As Biden Scandals Fizzle, Trump Family Grifting Still Sizzles

As Biden Scandals Fizzle, Trump Family Grifting Still Sizzles

Back when Rep. James Comer previewed his committee's blockbuster probe of President Biden, the Biden family, and their allegedly corrupt connections with foreign investors, someone asked whether he also intended to investigate the Trumps.

"With respect to investigating President Trump, there have been so many investigations of President Trump," retorted Comer, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, during that interview last January. "I don't feel like we need to spend a whole lot of time investigating President Trump because the Democrats have done that for the past six years."

Yet perhaps now that the Kentucky Republican has dug around the First Family for several months and produced nothing but innuendo, he may wish to reconsider that free pass for the Trump family — whose money-grubbing on foreign shores is bigger than anything attributed to the Bidens by an order of magnitude.

Consider the humiliating spectacle of Comer's press conference on Wednesday, May 10, when the Indiana Republican excitedly presented what he has discovered about the Bidens, and specifically the president, whom he has accused repeatedly of "involvement" in tainted overseas business deals. Described in Politico as "highly anticipated," the big event was undeniably a bust. (Even Republicans said so.)

Despite a panting recitation of bank accounts held by the president's brother James Biden and his son Hunter Biden — as well as other family members who appear to have benefited from foreign partnerships and consultancies — Comer failed to produce any tiny scrap of evidence implicating Joe Biden. He could not show that any of the Bidens whose names he dragged had committed a single illegal act. He could not prove that the president knew or approved of any of his relatives' business or legal activities.

And Comer came up empty when asked what, if anything, those arrangements had to do with Joe Biden's official responsibilities as president or vice president — since all those deals appear to have occurred while he was no longer serving in the Obama administration, and before he ran for president in 2020.

Comer's performance provoked mocking reviews from Democrats and "the liberal media," as might be expected, but the response from the right was almost equally dismissive. Steve Doocy, the Fox & Friends anchor, complained that "you don't actually have any facts" to prove influence peddling by the president... of all those names, the one person who didn't profit is — there is no evidence that Joe Biden did anything illegally," as a visibly flustered Comer fumed.

Both Comer and Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, his ally in the Senate, have promised revelations from a "highly reliable source" who, according to them, has disclosed bad acts perpetrated by the Bidens to the FBI. Unable to obtain any such incriminating information, however, Comer had little to offer when queried by Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo, except that he and Grassley are determined to pursue "Plan B."

"What is Plan B?" she asked, then shot Comer an irritated glance when he replied, "Well, stay tuned, Maria. You'll be the first to know, I can assure you," and then descended into stuttering and muttering about "the deep state."

The plain fact is that these Republicans, like generations of their hackish ilk on Capitol Hill, spend enormous amounts of time and treasure fabricating conspiracy theories of corruption supposedly perpetrated by their political enemies, as they did with both Bill and Hillary Clinton. Remember Whitewater? Benghazi? Her emails? Actual corrupt conduct by powerful figures abusing public office for private gain seems to trouble them not at all.

We know that because as soon as Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his gang took control of the House, they put the boobish Comer in charge of government oversight. And Comer's first action as chair was to terminate the committee's ongoing probe of Trump's efforts to enrich himself as president and to release his accountants from their court-ordered obligation to produce the former president's tax records.

Even as the Biden "scandal" seems to fizzle, the Trump scandals may still sizzle. You will recall that the former president and his son-in-law Jared Kushner both have reaped juicy profits in their recent dealings with the Saudi regime, raising obvious implications for their conduct in the White House. Those questions may yet be examined in a broader probe to discover exactly how Trump violated the Constitution's emoluments clause during his presidential term.

Stay tuned, Maria.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Fake Indignation Can't Erase Stain On Supreme Court Left By Thomas Scandals

Fake Indignation Can't Erase Stain On Supreme Court Left By Thomas Scandals

Every fresh revelation of an ethical lapse by Clarence Thomas raises the question to which Republican leaders apparently have no answer: Just how much crooked behavior by a conservative Supreme Court justice will they justify?

So far, they seem utterly untroubled by Thomas' acceptance from a right-wing billionaire of lavish vacations, jet travel, the lucrative purchase of his mother's house and the full cost of his grandnephew's very expensive private school tuition — or by his repeated and willful failure to disclose these dubious "gifts."

Instead of confronting the scandal, Republicans pretend to be offended by the very notion that Thomas should be held to account for his misconduct. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah suggests that "sanctimonious" inquiries concerning the justice's deranged ethics are somehow comparable to the Ku Klux Klan's racist terrorism.

Such fake indignation may become hard to sustain, however, now that we know conservative lobbyist Leonard Leo — the prominent right-wing operative whose hand lies behind the creation of the current Supreme Court — has laundered tens of thousands of dollars into the personal bank account of Thomas through his far-right activist spouse.

Those secret payments, arranged through a nonprofit group, should prompt a thorough investigation as well as spur more sweeping Senate hearings on the grift surrounding the high court. The unscrupulous scheme recalls a quip attributed to the late New York Gov. Al Smith, who pointed to a student while visiting a law library and said, "There is a young man learning how to call a bribe a fee."

According to The Washington Post, Leonard Leo directed pollster Kellyanne Conway in January 2012 to send "another $25,000" to Ginni Thomas — a nice fat check that apparently was only one in a series totaling as much as $100,000. At the time, Conway's firm, the Polling Company, worked for the Judicial Education Project, a nonprofit ostensibly run by its officers of record but in fact controlled by Leo. He instructed the obedient Conway to "give" the money to Thomas and keep the truth out of any paperwork: "No mention of Ginni, of course."

Of course! Clearly Conway understood what Leo meant, because she sent a bill for $25,000 to the Judicial Education Project that very day, complete with a fabricated purpose: "Supplement for Constitution Polling and Opinion Consulting." Documents examined by Post reporters show that between June 2011 and January 2012, the Polling Company sent $80,000 to Ginni Thomas through her firm, Liberty Consultants, and anticipated sending an additional $20,000 before the year's end. Nobody has seen any evidence that Thomas did any actual work for that huge sum.

Within that same time frame, the Judicial Education Project filed a brief to the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder, the landmark case that prompted Thomas and his right-wing colleagues to eviscerate the Voting Rights Act — exactly as Leo urged them to do. That Thomas could have been expected to endorse just such a betrayal of Black voters in no way dispels the stink. In a statement to the Post, Leo claimed with characteristic insolence that he was merely trying to protect the "privacy" of the Thomases from "malicious and gossipy" people.

No doubt anybody who violates federal laws and ethical norms prefers privacy to public exposure. That might well apply with extra force to Leo, whose self-dealing chicanery in siphoning off millions in nonprofit funds for his personal profit has lately come under scrutiny. But what this looks like is a criminal scheme with possible elements of tax fraud, public corruption, money laundering and conspiracy.

The fact that Leo, Thomas, and Conway might escape prosecution under the federal statute of limitations does not excuse authorities from investigating this shameful affair. Not only should the cabal tainting the high court be required to testify under oath about the precise details of their financial relationship, but the records of Leo's enormous influence-peddling network should be subpoenaed to determine whether he and his organizations have broken tax and lobbying laws.

Looking beyond this particular gang of scoundrels, Congress must now establish strict ethical guidelines for the Supreme Court, which Chief Justice John Roberts and his colleagues have so disgracefully resisted. If no cleansing remedy is applied, the public will come to see that behind the court's rulings overturning long-established American rights lies an indelible stain of corruption.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Kevin McCarthy

With Debt Ceiling Blackmail, McCarthy Again Betrays America

When House Republicans — or any Republicans, for that matter — claim to feel deep concern over the national debt, the only honest response is raucous laughter. These are the same politicians, after all, led by the same gelded Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who voted in lockstep year after year to raise the debt ceiling while former President Donald Trump imposed trillions of dollars in new deficits and debt (despite his mendacious promises to achieve budget balance).

Republicans care less about fiscal responsibility than Hannibal Lecter cared about table manners.

And now they have set up a potential debt default, unless President Joe Biden accedes to their demand for destructive and unpopular cuts to programs that support families, veterans, education, health, science and the environment. The president has said that while the budget is negotiable, the debt ceiling is not.

Faced with their hostage-taking extremism, there is also only one appropriate answer.

Biden should tell McCarthy to promptly fornicate himself — and then proceed to raise the debt ceiling, despite the absence of congressional approval, as provided by the Constitution. Taking that action would reflect the considered advice of Bill Clinton, former professor of constitutional law and the only president in living memory who actually balanced the budget and began to pay down the national debt.

Nearly 12 years ago, when congressional Republicans tried to blackmail President Barack Obama with debt default, Clinton told me what he thought Obama should do. Remember that as president, he had faced down Newt Gingrich as speaker, leading a pack of extremists not wholly unlike the current gang in Congress, and that they too had hinted heavily at breaching the debt ceiling.

"I think (the Gingrich Republicans) figured I'd be smart enough to explain to the American people that they were refusing to pay for the expenses they had voted for when Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were president," Clinton said in July 2011. "And that would make them look bad."

As Clinton explained, the 14th Amendment's "public debt clause" clearly spells out the constitutional provisions governing the national debt: "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned." Raising the debt ceiling merely finances payment for previous federal spending as "authorized by law," as in congressional appropriations.

"The Constitution is clear and this idea that the Congress gets to vote twice on whether to pay for (expenditures) it has appropriated is crazy," said Clinton. "You can't say, 'Well, we won the last election, and we didn't vote for some of that stuff, so we're going to throw the whole country's credit into arrears.'" He put the matter bluntly, adding that he would have used the 14th Amendment "without hesitation."

Given the catastrophic potential consequences of default, following Clinton's lead is the truly responsible course. Debt repudiation will guarantee the recession that Biden's policies have so far allowed us to avoid; it will tank not only the U.S. economy but will surely devastate global growth as well.

In the longer term, our country would no longer be viewed as a financial safe haven — and the status of the dollar as the world's reserve currency will almost certainly be forfeited. As the Republicans know, that ruinous change is precisely what the Chinese and Russian regimes have been trying to inflict on us for years.

Why, you might naively ask, would the Republicans assist our foreign opponents in achieving a goal that will harm their own country, America's democratic allies and the future prospects of all our children? Why would they recklessly impose a needless delinquency that will cost millions of jobs now and risk a lasting worldwide downturn?

Evidently, they believe that by tanking the economy, and mortgaging our future to our adversaries, they can shift blame onto Biden — and that this will enable them to win next year's election. What voters should understand is that they value nothing except power, least of all the nation's stability or the welfare of their constituents.

These partisan gangsters keep finding new ways to endanger America's security and prosperity. Now they refuse to approve what ought to be the routine repayment of debts they previously legislated. They know that this betrayal will have dire repercussions for their own country and constituents. It is hard to imagine a budget tactic that could come any closer to outright treason.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Why Would Trump Republicans Lionize A Disloyal Leaker?

Why Would Trump Republicans Lionize A Disloyal Leaker?

What was once a party that proclaimed its pride in patriotism, military discipline and the defense of national security against all enemies, foreign and domestic, is becoming an engine of insurrection and subversion in the service of hostile foreign powers. In the reaction of leading figures on the Right to the arrest of a young airman for leaking vast stores of secret data, loyal Americans are now witnessing the political degeneration of the Republican Party.

The huge intelligence breach allegedly perpetrated by Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old technical officer at a Massachusetts Air National Guard base, is an extraordinary event — but even more extraordinary is the response of prominent Republican elected officials and media figures. When such an event occurs — damaging U.S. national security and undermining our intelligence capabilities — the normal response across the political spectrum is horror.

But not this time.

Consider the reaction of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who now sits on the Homeland Security committee despite her long record of antisemitic and violent rhetoric thanks to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. After Teixeira's arrest she rose to his defense on Twitter, without knowing anything except what she had read in The Washington Post and The New York Times. Which meant she knew that he appeared to be a racist and an antisemite as well as a gun "enthusiast" like her.

"Teixeira is white, male, christian (sic), and antiwar," Greene blurted on Twitter. "That makes him an enemy to the Biden regime." The Georgia extremist went on to suggest that "the real enemy" is President Joe Biden's administration, which she claimed is "waging war in Ukraine... against nuclear Russia" without congressional authorization.

She also claimed that White House officials had targeted Teixeira for revealing "the truth" about "(U.S.) troops being on the ground in Ukraine and a lot more." Donald Trump Jr. echoed Greene on Twitter and went still further, framing Teixeira as "a hero."

On television, Kremlin favorite Tucker Carlson echoed the same themes. Carlson depicted Teixeira as a brave victim, striving to bring the truth about Ukraine to the American people, against the conspirators in the Pentagon, the White House and the rest of the media. According to the Fox host, Teixeira proved that Ukraine's resistance to aggression is actually an unlawful American war against Russia, with our troops engaged in combat — and losing to the Russians.

Both Carlson and Greene are lying as usual. It's easy to tell because despite ferocious fighting across Ukraine since February 2022, not a single U.S. casualty has been reported and not one American soldier has been captured. Roughly a dozen U.S. troops are present at our embassy in Kyiv, but their position is strictly defensive. They haven't fired a shot.

The depiction of Teixeira as a noble truth-teller is just as absurd. The intelligence documents he posted appear to have been altered with a slant against Ukraine. As one of his online buddies told The Washington Post, "I would not call (him) a whistleblower in the slightest."

What matters here is not so much the peddling of such conspiratorial nonsense, which isn't difficult to debunk, but who is behind it and why. With his gun obsession, his attraction to ultra-Right "orthodox Catholicism" and his Nazi-like ranting against Blacks and Jews, Teixeira himself represents a threatening element that needs to be expelled from the military. Intelligence must be protected against fascist infiltrators.

Just as troubling is the attitude represented by Carlson, Greene and their allies in the Republican Party — who seem to bitterly oppose every effort to restore American security against our fascist adversaries, both internally and abroad. Their current eruptions in defense of an indefensible crime are only the latest episode in the ongoing assault on our national security by Republican leaders, from former President Donald Trump down to Greene and her backbench cohort.

When Trump and his stooges urge the "defunding" of the FBI, they are consciously undermining American counter-intelligence capabilities and assisting foreign espionage. To do so knowingly is to skirt the edge of treason.

Of course, not every Republican is implicated in this anti-American scheming. Newly elected Rep. Michael Lawler, R-N.Y., for instance, spoke up immediately against Greene and denounced Teixeira as "an enemy to America" who "should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Lawler may still represent the majority in the Grand Old Party, or at least we should hope so. But any Republican still aiming to protect national security and uphold democracy must look hard at the likes of Trump, Greene, Carlson and their gang — whose perfidious behavior inflames the very worst suspicion.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Bill Barr's Misconduct Should No Longer Shield Trump

Bill Barr's Misconduct Should No Longer Shield Trump

In the days since Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg unveiled his office’s 34-count indictment of Donald J. Trump, arguments over about the likelihood of conviction have erupted on every cable news program, as the former president spews fusillades of lies and threats.

Most of this noise is pointless and hardly worth engaging. The only opinion that matters may someday be announced by a jury foreperson in a court of law.

Yet there is one defense of Trump, repeated even by people who aren’t his sycophants, that does demand closer examination – the claim that Bragg, a local prosecutor, shouldn’t bring charges that the Justice Department already rejected.

To establish that Trump committed felonies, they note, Bragg must prove that he not only concocted fake business records to cover up hush-money payoffs to adult film star Stormy Daniels, but that he intended to conceal violations of federal campaign or other laws. And they will say that the prosecution of presidential campaign finance crimes is usually the responsibility of federal law enforcement agencies.

That rationalization elides the central question: Why should Trump escape accountability for the same crimes that sent his former attorney and “fixer” Michael Cohen to prison? It’s a hard question to answer in a system that supposedly upholds equal justice for all.

And the canned response doesn’t hold up well under scrutiny.

It begins to fall apart when we recall that in the sentencing memorandum that urged a harsh punishment for Cohen, the Justice Department identified a co-conspirator it called “Individual-1,” a thin scrim used to disguise Trump, as the actual instigator of the payoff scheme.

It disintegrates completely when we remember who really made the decision to abandon the case against “Individual-1.”

That was William Barr, the former Attorney General who has tried to shine up the terrible reputation he earned on the job by stating the obvious fact that Trump’s claims of election fraud were “complete bullshit.” That acknowledgment of reality, no more or less than his position demanded, only serves to highlight the abject cowardice of nearly all his fellow Republicans. But it doesn’t absolve Barr of his other horrifically unethical actions in office.

According to Geoffrey Berman -- the former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose office oversaw the guilty plea and sentencing of Cohen -- Barr sought to undermine any potential prosecution of Trump from his first day as attorney general in 2019. To protect Trump, he even considered overturning Cohen’s campaign-finance convictions, as the astonished Berman recounted in his memoir.

On several occasions, Barr sought to take control of the investigation. He ordered Justice Department lawyers to come up with reasons to abandon the case. He tried more than once to force Berman to drop it. When none of those tactics worked, he attempted to move the case from Berman’s office in the Southern District of New York to the Eastern District, where he evidently believed that the U.S. attorney would help him to bury it.

This kind of misconduct became a pattern for Barr when he interfered outrageously in the cases against Trump adviser and dirty trickster Roger Stone and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Infuriating career prosecutors, he behaved more like a mob defense counsel than the chief law enforcement officer, sworn to uphold the law and stand guard against national security threats. Among other things, he had Trump fire Berman and tried to replace him with a toady.

So what Alvin Bragg actually did by bringing the Trump indictment was to vindicate the constitutional system that Bill Barr corruptly sabotaged over and over again.

We must remind ourselves often that the former president, like any other accused suspect, is innocent until proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But we should also remember what the Justice Department said about Michael Cohen in its sentencing memorandum, which insisted on a prison term despite his cooperation: “His offenses strike at several pillars of our society and system of government: the payment of taxes; transparent and fair elections; and truthfulness before government and in business.”

Those words apply with equal if not greater force to “Individual-1,” as Trump was called in that same document – and the chance to hold him accountable is at last drawing nearer.

Kevin McCarthy

Hey Mr. Speaker! Keep Your Hands Off Alvin Bragg

Now that the Manhattan district attorney has filed an historic indictment of former President Donald Trump, nothing is certain except this: The former president, the Republicans in Congress and their partisan propaganda outlets will seek to shield him from accountability at any cost.

Evidently the House Republican leaders are carrying out that campaign — which has lately included gross attempts by Rep. Jim Jordan and others to intimidate District Attorney Alvin Bragg — in coordination with Trump's legal defense. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who ranks third in leadership, is said to have assured Trump even before the indictment that her caucus would mount an "aggressive" assault on the district attorney, and presumably any other prosecutor who dares to bring charges against her Dear Leader.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced that "the House of Representatives will hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account," and accused the prosecutor, more than 18 months before November 2024, of attempting to "interfere in our presidential election."

Fortunately, Bragg is not about to buckle under to such threats, not even when the former president poses with a baseball bat aimed at his head and mutters ominously about the "death and destruction" that will ensue if he is prosecuted. Bragg's office responded briskly to demands for documents and testimony from three Republican committee chairmen by scolding their "unlawful" interference with his work — and basically urged them all to refrain from further debasing their institution.

Since debasing our institutions seems to be their principal purpose in public life, let's keep expectations low. Based on past performance, neither Jordan nor his fellow committee chairmen are likely to realize that they're making fools of themselves. After all, their letter demanding documents from Bragg said Congress is considering legislation to prohibit prosecution of future ex-presidents — as if they had never read the Constitution and learned its fundamental concept of equality under law. With this loutish crew, that is a distinct possibility.

But anyone else who feels outraged by Bragg's indictment of Trump — and might be tempted to applaud the attempted congressional incursion against him — should try a brief thought experiment.

Specifically, they ought to ask themselves how they would have greeted an attempt by congressional Democrats to interfere with the criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton. Based on premises weaker than any of the current investigations of Trump, that probe almost certainly cost her the White House. And it is now clear that politically motivated FBI personnel forced then-FBI director James Comey to reopen the case on a dubious pretext, after she had been exonerated.

Yet had Democrats sought at any moment to stymie or bulldoze the Justice Department during its protracted investigation of "her emails," the Republican screams of protest would still be echoing. But no Democrat ever made such an attempt — despite ample doubt that proved correct — because they honored the rule of law over partisan imperatives.

Republican hypocrisy in these matters is endemic, as it is today in almost all spheres of public life. During the Whitewater investigation, which under Kenneth Starr magically became the wholly unrelated Lewinsky investigation and ultimately brought on impeachment, President Bill Clinton's allies and aides didn't hesitate to criticize the independent counsel, as was their right. But no congressional Democrats ever exploited their official powers to attack Starr.

One member of Congress who did behave badly back in 1999, when he served as a House manager of Clinton's impeachment, was South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, now in the Senate. Graham and other Republicans misused their authority to bully White House staff who had questioned Starr's probe. Starr himself even summoned a presidential aide to testify before his grand jury, on the authoritarian theory that criticism somehow equaled obstruction.

Here we see again the comically flaccid ethics of the Republicans, despite their pretensions to hard moral absolutism. When Democrats even criticize a prosecutor, they are engaged in an obstruction conspiracy. But when Republicans brazenly impede and intimidate a prosecutor, they're just "defending America," or something.

What they are doing, in concert with Trump, more closely resembles an obstruction conspiracy by public officials than anything we have seen since... well, since Trump and his Congressional stooges tried to obstruct the constitutional process that ended his presidency in January 2021. They can say anything they want, about Bragg or any of the prosecutors looking at their idol's misconduct. But they need to stop abusing their power now.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

What To Do About Fox? Stop Treating It As A 'News' Organization

What To Do About Fox? Stop Treating It As A 'News' Organization

Ever since Fox News Channel launched in 1996 with a slogan that was an aggressive lie – “Fair and Balanced” – most viewers have understood that Rupert Murdoch and his lackey Roger Ailes created a propaganda operation, not a news channel.

And yet the latest revelations of deception, hypocrisy, and greed among the network’s management and “stars,” unbound by any journalistic principle, are nevertheless stunning. Perhaps we still expect a measure of self-respect even from our villains. But here we see an essential and sometimes noble democratic endeavor – delivering the news to a self-governing people – degraded beyond redemption.

There is no way to regain the trust so wantonly forfeited by Murdoch and his minions in misleading their audience about “fraud” in the 2020 election. No other media company is as culpable in relentlessly goading the attempted coup and insurrectionary violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 – a deadly assault on the republic that Fox still insists on whitewashing, even after the humiliating exposure of its knowing promotion of the “Big Lie.”

The unavoidable question that Americans and their institutions now confront is how to excise this diseased organ from our body politic.

As Murdoch is the first to remind us, Fox News can shield itself behind the First Amendment, even as its operations undermine the United States and the Constitution itself. Fox is free to lie, if not to defame, and everyone else is free to ignore its spew. Outside the courts, where Dominion Voting Systems may soon impose a heavy price on the network’s chicanery, there are few means to punish or isolate the Murdoch outfit. For the most part, that’s a very good thing.

What we should have learned from the Dominion lawsuit and other glaring episodes, however, is that America needs to establish barriers against disinformation and propaganda masquerading as “news.” A free government may have a limited role here, focused on curbing the incursions of hostile foreign powers. But in a media universe where privately held entities predominate, it is those outlets that must establish the boundaries – and sanction the malefactors who grossly and repeatedly violate them.

In Washington, D.C., where the nation witnessed the terrible havoc wrought by Fox’s recklessness, there are a few organizations with the clout to whack the Murdochs and their enablers. The White House Correspondents Association, which credentials journalists who cover the president and administration, can expel Fox from its ranks (and deny access to its vaunted annual dinner). The Congressional Press Galleries, which perform the same function on Capitol Hill, can do likewise.

And so they should.

Beyond all the text messages exposing the snide duplicity of Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and their bosses, the exhibits in the Dominion lawsuit prove beyond doubt that Fox is not a news organization at all, but a partisan propaganda machine with no allegiance to the ideals of a free press.

The documents show Murdoch handing over Biden campaign ads, not yet aired, to Jared Kushner for the benefit of the Trump campaign -- an unlawful in-kind donation that provides the basis for a complaint to the Federal Election Commission. They depict the contempt expressed by him, his son Lachlan, and Fox executives for honest reporting that might harm ratings. Indeed, the lawsuit unearthed countless instances of conscious mendacity in election coverage.

What those incriminating documents don’t show is any commitment at Fox to the “health of the republic,” to “excellence in journalism,” to “robust news coverage” or to any of the aspirations that the correspondent’s groups claim to hold dear. No, what they show is precisely and undeniably the opposite.

It is worth noting that on the board of the White House Correspondents Association sits Jacqui Heinrich, a star witness to those Fox abuses. When the Emmy-winning Heinrich tweeted a fact-checking correction to Trump’s lies about election fraud – and specifically noted the lies emanating from Hannity as well – she infuriated powerful figures at the network who could crush her.

“Please get her fired,” the bullying Carlson urged Hannity. “Seriously…What the [expletive]? I’m actually shocked. It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.”

Rather than brush off that bullying rant, Fox executives forced Heinrich to delete her tweet – which had unforgivably reported plain and vital facts: “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” (In an email to me after this column was published, Heinrich notes that she posted a second tweet correcting Trump that didn't include his tagging of her deceitful Fox colleagues, and later posted a couple more tweets correcting Trump election falsehoods.)

Heinrich got away without losing her job. At Fox, telling the truth is unacceptable and will likely get you fired, however – as Chris Stirewalt, the former Fox election analyst dumped for calling Arizona correctly on Election Night, discovered when Murdoch dumped him (and lied about the reason).

Whatever may happen if the Dominion lawsuit finally goes to trial, the nation’s leading journalists have the authority to register their disgust with Murdoch’s mockery of their vocation. To uphold their own professed standards, they have no other choice.

East Palestine

The Right's Fake Indignation Over East Palestine Conceals Essential Facts

While the citizens of a small Ohio village suffer in the aftermath of a train derailment that spilled toxic chemicals there, the usual gang of noisemakers is depicting the accident as a conspiracy to harm them — because they're white, or conservative, or residents of a red state. None of it is true, but the Biden administration's halting response to the accident has allowed that false narrative to gain traction among voters. And amid the din of recriminations from the right, too many Americans have lost sight of what really happened in East Palestine and how to keep it from happening in another place.

Among the noxious accusations promoted on Fox News and its countless imitators, perhaps the nastiest is the notion that the Biden administration punished East Palestine for partisan or even racial reasons. Spewing this nonsense with foam-flecked fervor, Fox's Tucker Carlson declared that the people of East Palestine, unlike (Black) citizens of urban districts, aren't "favored" by the Biden White House. They are "forgotten," said freshman Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, a far-right Republican, because "they're our voters." They are neglected, claimed ultra-MAGA Charlie Kirk, because "Democrats hate working-class whites."

Today's quasi-fascist Republican Party promotes such poisonous rhetoric while simultaneously proclaiming its "America First" patriotism." But their constant campaign to divide the nation along racial lines for political advantage mirrors the online propaganda that the Kremlin used to boost Donald Trump in 2016. It is treacherous, not patriotic. And it obscures fundamental facts about the East Palestine incident.

First, the derailment itself was caused not by the Biden administration, but by the negligence of Norfolk Southern, the railroad giant that fights relentlessly against the strict safety regulations and adequate train staffing that might have prevented this disaster. Norfolk Southern and its lobbyists, both in Ohio and Washington, D.C., have succeeded in weakening regulations on train technology and crew size despite years of union protest. The worst executive decisions on railroad safety in recent years were made under the Trump administration, although the former president, while distributing expired bottles of "Trump Water" in East Palestine, insisted it had "nothing to do" with him.

Second, there would be nothing magical about a visit to East Palestine by Biden, who was pilloried for traveling to Ukraine instead right after the derailment occurred. In fact, a presidential visit to Ohio would have hampered cleanup and relief efforts. Only Putin's GOP stooges could mock Biden for venturing to Kyiv on a dangerous, arduous, and vital mission at 80 years of age. It is worth noting that neither Trump nor his transportation secretary Elaine Chao visited a single derailment site during his presidency.

Third, any delays in bringing badly needed federal assistance to East Palestine are more likely the fault of Ohio's Republican Gov. Mike DeWine than Biden — who immediately called DeWine after the accident to offer "anything you need." For reasons that still seem obscure but may involve reducing Norfolk Southern's ultimate liability and expense, DeWine has refused to issue a disaster declaration. That strange decision has limited the ability of the Federal Emergency Management Administration to act.

As reported by investigative news site The Lever, DeWine has long maintained very close ties with Norfolk Southern, which has funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaigns, and to its lobbyists, at least one of whom recently held a top position in his office. He has vowed to make the railroad pay for the cleanup, but whether he will press that demand remains to be seen. Railroad safety legislation has languished and died during his administration.

Finally, the salient question for the Republicans barking at Biden is what they will do to prevent future rail disasters. With longer trains carrying oil and other hazardous materials over great distances, something much worse than East Palestine could easily occur in another town or city, possibly killing hundreds of innocent people.

Will Biden's critics now support efforts by the president, congressional Democrats and the railway unions to improve freight rail safety, as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg challenged them to do? Or will they simply move on to the next opportunity for a fake indignation campaign, and leave working-class communities to their fate?

Keep your expectations low.

To find out more about The National Memo's editor-in-chief Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Donald Trump's 2024 Doomsday Scenario Terrifies Republicans

Donald Trump's 2024 Doomsday Scenario Terrifies Republicans

As Donald Trump's approval ratings plunge — while Joe Biden's spike upward — Republican donors fervently bet their millions on someone who might stop him from winning their party's presidential nomination again. But much as they dread his reappearance atop their ticket next year, there's another threatening scenario that they fear even more.

Asked recently whether he intends to support the 2024 Republican nominee, whomever that might be, Trump ominously rejected any such promise. "It would depend," he told the New York Times. "It would have to depend on who the nominee was."

In those circumstances the nominee obviously will be someone who defeated him. Does anyone expect the sorest loser ever to endorse that hated adversary?

If an embittered and vindictive Trump were to run on a third-party line in November 2024, that will signal end times for the Grand Old Party (without the divine Rapture). Not only would his spoiler candidacy guarantee the Republican ticket's defeat — and the likely loss of many House and even Senate seats — but there is also a strong possibility that the GOP would come in third, not second, with incalculable yet assuredly devastating consequences.

Denied renomination, Trump might simply sit out the general election while continuously tweeting nasty remarks about the Republican ticket, which would discourage his base from voting at all, also disastrous for Republicans.

Or, in the face of a criminal indictment that appears increasingly likely, he just might see a third-party or independent campaign as an opportunity beyond irresistible — to portray himself as a victim of political persecution by both major parties, to exploit his multimillion-dollar fundraising grift and to exact revenge on the Republican establishment that thwarted him. The indicted Trump would run out of desperate necessity, to remain a candidate as long as possible — and, who knows, possibly win as a long shot, entering that ultimate safe harbor from prosecution: the White House.

Going third-party wouldn't be easy, not even for a celebrity candidate like Trump with a big and devoted base of supporters. Nearly every state has a "sore loser" statute that makes ballot access difficult if not impossible for anyone who ran the same year in a major party primary. Richard Winger, a respected expert who edits and publishes Ballot Access News, says that the courts have raised substantial obstacles to third-party presidential candidacies that didn't exist 10 years ago, including decisions that would hinder a major-party loser from going independent in November.

Republican leaders worrying about Trump are acutely aware, however, that difficult doesn't mean impossible. For a brazen character like him, a way to skirt the law is always available — and that rule applies here, too.

The Libertarian Party, which once would have been entirely hostile to Trump, now includes a leadership caucus that shares many of his nationalistic and bigoted attitudes. Libertarians could simply offer Trump ballot access in almost every state — and he could offer them an unprecedented (and badly needed) bonanza of money, publicity and, well, money votes. Trump's adviser and dirty trickster Roger Stone is a veteran at this game. He has occasionally meddled in Libertarian and other third-party politics before. Back in 2000, he briefly persuaded Trump to pursue a presidential candidacy on the Reform Party line.

Trump wouldn't necessarily need the Libertarians, with their traditional embrace of open borders, gay rights and permissive drug laws. But who cares about a platform? Not Trump, who ran in 2020 on no party platform whatsoever. Although a truly independent candidacy would involve considerable expense and effort, Trump could easily raise enough money to get the needed half-million petition signatures and to finance legal challenges to state laws restricting his ballot access. And for him, the incentive to grift is overwhelming.

Then again, Trump may be the one candidate who can dodge statutory obstacles — which require action by state officials to enforce them.

What would happen to Republican state officials who moved to disqualify Trump's candidacy? Do they want to risk the wrath of his voters? What would happen to their party? Does anyone think that, for instance, the indicted far-right attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, is going to stand in Trump's way — or act like a greeter at his casino?

And why would Democratic state officials disqualify Trump and thus preclude him from splitting the right-wing vote? What would be in it for them? Indeed, why should officials of either party bother to prevent him from appearing on the ballot when they could simply look the other way? They can all insist that they believe in full ballot access, strictly as a matter of principle.

Of course, the third-party scenario may never come to pass. Trump could well win the Republican nomination in a multi-candidate field, where every primary is winner-take-all. With more Republican candidates piling into the clown car, his odds look better every week. Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo and whoever else are all Trump's little helpers.

But if it doesn't work out for him, there's always the option of mutually assured destruction.



But if it doesn't work out for him, there's always the fallback of mutually assured destruction.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: geralt at Pixabay

fox news coup

Newsflash: You Really Can't Trust Fox News Channel, Ever

Anyone who was cynical or dismissive about Fox News Channel before now has suddenly learned that they weren't cynical or dismissive enough. Astounding evidence emerging this week from the defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox, Rupert Murdoch, his son Lachlan and others shows, in excruciating detail, how the "fair and balanced" network actively lied to its viewers about purported "fraud" in the 2020 presidential election.

In their 192-page motion for summary judgment against Fox, the Dominion attorneys cite dozens of instances of Fox hosts and news executives consciously broadcasting truly outlandish falsehoods manufactured by former President Donald Trump's election team. Nobody with any sense could possibly have believed the nonsense claims of Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, and nobody at Fox News did — as the internal messages and testimony cited by Dominion prove.

If it was ever possible to believe anything on Fox News, it isn't anymore. What these documents demonstrate beyond question is that from Murdoch down, the Fox apparatus prizes ratings above all else, and in their greed will readily trash the truth night after night. They know that they're lying, and they just don't care.

Actually, that's not entirely fair: The evidence shows that the Fox knaves knew they were lying and cared a little bit, because they realize how bad it all looks. But they lied anyway, over and over, because that's what hypnotizes the Trump cult.

"That whole narrative that Sidney was pushing, I did not believe it for one second," Fox host Sean Hannity testified about Powell, whom he described as a "lunatic" in a text message. Yet Hannity broadcast her claims repeatedly, no doubt inspiring viewers to believe violence might be required to restore Trump's "stolen" victory.

Evidently the Fox primetime hosts discussed their doubts among themselves. Laura Ingraham texted Hannity and Tucker Carlson that Powell "is a bit nuts. Sorry but she is." Carlson texted that "Sidney Powell is lying," mocking her conspiracy theories as "ludicrous" and "totally off the rails." Yet that wasn't what they told the gullible Fox audience, who yearned to believe that Trump could nullify Biden's election somehow.

Nearly every Fox host colluded in this immoral scheme.

The behavior of Maria Bartiromo, who had built a reputation as a competent business journalist, was so disturbing that her colleagues began to question her mental condition. In the days following the election, when she first promoted Powell's mad theories about Dominion software switching votes from Trump to Biden, Bartiromo received a startling email from the Trump lawyer about her "source" on the Dominion fraud accusations.

In that message, titled "Election Fraud Info," the source also claimed that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was purposefully killed at the annual Bohemian Grove camp during a weeklong human hunting expedition and that the late Fox News CEO Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch were secretly meeting to decide how to trash Trump.

"Who am I? And how do I know all of this?" wrote Powell's source. "I've had the strangest dreams since I was a little girl, was internally decapitated, and yet, I live. The Wind tells me I'm a ghost, but I don't believe it."

Former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, who received (and concealed) that same insane message, likewise reinforced the loony conspiracies articulated by the Trump lawyers. On Twitter and on air, he echoed Powell's warning that the 2020 election represented a "cyber Pearl Harbor" and berated Attorney General William Barr for debunking the president's fraud claims. "We have tremendous evidence already," Dobbs said — a remark he later admitted, under oath, was simply never true.

In a limited space, it is impossible to convey the full impact of these disclosures, which have vaporized the reputations of Dobbs, Bartiromo, Carlson, Hannity, Ingraham and their bosses like a nuclear blast. While their deranged viewers may remain, they are forever diminished. Neither Fox News nor its personnel have ever retracted their grotesque lies

More important than the fortunes of Fox News — which should suffer a summary judgment and a multibillion-dollar penalty — was the malignant purpose of that fraudulent "election fraud" campaign. Steve Bannon, a convicted fraudster himself, articulated its aims in a message to Bartiromo within days after the election.

Bannon confided to her that "71 million voters will never accept Biden. This process is to destroy his presidency before it even starts; IF it even starts. We either close on Trumps (sic) victory or delegitimize Biden. THE PLAY."

That was indeed the "play" for the anti-democratic Right — and Murdoch's minions will do it again next year, without a twinge of conscience, for money and power.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Yes, Every Republican Menaces Social Security -- Including De Santis And Trump

Yes, Every Republican Menaces Social Security -- Including De Santis And Trump

Republicans hate Social Security. From the very dawn of America's most popular and successful government program in 1935, Republicans have always hated Social Security. It is a hatred felt not by ordinary Republican voters — many of whom are elderly and rely on the program for survival — but by Republican elected officials and especially the corporate titans who finance them.

Yet since even their own base tends to strongly support Social Security, Republican politicians have habitually lied to conceal their seething contempt. They've practiced that same deception for many, many years. But now, engaging in debate with President Joe Biden over the Republican record on Social Security (and its sister program Medicare), they risk exposing what they endeavored so long to hide.

Inconveniently for them, the record is clear, unambiguous and damning.

Republican officials and the corporate lobbies associated with their party have played a double game on Social Security that dates back at least two decades, when they made an abortive attempt under President George W. Bush to "privatize" the program. The public rejected Bush's scheme to let Wall Street banks siphon away Social Security revenue into private investment accounts — and didn't buy their argument that destroying the program would somehow "save" it.

Bad rhetorical habits have damaged Republican credibility on the issue. From one side of their mouths, they denounce Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme"; from the other side, they promise to "strengthen and shore up" the program that they just described as criminal. Why would anyone believe such doubletalk?

Unlike most Republican politicians, former President Donald Trump understands that attacking Social Security is usually ruinous for his party, which was why he stood apart from the rest of them on the issue during the 2016 presidential primary — and why he's doing the same thing in this cycle. While he encouraged congressional Republicans in their dangerous "debt ceiling chicken" game, he warned them not to touch a penny of Social Security or Medicare.

But we also know Trump lies constantly — except when disparaging his Republican opponents — and this is no exception. When he was president, every Trump budget included deep cuts to Social Security (which Democrats in Congress discarded). During the 2020 campaign, he promised "entitlement" cuts and vowed to end the payroll tax that funds Social Security and Medicare.

Trump is right about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, however, whom he accuses of wanting to cut Social Security. While DeSantis is no policy intellectual, despite his Ivy League pedigree, he has dutifully repeated the GOP talking points to urge cuts from his first day serving in Congress. So did Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who shares his itch to challenge Trump. Meanwhile, Mike Pence has forthrightly endorsed privatization, reducing his already nil chance of nomination below zero.

And we can expect Republicans to continue savaging each other with gleeful hypocrisy on this issue.

Last year, Florida Sen. Rick Scott infuriated Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell when he proposed to "sunset" Social Security and Medicare (which Scott looted to get rich). Today, Scott denies what his 11-point "plan" plainly stated, and McConnell denies that Republicans want to gut those programs. Both are audaciously deceptive.

You see, Scott's proposal enraged McConnell for a simple reason. In 2018, the GOP leader had learned the hard way what happened after he talked too loudly about his desire to slash Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid "entitlements." So, four years later, he just wanted the notorious Medicare fraudster to shut up, which Scott refused to do.

No, it isn't easy to find Republican elected officials who honestly support Social Security and Medicare. Although Speaker Kevin McCarthy says cutting the programs is "off the table," there is ample reason to believe he really wants those cuts. His choices to chair tax-writing and budget committees have said cutting "entitlements" is their top priority — even as they accused Biden of lying when he mentioned that simple fact.

Why do Republicans hate Social Security? It doesn't matter. What does matter is that they unanimously oppose the equitable solution to any future shortfall in Social Security funds — which requires nothing more than a minor permanent increase in the payroll tax for those at the highest income level.

Biden owned the Republicans in the House chamber at the State of the Union address, when their jeering ended in a standing ovation for his call to protect Social Security from any cuts. That was when they began to dig a deep hole again — and Democrats can only hope they will never stop.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

The Reporter Who Hyped Whitewater Now Backs Trump On 'Russiagate'

The Reporter Who Hyped Whitewater Now Backs Trump On 'Russiagate'

Down at Mar-a-Lago and anywhere else that former President Donald Trump is still venerated, he and his entourage are excited about a publication that has never before drawn his attention. The Columbia Journalism Review has just published a four-part, 24,000-word essay that purports to debunk the Trump-Russia "narrative" — and seeks to blame rising public disdain for the press, among other ills, on The New York Times and The Washington Post for their coverage of that scandal.

Its author is Jeff Gerth, a reporter who worked at the Times for three decades. His former colleagues are said to be seething with fury at him. They have ample reason, not out of feelings of personal betrayal, but because Gerth has betrayed basic journalistic standards. Unfortunately, this is not the first time.

Very few people will persevere through Gerth's prose (which the late press critic Alexander Cockburn once compared to "bicycling through wet sand."). Yet because Trump is running for president again — and because Vladimir Putin is sure to continue "active measures" on his behalf — what happened in the travesty and tragedy of 2016 remains relevant.

Gerth's account is fatally flawed by his omission of critical facts about Trump and Russia, not only in Pulitzer Prize-winning stories published by both newspapers, but in the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election as well as the voluminous detail of Russian interference chronicled in the Mueller Report, mendaciously maligned by then-Attorney General William Barr.

Like Trump, whom he interviewed twice and treats with kid gloves, Gerth falsely suggests that Special Counsel Robert Mueller somehow exculpated the former president. In fact, Mueller showed that Trump repeatedly obstructed justice to stymie the Russia investigation. And the special counsel indicated that Trump's "dangling" of pardons to key witnesses like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone — who ultimately were pardoned — had cut off crucial avenues of investigation and testimony. Mueller cited 10 instances of obstruction of justice he could not prosecute because of the policy not to indict a sitting president for criminal activity. Here, Gerth is perpetuating the coverup.

Beyond any specific problems in Gerth's deeply defective work, however, is the question of why the magazine made such an odd choice to fulfill this sensitive task. During his years at the Times, he gained notoriety for two major stories that looked impressive when first published — and then fell spectacularly flat.

In 1992, he wrote a front-page article on Bill and Hillary Clinton's investment in an ill-fated real estate deal known as "Whitewater," which spawned endless news coverage, congressional investigations and a special counsel probe mismanaged by Ken Starr that cost nearly $70 million. The erroneous headline on Gerth's story— "CLINTONS JOINED S & L OPERATOR IN AN OZARK REAL ESTATE VENTURE" — was only the first of many regrettable errors. Multiple investigations failed to confirm Gerth's insinuations of wrongdoing by the Clintons.

In 1999, Gerth and a fellow Times reporter published another bombshell, headlined "BREACH AT LOS ALAMOS: China Stole Nuclear Secrets For Bombs, U.S. Aides Say." The article pointed a finger of suspicion at a Taiwanese American scientist named Wen Ho Lee, who was subsequently indicted and imprisoned — until he was released for lack of sufficient evidence to convict him of espionage. He ultimately pled guilty to a minor offense and received an apology from President Clinton. (The Times felt obliged to publish a note critiquing its own handling of the story after Lee's prosecution failed.)

What brings those episodes to mind is that in both instances, Gerth appeared to be heavily influenced by partisan figures on the Right with agendas that obscured the truth. His chief Whitewater sources were Sheffield Nelson, an embittered Republican businessman who had run against Clinton for governor two years earlier, and Clinton's former Whitewater partner James McDougal, who was both dishonest and mentally ill. His principal source on Wen Ho Lee appears to have been an Energy Department security official named Notra Trulock III, a right-wing conspiracy theorist who was credibly accused by his colleagues of ethnic bias against Lee.

Gerth's skewed reporting on Whitewater and Wen Ho Lee came under harsh criticism from other journalists. But the assessment that may now sting the most appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review months after the Lee prosecution had fizzled.

Writing about the Times' "painful" self-scrutiny, Michael Hoyt, who became the magazine's editor, called the Lee story "hard to read... without thinking that readers were supposed to believe — from the way the facts were marshaled and supported by inferences and quotes — that Wen Ho Lee was a probable spy and that those in the government who doubted it were politically motivated." The paper's editors, wrote Hoyt, should have taken "a closer look" at Gerth's main source as well as the political motivations of congressional Republicans pushing it, and "should have investigated hints early on that the legal case against Lee was not all that impressive."

Gerth's latest misadventure, providing tilted alibis for Trump, follows a pattern of decades. It should surprise nobody, especially his now-infuriated former colleagues at the Times. Hailed by the right-wing media, he appears to believe that he is in a position to lecture his fellow journalists. They would do better taking instruction elsewhere.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

What Does Charlie McGonigal Know About 2016?

What Does Charlie McGonigal Know About 2016?

The arrest of Charles McGonigal, chief of the FBI counterintelligence division in New York from October 2016 until his retirement in 2018, reopens festering questions about the troubled election that put Donald Trump in the White House. Among the crimes charged against McGonigal in two lengthy federal indictments is a secret financial relationship with Oleg Deripaska — a Russian oligarch close to dictator Vladimir Putin and associated with Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager, himself convicted of crimes and pardoned.

During his FBI career, McGonigal oversaw investigations of Deripaska and other oligarchs suspected of various crimes, including espionage. Now the exposure of his illegal connection with Deripaska may provide fresh insights into Trump's tainted victory.

On October 4, 2016, a month before Election Day, FBI director James Comey appointed McGonigal as special agent in charge of the FBI counterintelligence division in New York City, an exceptionally influential job that he took over at an extraordinarily sensitive moment. The bureau already had open investigations of both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her Republican adversary Trump. The Clinton investigation concerned "her emails," of course, and the Trump investigation involved his campaign's Russian connections.

What followed McGonigal's sudden ascent to power in the New York FBI office were two seemingly separate incidents, occurring days before the election, that had a fateful impact. On October 28, Comey sent a letter to the Congress publicly announcing that the bureau had resumed its investigation of Clinton due to the discovery of a laptop owned by former Rep. Anthony Weiner, whose spouse Huma Abedin was a top Clinton aide.

Months earlier the Justice Department months had cleared Clinton of any crime, but Comey violated Justice Department guidelines in accusing her of being neglectful about classified information, though it was later revealed that her emails contained no classified documents. (That means zero, zilch, nada, none, nothing.) But then Comey was driven to examine Clinton emails on the Weiner laptop.

Comey's announcement stopped the Clinton campaign's forward momentum and almost certainly cost her the election — even though the FBI director acknowledged on November 2, days before the election, that nearly all of the data on the Weiner laptop duplicated emails the FBI already had seen. None contained any damaging information. Just as Clinton was severely damaged among swing suburban voters, Trump's base voters were galvanized.

While Comey's broadside against Clinton stunned the nation, perhaps nobody should have been shocked. Trump crony Rudolph Giuliani —who for decades maintained a close relationship with Republican-leaning officials in the New York FBI office as the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York — had repeatedly hinted on Fox News in the weeks before the election that the bureau was sitting on a "big surprise" that would vault his candidate to victory.

Meanwhile, on October 31, 2016, the New York Times published a front-page story on that other FBI investigation, known internally as "Crossfire Hurricane," which unlike her emails had gotten no public attention (and inspired no leaks). The headline was declarative and conclusive: "Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia." That false story, exonerating Trump of Kremlin connections that we now know were extensive and incriminating, was pushed by Trump operatives and agents and clearly originated in the New York FBI counterintelligence division — which had played a key role in the beginning of Crossfire Hurricane. It quoted anonymous "law enforcement sources," which did not mean a local police lieutenant.

Before he moved on to other positions at FBI headquarters, McGonigal's career had begun in New York, where he worked closely with James Kallstrom — the right-wing ideologue who headed the New York office for decades. A bosom buddy of Giuliani and Trump, Kallstrom is suspected of leading the pressure campaign that induced Comey to reopen the Clinton investigation. The explicit threat of leaks by agents and former agents like Kallstrom, who reportedly hated Clinton, spurred Comey's disastrous decision and his public announcement, which again violated department policy against election interference.

Damning as those facts may seem, they only get us so far. There is much more to learn before we can understand the full story of 2016. The scrupulously nonpartisan presidential historian Michael Beschloss asked this week whether McGonigal's indictment will lead us closer to the truth. Will the prosecution of McGonigal reveal the details of his relationship with Deripaska, whom he had once investigated before becoming his corrupt stooge? Will Comey provide a full and honest accounting of what happened in the New York FBI office before the election? Will the New York Times examine — and disclose — how that misleading story about Trump and Russia appeared on its front page? Who briefed the Times for that bogus story?

With Trump seeking to return to the White House, the answers to those questions do not merely reckon with the past but are critical to democracy's future. The malign conspirators who first brought that would-be tyrant to power, both foreign and domestic, are still at large.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Biden -- And  Every Democrat -- Must Stand Strong Against Debt Blackmail

Biden -- And Every Democrat -- Must Stand Strong Against Debt Blackmail

While Speaker Kevin McCarthy demands transparency from the Biden White House, he has concealed crucial facts from the American public ever since he forged the "corrupt bargain" that greased his ascension to the constitutional post he now holds. The details of the agreement that allowed McCarthy to scrape together the barest majority are said to be set down in a three-page memorandum, which remains hidden.

What we already know, however, is that McCarthy arranged for ordinary Americans to subsidize his sleazy deal with the far Right when he promised to withhold approval of a higher debt ceiling until Democrats agree to enormous budget reductions — including harsh cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Unless Senate Democrats and the White House surrender to those absurd demands, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, too, House Republicans insist they will force the United States to repudiate its debts and wreck its credit.

Debt repudiation would have devastating consequences for the national economy, the global economy, and America's position in the world. The only beneficiaries would be the adversaries of the United States. That much is obvious. And if it is, then aren't those politicians who constantly proclaim their own patriotism but seek to drive the country into ruin shouldn't even contemplate such acts — unless they're not so patriotic after all?

The Republican crazies say these extreme measures reflect their deep concern about budget deficits and the national debt. Their worrying would be more plausible if they had bothered to speak up on any of several occasions during Donald Trump's presidency when Congress had to raise the debt ceiling as a matter of course. Not once did Democrats even whisper about blackmailing Trump over the debt increase. And not once did Republicans protest the Trump spending and tax policies that ballooned the debt by trillions.

Now, of course, Donald Trump is for welshing on the debt ceiling. This would not be the first time he has encouraged financial chicanery. Ask the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to felonious fraud in Trump's service and is now taking up residence on Riker's Island.

It is especially obnoxious for Trump to encourage a debt ceiling default when so much of the debt was incurred during his presidency. A higher debt ceiling isn't needed to enable future spending, but to cover spending that already occurred. Legal scholars would add that repudiating the debt would violate the Constitution, which protects "the full faith and credit of the United States," and the 14th Amendment, which stipulates that "the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law... shall not be questioned."

Trump may believe a default wouldn't matter. After all, his deadbeat approach to business always involved shafting his creditors, walking away from his debts and escaping accountability through bankruptcy. That may be how life works for a small-time swindler, but it isn't what great nations do — and the price would be unacceptably high.

The Republicans always say they want to operate government more like business — but they didn't say they want to run it like Trump's crooked company.

For now, the Treasury can manage the debt ceiling by shuffling various accounts and delaying certain payments, even though the nation officially passed "Debt Ceiling Day" on January 19. Sometime in the next several months a reckoning will loom.

Appropriately enough, the renewal of the debt ceiling debate is coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the inauguration of Bill Clinton, the only president in living memory who actually reduced deficits and debt. He did the opposite of Trump, raising taxes on the rich and setting the country on a path toward budget surplus (until the Republicans returned to power and blew it all).

The last time congressional Republicans (including McCarthy) made menacing noises about the debt ceiling was in 2011. Clinton wisely urged President Barack Obama to stand firm — just as he did when congressional Republicans led by Speaker Newt Gingrich tried to kill Medicare and shut down the government. Ultimately even the impetuous Gingrich refrained from threatening a debt default, although Clinton knew that his nemesis had considered deploying that terror tactic.

"I think (the Gingrich Republicans) figured I'd be smart enough to explain to the American people that they were refusing to pay for the expenses they had voted for when Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were president," Clinton recalled in 2011. "And that would make them look bad."

"The Constitution is clear and this idea that the Congress gets to vote twice on whether to pay for [expenditures] it has appropriated is crazy," he added. "You can't say, 'Well, we won the last election, and we didn't vote for some of that stuff, so we're going to throw the whole country's credit into arrears."

Clinton took the measure of the extremists on Capitol Hill during his second term, facing them down during two government shutdowns. He wasn't impressed by their sudden enthusiasm for balanced budgets, and he knew that standing up to their bullying and lying was the only way forward. Biden should study and heed the example.

The urgency now may be even greater, with the current gang of Republican extremists even more reckless than their irresponsible predecessors.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

There's No Pretending That Kevin McCarthy Is 'Mainstream' Or 'Moderate'

There's No Pretending That Kevin McCarthy Is 'Mainstream' Or 'Moderate'

With Rep. Kevin McCarthy finally winning a ballot for House speaker, after so many humiliating delays, it is important to understand why his "victory" no longer matters much and probably never did. The Beltway narrative that positions him as a symbol of "governing" and his erstwhile opponents as isolated agents of chaos is badly mistaken.

The Republican Party, at least as constituted in the House of Representatives, is today a vector of nihilism. Its stated objectives, articulated by both supporters and opponents of its current leadership, are hostile to democratic values and pose an ongoing threat to American security. Election deniers and coup supporters predominate, including "my Kevin," as Trump dubbed him.

No significant GOP faction can be described accurately as "moderate" or "mainstream" or even "conservative," although media outlets persist in using those familiar terms to frame them.

They're nearly all crazies now.

Even if real distinctions could once be drawn between those who steadfastly backed McCarthy and those who resisted him, they've been erased by his wholesale submission to his adversaries' demands. By awarding them unprecedented power over rules, votes, appropriations and even his own tenure, he has elevated a gang of hard-right yahoos into the ultimate congressional authority.

McCarthy's reign as speaker may be comically brief, but the chaos and peril that ensue will be just as damaging as if he had stepped aside for the likes of Jim Jordan or Andy Biggs. His weakness has emboldened the GOP's most deranged figures, who veer erratically between anarchy and authoritarianism — and who will continue to seek the spotlight they've enjoyed lately by any means available.

None of this is mitigated by the fact that McCarthy, once a slavish acolyte of former Speaker John Boehner, lacks any discernible beliefs, let alone firm convictions. His rise epitomizes the Republican abandonment of principle during the Trump era. The premise of his career has nothing to do with policy commitments or leadership qualities, resting solely on his skills as a smiling fundraiser and recruiter.

Unlike Boehner, who was booted from office for trying to control the far Right, McCarthy has rarely gotten in their way. That's why Mick Mulvaney, a founder of the House Freedom Caucus who played a major role in Boehner's ouster, has urged his former colleagues to stop fighting and accept the victory that a McCarthy speakership represents.

As Mulvaney noted in a recent op-ed endorsing McCarthy, this supposed "moderate" supports the loony Freedom Caucus agenda. He will eagerly emcee their clown show, replete with "investigations" of Hunter Biden, harassment of Dr. Anthony Fauci, attacks on federal law enforcement, attempts to justify the Jan. 6 insurrection, and an ongoing zeal to protect former President Donald Trump and his coup plotters from accountability.

What they will not do in any meaningful sense is govern.

Indeed, their principal objective is to make governing impossible. For years now, the sole aim of congressional Republicans under a Democratic presidency has been to win the next election — not to achieve legislative compromises for the good of the nation or even to ensure fiscal and administrative continuity, like a modern political party in any other country. Beginning with the Gingrich-led takeover of the House, the Republican attitude toward governance has been insurrectionary, meaning that they shun all cooperation, regardless of the destructive consequences.

That attitude was on display last month when the House considered legislation to avert a potentially ruinous railway strike. Even with many heartland Republicans warning that a strike would wreck the economy and harm their constituents severely, nearly two-thirds of the GOP caucus voted no — including Kevin McCarthy.

Now the House Republicans are poised to strike a historic blow against the United States by preventing an increase in the national debt ceiling — unless they are allowed to dictate destructive budget cuts. They are prepared to wreck the "full faith and credit" of the republic unless they can impose horrendous cuts in Medicare, Social Security and other vital programs that will also cause irreparable harm to the economy and the public.

McCarthy has signed up for that fanatical assault on the national interest. He is no more "mainstream" than his sidekick, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. It's time to stop pretending he is.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


Select Panel Report Shows Trump Isn't The Only 'Big Ripoff' Grifter

Select Panel Report Shows Trump Isn't The Only 'Big Ripoff' Grifter

Most Americans know by now that former President Donald Trump isn't a brilliant business executive, let alone a "stable genius" who earned billions. We have learned from various investigations, including the forced release of his tax returns, that he is a financial loser — and that his most conspicuous talent is for brazen grifting.

Now the House Select Committee, in a scathing appendix to its final report on the January 6 insurrection and coup attempt, has exposed the latest and perhaps most successful Trump grift. It's called "The Big Rip-off" because it depended on Trump's Big Lie about election fraud in 2020. Using hundreds of emails sent incessantly to its millions of supporters, the Trump campaign continued to raise enormous sums after the election ended by pretending that the Biden campaign had "stolen" its victory — and that with enough money that victory could be overturned.

Trump's principal co-conspirators in this bigtime scam were officials of the Republican National Committee, or RNC, which had a joint fundraising agreement that split proceeds with the campaign. From extensive interviews with top officials from both the RNC and the Trump campaign, the House investigators determined that the Republican leadership continued that deal long after it knew that the funds obtained were tainted by the Big Lie.

"The RNC knew that Trump's claims about winning the election were baseless and that post-election donations would not help him secure an additional term in office," the report explains. Yet both the RNC and the Trump campaign decided to continue fundraising after the election ended — "a decision that would have come from President Trump himself." The operations of that joint fundraising machine, known as Trump Make America Great Again Committee (or "T-Magic" to insiders) were overseen by the former president's son-in-law Jared Kushner and approved by Trump himself.

Their letters used incendiary language to damage public confidence in the electoral process, insisting that the election had been "stolen" and that the money would be used to "fight back" and "stop the steal." Sending out as many as 25 inflammatory emails every day, TMAGAC saw its most lucrative fundraising immediately after Election Day, hauling in as much as $100 million in the first three days, by claiming to establish a nonexistent "Official Election Defense Fund."

Eventually they raised more than $250 million.

They perpetrated that historic larceny, in the report's words, "by claiming to fight fraud they knew did not exist and to challenge an election they knew he lost." The RNC copywriters would "draft a lot of the content based on what the president was saying... a very aggressive, excitable tone... giving them 'red meat'... to make it seem as if the president himself was writing these letters and texts," according to the Select Committee's report.

This belligerently deceptive approach to monetizing the Big Lie began on Election Day 2020 when the campaign decided how to report election results to its supporters. As outlined by the Select Committee report, the campaign had three options: It could say that Trump had won, knowing that was false; it could say that the outcome remained uncertain which was then true; or it could claim, as it did, that "the Democrats are trying to steal the election" — a destructive accusation that the campaign decided to use even before Election Night results came in. As campaign officials later confessed to the Select Committee investigators, that claim was not based on any actual information received by TMAGAC staff or any attempt by them to determine its veracity.

RNC attorneys made a few feeble efforts to moderate that language in the TMAGAC donor messaging, to cover their own collective behind. But as the Select Committee notes, the RNC "was clearly aware that President Trump's claims regarding the election were not true and tried to have it both ways."

So, the RNC knew that Trump was lying to the American public every day and did virtually nothing to oppose that strategy. Its leaders, including RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, chose only to "tinker around the edges" of that false messaging. RNC officials admitted that they had seen no evidence to support Trump's claim that he had won the election and were not aware of any evidence of voter fraud sufficient to change the election's outcome.

Despite its lawyers' concerns about repeating the most extreme and unsupportable claims of fraud, the RNC "stayed the course with a coordinated, single fundraising plan with the Trump campaign... and publicly stood shoulder-to-shoulder with President Trump and his Big Lie."

To this day, most of the money raised remains in the bank, but millions have been paid out to Trump himself, his political associates and his businesses.

Among many egregious examples of pilfering and looting, well over $100,000 was paid for "strategic consulting" to Melania Trump's fashion stylist. A million dollars went to a "conservative" nonprofit that employs former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and participated in planning for Trump's Jan. 6 coup, and over $10 million went to an event-planning firm that helped to run the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse that preceded the Capitol riot. Additional millions were later spent on lawyers representing witnesses called to testify before the Select Committee.

There is no honor among thieves, so chair McDaniel is now being challenged for her position by an even more extreme MAGA politician. What this report shows in embarrassing detail is how they fleeced their own followers — who are, alas, mostly gullible enough to continue listening to them, at great cost to our country.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

The Audacious Lies Of That Cynical Senator Sinema

The Audacious Lies Of That Cynical Senator Sinema

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema could scarcely wait three days after the Georgia Senate runoff, which cemented Democratic control of the United States Senate, to announce that she no longer considers herself a member of that party and has changed her registration to independent. A politician who often seems obsessed with drawing attention to herself, the Arizona senator no doubt reveled in the publicity blitz ignited by her switch.

It would be refreshing to hear Sinema — who says she is "sometimes too honest" — speak candidly about this choice, which freshly enraged former supporters who have devoted energy and money to advance her career over the past two decades. But that would have required her to utter some unflattering truths about herself, and she isn't going there.

Instead, Sinema claimed she had "never really fit into a box of any political party," although she has presented herself as a progressive if pragmatic Democrat for the past 18 years without excessive discomfort. Having launched her political career with losing campaigns for local office in Phoenix, she left the Green Party behind to run for a state legislative seat as a Democrat in 2004 — and squeezed herself into that partisan box to eventually win three terms in Congress and then her first Senate victory in 2018.

The public identity that Sinema shaped during her rise to prominence — an open bisexual, committed feminist and environmentalist, strongly influenced by her impoverished childhood — is not one that the Republican Party would have tolerated, let alone celebrated. If she no longer "fits" in the Democratic Party, perhaps that's because she has drifted so far from the progressive values she once proclaimed. Anyone who watched her vote down a minimum wage increase with an irritating flourish on the Senate floor could see how she had changed.

But now she tells her constituents, in an essay for the Arizona Republic, that she felt compelled to reject the "rigid partisanship" she attributes to both major parties, which she decries for allowing the "loudest, most extreme voices to determine their respective priorities."

"In catering to the fringes," her complaint continues, "neither party has demonstrated much tolerance for diversity of thought. Bipartisan compromise is seen as a rarely acceptable last resort, rather than the best way to achieve lasting progress. Payback against the opposition party has replaced thoughtful legislating.

"Americans are told that we have only two choices — Democrat or Republican — and that we must subscribe wholesale to policy views the parties hold, views that have been pulled further and further toward the extremes."

As falsehoods go, this one is audacious, especially when uttered by an elected official from Arizona, where there is a large and menacing gang of real extremists who seek to thwart democracy, promote insane conspiracy theories and espouse violent white nationalism. None of them are in the Democratic Party.

Indeed, the Arizona Democratic Party includes no extremists of any stripe, only mainstream politicians whose views can hardly be described as radical. There is no Arizona Democrat who merits comparison with the other party's midterm slate of proto-fascists and election deniers; and none who deserves to be mentioned alongside the neo-Nazi state Sen. Wendy Rogers or the white nationalist Rep. Paul Gosar.

To babble about "both sides" in Arizona, as if the two parties are the same, is a nauseating lie — and of course Sinema knows it.

She also knows that the Democratic Party's national leaders are notoriously tolerant of different viewpoints, to the annoyance of some Democratic members of Congress. Indeed, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a longtime member of the Progressive Caucus, has been criticized for his working relationship with caucus moderates such as Rep. Josh Gottheimer. In the Senate, members of both parties regularly work on specific bills across the aisle, just as Sinema has done. And then there's President Joe Biden, whose insistence on reaching for bipartisan agreement won landmark deals on infrastructure and gun safety — while attracting abuse from the far Left and the far Right.

So why is Sinema lying? Could it be that the unadulterated truth isn't the self-flattering tale she would like us to believe?

Here is a more plausible narrative: Sinema's departures from Democratic principle have made her extremely unpopular within her own party, provoking a primary challenge from Rep. Ruben Gallego when she faces reelection in 2024. Her identity and voting record preclude her becoming a Republican, much as she seems attracted to them. Her approval ratings are dismal across voter categories in both parties. So, she has reinvented herself as an "independent," hoping to navigate a path between two opponents in 2024.

To pursue that opportunistic scheme means walking away from the party that stands for democracy, social decency, and the rule of law, and allowing the party that now represents none of those ideals to inch closer to power. Her complaints about "divisive, negative politics" would almost sound naive — if they weren't so cynical.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.