streets — and as a former federal prosecutor, he ignored minor issues such as jurisdiction when he thought justice needed to be done. And he sought expansive interpretations of law wherever he saw the federal government failing to do justice.

Recently I asked a ranking federal prosecutor who once worked for D.A. Morgenthau whether his old boss would have allowed Fox News Channel executives to escape accountability for the crimes of Roger Ailes and their alleged concealment of those crimes from auditors and shareholders.

The answer was a resounding “NO.”

Before New Yorkers first elected him D.A. in 1974, Morgenthau had served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District, appointed by President Kennedy. He resisted fiercely when Richard Nixon sought to remove him under dubious circumstances in 1969. So he would understand the predicament of Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney abruptly fired by Trump last year, after Bharara commenced an investigation of Trump’s friend Ailes and the company’s hidden payoffs to the women he tormented.

As reviewed in this space yesterday, that investigation potentially implicated top executives at Fox, continuing for several months after Ailes died in May 2017. Among those subpoenaed to explain how Fox had paid off those women and concealed those illicit payments was former Fox vice president Bill Shine, who was eventually fired by the network — and then appointed deputy White House chief of staff by Trump last month.

Yet somehow during the period when federal prosecutors questioned Shine and his appointment by Trump, the Fox News investigation went “dormant,” according to major news outlets. During that same period, the acting U.S. Attorney who had replaced Bharara, his former deputy Joon Kim, was replaced in turn by Geoffrey Berman — a former managing partner at Greenberg Traurig, whose clients had included Ailes and News Corp, the parent company of Fox News. Berman was personally interviewed by Trump and recommended by his former law partner Rudolph Giuliani, a confidant of both Ailes and Trump.

Many troubling questions remain unanswered in this matter. When did the Southern District end the investigation of Fox News? Why did prosecutors decide to drop the case? Did Berman recuse himself from that decision? Why was Shine called to testify in that investigation? What was he asked, and what were his answers? Did the White House or the FBI conduct due diligence when Shine was appointed to one of the most powerful positions in government?

Indeed, very little in this narrative inspires confidence — and the absence of transparency only inflames suspicions of wrongdoing. But there is a potential remedy under law.

If crimes were committed in the suites at Fox, those offenses occurred in Manhattan — where Morgenthau’s successor, Cyrus Vance, Jr. now serves as District Attorney. Fairly or not, Vance’s own integrity has been questioned over his decision not to prosecute the disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein for sexual assault. Although Vance insists he rejected prosecution of Weinstein due solely to a lack of evidence, that decision is currently under examination by the New York Attorney General.

Should he wish to affirm his integrity and fearlessness, Vance should look into the Fox News case — where a sexual predator just as monstrous as Weinstein escaped punishment for years because his employer, a publicly held company, secretly paid out tens of millions of dollars to hide his misdeeds. For reasons that remain suspiciously opaque, New York’s federal prosecutor let that case lapse. And now a key witness sits in one of the most sensitive positions in the Trump White House, which is notorious for failing to properly vet top officials.

It’s time for Vance should ask himself: “What would Morgenthau do?”

Bill Shine Backstory: Why Did The Federal Probe Of Fox News Go ‘Dormant’?

With national attention now directed toward state and federal law enforcement agencies in New York — which are reported to be investigating Donald Trump and his associates — perhaps we will learn at last what happened in another troubling investigation, involving Trump’s cronies at Fox News Channel.

Among those cronies is former Fox News vice president Bill Shine, who has since ascended to oversee White House communications as deputy chief of staff to the president. Shine served for years as the top deputy to Roger Ailes, the late Fox News chief fired over his horrific mistreatment of female employees at the network.

Back in 2016, when the indefatigable Preet Bharara still served as the United States Attorney in Manhattan, his office opened a probe of secret and illicitly concealed financial payoffs to the women Ailes had abused. To protect the Fox News chief from the consequences of his own horrific misconduct, the network had paid out as much as $100 million in settlements to those women — and concealed those massive expenditures from its own stockholders.

Lawyers for the women involved and at least one of the victims said that Shine had played a key role in suppressing revelations about Ailes’ brutal misconduct, in part by overseeing payments of hush money in exchange for non-disclosure agreements.

Precisely how those payments occurred and whether any crimes were committed in concealing them from auditors and shareholders were the central issues of Bharara’s Fox investigation. In March 2017, within weeks after he entered the Oval Office, Trump removed Bharara — a decision that aroused grave suspicions about the president’s motives. The next day, Bharara himself tweeted a disturbing hint at the reasons behind his dismissal, suggesting that he was getting too close to uncovering corruption in high places.

Nevertheless, Bharara’s deputy Joon Kim continued the Fox investigation, even after Ailes abruptly died in May 2017. Kim reportedly impanelled a grand jury in the case. And as late as the fall of 2017, federal prosecutors were bringing in former Fox employees for interviews about harassment and payoffs at the network. Among those reportedly brought in for questioning, after a subpoena was issued to him, was Shine.

By then, Trump was moving to nominate his own appointee as U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, a position long considered one of the crown jewels of the Justice Department. Following a personal interview he selected Geoffrey Berman, an attorney expressly recommended by Trump adviser Rudolph Giuliani, his former partner at the mammoth and highly political law firm of Greenberg Traurig. Berman’s appointment only raised fresh questions because the Greenberg firm had represented both Fox News and Ailes.

Sometime after Berman took over as U.S. Attorney, according to reports in both the New York Times and the Washington Post, his office’s investigation of Fox News apparently went “dormant.” No indictments or reports have issued from the grand jury. Neither the U.S. Attorney nor Fox has commented on its findings.

Meanwhile, three highly significant and related events had occurred:

In May 2017, Fox News fired Shine within days of Ailes’ death in May 2017.

In November 2017, Fox News’ parent corporation agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by shareholders who alleged that gross mismanagement had created a culture of sexual harassment that caused financial and reputational damage to the company. The $90 million settlement was one of the largest ever agreed in a shareholder derivative case — and the company’s rapid legal surrender raised severe doubts about the company’s claims of innocence.

In July 2018, over the July Fourth weekend, the Trump White House announced the appointment of Shine as deputy chief of staff in charge of communications.

Considering the sensitivity of Shine’s new position — and the previous failures of top Trump aides in vetting White House appointees — it seems important to determine what questions were posed to him during the Fox investigation and how he answered them. Of course Shine could release his own testimony, even if he appeared before the grand jury, but that seems about as likely as Trump releasing his tax returns.

And it is equally important to learn whether Berman, a former managing partner in a firm that represents the network, discontinued the Fox probe or whether he properly recused himself from that decision — as he was required to do when his office took over the investigation of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen from special counsel Robert Mueller.

Tomorrow: What Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance could do to restore transparency to this case.

The Racism Isn’t Surprising Anymore

Can we stop pretending to be shocked when a member of the Trump administration — or one of its prominent supporters — emits a squib of stinking racism?

In the latest episode, which should have surprised exactly nobody, former Donald Trump deputy campaign manager David Bossie shouted at an African-American guest on a Fox News show: “You’re out of your cotton-pickin’ mind.” The guest naturally took exception, noting that his family members had picked cotton as slaves. Fox News officially scolded Bossie, an employee of the network, with a two-week “suspension” — and he tweeted a dutiful apology.

But while everyone noted the apology and moved on, the underlying problem remains. The political culture embodied by Fox News, Donald Trump, and David Bossie is steeped in racial antagonism as both strategy and ideology. And to anyone who knows the history of these people and institutions, their outbursts of bigotry are numbingly routine.

Look more closely at Bossie, a figure whose history on the Republican right dates back to the Reagan era, when he dropped out of college to work on political campaigns. He soon joined up with Floyd Brown, the Citizens United impresario responsible for the infamous “Willie Horton” ad that helped to bring down Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis in 1988. That ad featured a mug shot of Horton, a convicted murderer, with a frightening scowl and a bushy Afro. This race-baiting classic was so offensively divisive that George H.W. Bush sought to avoid any association with it — although there was plenty of evidence that his campaign consultant Roger Ailes had been involved in its production. At Citizens United, where Brown worked closely with Bossie, they were proud to claim credit for the Horton ad.

That Bossie was attracted to the vilest of racists became even clearer four years later, when he and Brown showed up in Arkansas to bring down Bill Clinton. They latched onto “Justice Jim” Johnson, a vintage segregationist politician whose corrosive hatred and ancient prejudices were a parody of extremism. He had run for governor as the candidate of the White Citizens Councils, a marginally more respectable version of the Ku Klux Klan. He had whipped up the mobs that assaulted black students during the historic 1957 confrontation at Little Rock’s Central High School. He even lived on a farm that he named “White Haven,” where he plotted against Clinton with Bossie and Brown.

When the pair published a ludicrous anti-Clinton booklet titled Slick Willie, which accused the Arkansas governor of a long list of offenses that included promoting socialism and witchcraft (as well as coddling the state’s black citizens), its acknowledgments included a “special thanks” to Johnson.

Flash forward to 2018, and here is Bossie, a top political lieutenant of an openly racist president, appearing on the cable network that Ailes created, where he blurts a stupid racial epithet. Bossie is an appalling character with a long rap sheet, but he is really nothing special on today’s Trumpist right — where ambitious hustlers like him have long been eager to promote prejudice, against any vulnerable minority, if that advances their candidate or party.

Does Bossie hate people of color, or Mexican-Americans, or the little immigrant children this administration is victimizing? Did Roger Ailes? Does Trump? It is impossible to know their hearts. But by their poison fruits, we already know them. These “conservatives” have spent decades doing what they still do every day, which is to weaken our country by dividing its people against each other by race and ethnicity for personal gain. More and more, they are assisted by a hostile foreign power in that effort.

We all can see where this is leading, as we watch the victimization of disfavored people, the abrogation of their human rights, and the building of camps to imprison them. Don’t act surprised when we get there.