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Monday, December 09, 2019

GOP 'Investigations' Rerun Is The Lowest Form Of Political Comedy

Now that the Republicans have eked out a tiny majority in the next Congress, their leaders have announced the party’s legislative agenda – zero legislation but endless “investigation.”

Nobody except small children could have been surprised by the House Republican announcement, which was like a rollout touting the next sequel of a mediocre sci-fi franchise. While this show too will attract diehard fans, it sorely lacks freshness or appeal.

In 1994, when Republicans took control of Congress for the first time in 40 years, Newt Gingrich’s first order of business was to order up investigations on every conceivable front. Both House and Senate Republican leaders named special committees to excavate the Whitewater “scandal” – a long-ago land deal in rural Arkansas that had cost Bill and Hillary Clinton around $45,000 after a swindle perpetrated by their business partner, a mentally ill operator named James McDougal they had met through mutual political associates. Despite the Clintons’ thoroughly documented financial loss, the Republicans and the media endlessly promoted a false version of the story that supposedly implicated the Clintons criminally.

Neither the Congressional investigations nor the parallel probe by the late Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr -- which squandered tens of millions of dollars -- ever proved any of the baroque assertions, which came to include a fantastic tale of the Clintons smuggling cocaine through a rural airport. And while those probes provoked episodes of hysteria in the press, none had much impact on voters, who reelected President Clinton overwhelmingly in 1996.

Flash forward to the Obama administration, which came under similarly hollow inquisitions by Congressional Republicans after the 2010 midterm. They busied themselves with conspiracy theories about the Internal Revenue Service and other smears, only to see President Obama easily reelected.

Then came the infamous Benghazi investigation, with yet another special House committee assigned to produce redundant nonsense after nine other investigations cleared the Obama administration and specifically Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of any wrongdoing. Kevin McCarthy himself famously blurted the true purpose of that fiasco, when he boasted that its entire motive was to damage Clinton’s reputation before the 2016 election cycle.

And now we hear again from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), the excitable former wrestling coach credibly accused of covering up the sexual abuse of Ohio State students, who promises that GOP investigations will “frame up the 2024 election.” Anyone who observed Jordan in frantic and fruitless action during the Benghazi hearings -- especially that epic day when Hillary testified for 11 hours – can anticipate his upcoming antics. But he will face heavy competition from the equally manic Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who reportedly has elbowed her way onto the House Oversight Committee in a deal to support McCarthy for Speaker.

When Republicans take power on January 3, 2023, the political abuse of congressional authority is set on rerun. The coming attractions touted by Jordan and Rep James Comer (R-KY) focus on the international business dealings of Hunter Biden, alleged for years to have entangled the president and other family members. Promising proof of bribery, money laundering, and other offenses, the incoming inquisitors point to a laptop computer that once belonged to Hunter Biden and the already debunked claims by a highly dubious former business partner.

This is a revival of the smears mounted by the Trump campaign and its allies years ago, back when Donald Trump tried to coerce the government of Ukraine into framing Biden with a faked “investigation” in exchange for defensive missiles, which led to his first impeachment.

But back to our upcoming rerun: Remember how disgraced attorney Rudy Giuliani first showed up with that Hunter Biden laptop? And how he refused to let anyone conduct a forensic examination of its hard drive? Giuliani couldn’t account for its chain of custody, but we now know that persons other than Hunter Biden have tampered with its contents. As a source of reliable information, the mystery laptop still remains highly suspect.

Not much better can be said for Tony Bobulinski, the ex-partner of the younger Biden who went over to the Trump camp two years ago. Before the 2020 election, he told the Wall Street Journal that Joe Biden had participated in his son’s overseas business affairs and lied about it. But after extensive reporting, the conservative Journal found that the available evidence contradicted Bobulinski’s sensational claims.

By his own account, Hunter Biden is a man whose personal tragedies, self-destructive addictions, and financial pressures left him deeply troubled. Cynical Republicans have long targeted him for mockery and abuse. What we have learned so far about him and his father is not a story of the father’s financial chicanery, however, but of a bereaved and tormented dad trying to save his surviving son.

What will unfold on Capitol Hill in the months ahead will closely resemble past episodes of right-wing snipe-hunting. After the tenure of the strongest Speaker in memory, Nancy Pelosi, we will see the weakest in Kevin McCarthy. The Republican Party is now in the hands of Trump’s stooge "Gym" Jordan and kooks like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, mesmerized by Jewish space lasers, pizza-parlor pedophiles, and the injustice of prosecuting the January 6 insurrectionists. Prepare for fabrications, fantasies, and the lowest form of political comedy.

Does Rupert Murdoch Have The Guts To Take Down Trump?

If the stunning midterm results bear any message for Republicans, it is that Donald Trump continues to poison their party’s prospects, as he has done in every election since his fluke Electoral College squeaker six years ago. Nobody sees Trump more clearly now than Rupert Murdoch, the party’s would-be kingmaker, whose media empire trained its artillery on him after the election fiasco.

In classic New York Post style, Murdoch’s flagship tabloid lampooned its former object of affection on page one as “Trumpty Dumpty,” with a suitably humiliating illustration and accompanying columns that blamed him for the midterm failure and urged him to forget about running for president again. On the same day, Murdoch’s upscale Wall Street Journal editorial page whacked Trump as the midterm’s “biggest loser,” pinning on him the GOP defeats in 2018, 2020, 2021, and now 2022-- and suggesting that maybe, finally, Republicans are “sick and tired of losing.”

Meanwhile, on Fox News Channel, the Murdoch network that once served as state TV for the Trump campaign and White House, the post-election commentary was so shocking to Trump—man bites dog--that he snapped back on his Truth Social platform. “For me, Fox News was always gone, even in 2015-16 when I began my journey,” he complained with typical dishonesty. “But now they’re really gone.”

As Erik Wemple noted in the Washington Post, we’ve watched this melodrama unfold more than once already, most recently last summer after the House Select Committee’s devastating hearings, when the Post and the Journal both denounced Trump’s incitement of the January 6insurrection. The media mogul has never liked Trump, whom he regards as an intellectual inferior and a business fraud. But the problem, as Murdoch has learned, is that Trump’s mass cult following can affect Fox’s ratings by turning to its competitor Newsmax.

Despite his current apparent enthusiasm for flavor-of-the-month Ron DeSantis, Murdoch and his minions will of course crawl back if the Florida governor’s scant appeal fizzles away. But what would Rupert do if he had the testicular fortitude to rid the Republican Party of that meddlesome mountebank Trump?

If Rupert at all means what his publications now say, he must direct their fire as he does whenever he pursues a political vendetta. Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, among many others, know exactly how that goes.

If Murdoch is serious and not just striking a frivolous pose, the test for him is clear. To put the stake in Trump, Murdoch must at once instruct his editors and producers, his writers and TV personalities, to desist from undermining the myriad investigations into the former president’s alleged crimes – and instead lend support to those probes and publicize their ruinous revelations.

In his past feuds with political figures, the News Corp boss (and those who do his bidding) have never hesitated to fabricate or fib. This time, however, there is no need for his trademark journalistic malpractice. The Murdoch media could do something completely new and different -- real journalism that accurately reports the current federal and state investigations of Trump and his associates, and editorially encourages prosecution to uphold the rule of law.

Murdoch is mean and reactionary, but he isn’t stupid. He is well aware that the Trump Organization has acted fraudulently for decades, as shown in the evidence compiled by New York Attorney General Letitia James. He has heard Trump’s taped conversation with Brad Raffensperger, attempting to bully the Georgia secretary of state into fixing the 2020 election for him by “finding 11,780 votes.” Murdoch understands the wider conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election, not least because individuals on Fox News were privy to the coup as it unfolded. He has seen the FBI photos of top-secret documents that Trump stole from the White House and took to Mar-a-Lago.

Knowing all that, the old press lord must dictate a course correction to his corps of obedient lackeys and get on board with the investigations. He would find himself in familiar company, from hardcore conservative Rep. Liz Cheney to Bill Kristol, the Never Trump neoconservative who edited the Weekly Standard magazine when Murdoch owned it.

Chances that this will actually happen are vanishingly small. But unless he backs the investigations that could haul Trump and his gang before the bar of justice, Murdoch’s current criticism will be exposed as cheap talk and nothing more.

Murdoch has now set the test for himself. Will he back down as he did after blasting Trump over the January 6 insurrection? Will he again prove to be a blowhard and a weakling? The whole world is watching, Rupert.

The Party Of Sham And Chicanery Is More Trumpy Than Ever

Republicans may win or lose elections during this midterm cycle but either way, the once Grand Old Party is completing its devolution into a mirror of former President Donald Trump. The midterm elections have magnified its reflection of his deeply inauthentic and malignant character. Compulsive lying, constant expressions of hostility and cruelty, and the sheer phoniness of the Republican candidates cannot cloak the party's hollow core, whose true ideology is nihilism.

Not surprisingly, Trump is attracted to figures who resemble him, and especially to those who genuflect to him without a trace of self-respect. None of them will hold fast to any political principle because, despite professions of patriotism and piety, their only purpose is to grab for power, wealth and the weird status of being approved by Trump. Like Trump himself, they are grifters first and last.

Mehmet Oz may be the single most perfect example of this Trumpian template. Having achieved great wealth and a degree of fame if not respect on a cheesy cable TV show, and selling magic vitamins, Dr. Oz determined long ago that the medical profession's moral precepts could only hinder his advancement. Years of promoting fake cures and instant weight-loss pills fostered a deep cynicism that is the essence of the candidate we see today: a phony Pennsylvanian who actually still resides in New Jersey and eagerly asserts extreme positions on abortion, guns, health insurance and other issues that he shunned when practicing medicine. Dr. Oz is a new-fangled worshipper of Trump, but an old-fashioned faith-healing quack.

On a superficial level, Herschel Walker seems like an entirely different sort of celebrity candidate, unable to mimic the smooth patter of chameleons like Oz or J.D. Vance. But as a fraudulent personality, the former football star can compete with the worst of them. Even before Trump handpicked Walker, it was clear that Republicans no longer cared about the mental health or intellectual capacity of their candidates, or whether they have any marbles (see Coach Tommy Tuberville, the brazen racist senator from Alabama, another gridiron genius).

Walker is a perfect symbol of a party that pretends to care about sexual "morality," and yet formulates comically convoluted excuses for a man whose shady escapades led him to pressure women — who knows how many? — to terminate the pregnancies he caused, and to put a gun to the head of his ex-wife. His fantasy resume as a "successful business executive" would be Trumpian, except that Walker can't even fake it plausibly. But that doesn't seem to bother Republican stalwarts in Georgia.

If you liked Jerry Falwell Jr., the gamy subject of a Hulu TV documentary premiering this week, God Forbid, about sex antics involving his wife and the pool-boy, you'll love the ridiculously "saved" Walker and all the Trump Republicans. Falwell was the first big evangelical leader to endorse Trump in 2015, and those birds of a feather are now a flock.

As for Vance, he stands (or more precisely kneels) for an especially slavish brand of Trumpism. The author of Hillbilly Elegy is a flipping convert who despised Donald until that opinion was no longer convenient for Vance's ambition and then flopped down to lick his boots. Even Trump can't always resist mocking these spineless creatures, as when he noted during a campaign rally that the Ohio Senate nominee "is kissing my ass" after saying "lots of bad (stuff) about me." Indeed Vance said some very bad stuff, like his 2016 observation that Trump "might be a cynical asshole like Nixon or might be America's Hitler." That's all in the rearview mirror now, because Vance is a political puppet of fascist billionaire Peter Thiel, the biggest donor to the Republican Party, and Thiel sees Trumpism as the vehicle to turn American politics further and further right into dark nihilism.

Speaking of Thiel, he represents still another sort of duplicity that ought to bring shame on him and all the Republicans who grasp at his lucre. The politicians he so lavishly finances are outspokenly hostile to gay rights, including marriage equality, and are hyping a paranoid vision of gay and trans Americans as evil "groomers" who endanger children. But oddly enough, Thiel himself is quite actively gay and married to a man. How does he resolve the contradiction? If the far right he has empowered starts to persecute gays, he'll be alright with that — because he is already buying citizenship in gay-friendly Malta.

But what will all these mountebanks and moralizing imposters do for the average voter? Remember the promises Trump made in 2016, and how he violated all of them. These MAGA Republicans certainly won't reduce inflation, a worldwide problem for which they don't even propose solutions. They won't protect your children, or your retirement, or your health care, or your rights. They will assuredly cut their own taxes, slash your well-earned Social Security and Medicare, continue to plunder the planet, and laugh at every gullible American who voted for them, all the way to the bank — just like their master Trump.

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.

Why Would Any Voter Trust Republicans To Make A 'Better' Economy?

No delusion misleads American voters more than their certainty that Republicans are "better" and more worthy of "trust" on the economy than Democrats. Neither facts nor history support this durable fallacy, discredited by reams of studies over the years proving that Democratic administrations are consistently more successful in fostering economic growth, employment, family incomes, and nearly every other measure of prosperity — including reductions in the national debt.

That axiom has held true even when a Democratic president inherited the most miserable economic conditions from a Republican predecessor. It is certainly true of President Joe Biden, whose efforts to revive the United States from its pandemic slump have smashed records in the number of jobs created and sustained high employment. Inflation is beginning to abate, as are gas prices, and even so the latest quarterly data show renewed growth.

Yet because Americans are aggrieved over rising prices — and frightened by a potential recession — the mythology of Republican economic superiority now looms over the midterm elections. Evidently some voters aim to punish Biden for inflation by empowering his right-wing adversaries.

Before they do, perhaps they should ask how Republicans will exploit that enduring "trust" — and whether the result will be a "better" economy for them and their families. Based on past performance, and what Republican politicians themselves tell us, the only constituency that will see a better economy is the superrich.

In 2016, Donald Trump said he would close loopholes that allowed the very wealthy (including him) to avoid taxation. He also promised to erase the national debt and deficits in his first term. Instead, Trump and the Republicans in Congress passed an enormous tax cut that favored the wealthiest and inevitably exploded the deficit. Then the economy crashed.

Whatever their differences, that dismal Trump record is pretty much what George W. Bush achieved as president too. It is what Republicans always do.

Slashing taxes on the wealthy is what they yearn to do again — except that Sen. Rick Scott, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has added an even "better" idea: He wants to raise income taxes on poor and working families, who make too little money to pay that levy under current law.

If you're a middle-class or working-class voter, in fact, there is a familiar agenda of economic policies that you can "trust" the Republicans to promote, because they are the same policies that the reactionary party has endeavored to enact since forever. They have vowed yet again, for instance, to ruin Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which serve as economic bulwarks for most Americans. And once more they are threatening to weaponize negotiations over the national debt ceiling to ram through those destructive cuts.

Will that be "better" for the older and disabled Americans who depend on those programs, and their families? Probably not, but what could be even worse is the recklessness of Republicans who would abrogate the credit of the United States Treasury to complete that cruel mission. So determined are they to cancel the benefits that Americans spend a lifetime earning that they would jeopardize the entire nation's economic stability.

You can "trust" their commitment to such financial insanity, which they continue to proclaim in this campaign, because they have pursued the same catastrophic scheme dating back to the bad old days of Speaker Newt Gingrich.

You can also trust the Republicans to seek total repeal of Biden's student-loan forgiveness plan, because they attempted to zero out all the federal student loan programs (the opposite of what Trump promised). Would that work "better" for middle-class students and their families? Presumably not, but it's what they insist on — with no proposal to improve college affordability.

For them it is now a matter of principle to have no principles, no platform, no constructive program. Remember when Trump promised a beautiful new health plan to replace the Affordable Care Act with something better that would insure everyone at low cost? Of course you do, just as you remember "Infrastructure Week," which came and went and came and went like Groundhog Day (until Biden finally passed the landmark Infrastructure Act).

In power, the Republicans will take that same pernicious approach to every aspect of economic policy that might improve life for working families. Not only would they refuse to increase minimum wages — highly popular across party lines — but nearly every one of them rejects the very idea of a minimum wage. They would obstruct any effort to reduce the cost of prescription drugs — also very popular — and repeal the provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act that are driving down those prices. They may still be too incompetent to repeal Obamacare, but that won't stop them from trying — and they will propose no "better" insurance plan to replace the health coverage they're so eager to strip away.

What you can assuredly trust the Republicans to do is what they always do. What you must never expect from them is anything better.

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.


An Impartial Jury Debunks Trump's 'Russia Russia Russia' Lies -- Again

One of Donald Trump’s Big Lies has just been debunked, no less than by a federal jury. For years, Trump has been claiming that he is the blameless victim of what he derides as the “Russia Russia Russia hoax” – a sinister conspiracy perpetrated by former president Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton as well as a host of other Democrats, aided by shadowy figures in the FBI.

Now America can be certain that this is all untrue because, after days andweeks and months of costly probes and prosecutions, a jury has decisively rejected Trump’s conspiracy claims this week – for the second time. It was a humiliating verdict, with ramifications both domestic and global.

Three years ago, William Barr, then the United States attorney general, appointed John Durham, the US Attorney in Connecticut, as a Justice Department special counsel to investigate Trump’s“hoax” claims against the FBI. The mere announcement of Durham’s appointment immediately lent an undeserved patina of plausibility, at least on Fox News, to the notion that something was very wrong in 2016 when FBI counterintelligence officials opened a file on Trump’s Russia connections. Supposedly, Durham’s investigation would prove it.

Unfortunately for Durham (and Trump), both of the major cases he brought against individuals who blew the whistle on Trump’s disturbing relationship with the Kremlin ended badly.: The first acquittal came five months ago, when a jury rejected charges that an attorney named Michael Sussmann had lied about the identity of his client when reporting his concerns about Trump to the bureau. The second came on October 18, when another jury acquitted Igor Danchenko, charged with lying to the FBI about the sources behind the legendary “dossier” about Trump and Russia assembled by former MI5 agent Christopher Steele. (Durham did win a guilty plea from an FBI lawyer for misrepresenting minor details in an email seeking a surveillance warrant, but that plea resulted in no jail time.)

The jury deliberations in both of these convoluted cases required only hours, not days. When Durham summed up his case to the jury in the Danchenko case by unfurling the “Russia hoax” conspiracy theory, he was rebuked by the judge and silenced.

So, despite millions of dollars spent, with all the resources of the Justice Department behind him, Durham failed to prove any of his big claims. The only thing he established beyond doubt is that his own judgment was seriously flawed. He The prosecutor in the

In the Danchenko case he did contrive, no doubt by mistake, to show that the FBI had very sound reasons to investigate Trump’s Russia ties that had nothing to do with the Steele dossier. When asked by the prosecution why the counterintelligence division opened that case, FBI analyst Brian Auten gave a simple and, truthful answer: The United States had received a reliable tip from a friendly foreign government about a Trump campaign aide who bragged that the Russians had offered to help defeat Hillary Clinton. In that moment, Auten exploded Trump’s outrageously false attacks on the US intelligence and law enforcement, along with the entire rationale for Durham’s snipe hunt.

Why does this still matter? In a world imperiled by Russian aggression, not only its invasion of Ukraine but also its continuing disinformation campaigns against democracies, the resilience and unity of Western governments remain our best defense against an increasingly grim, authoritarian future. At the core of that defense is NATO, an alliance that depends on the steadfastness of the United States. As midterm elections approach, the painstaking effort by President Joe Biden to maintain NATO support to Ukraine against the war criminal Vladimir Putin is under threat from a potential Republican Congress.

Trump’s lies about Russia, which damaged US relations with Ukraine during his presidency, were always designed to conceal his dubious relationship with Putin. He and his semi-fascist MAGA Republicans, who will hold important positions if the Republicans win control, talk about abandoning Ukraine and perhaps wrecking NATO, all in service of the Kremlin. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the man who would become Speaker, has said that his caucus would reduce or eliminate military aid to Ukraine – a diplomatic disaster of historic dimensions.

In his quest for power, the spineless McCarthy has cast aside his own insight into Donald Trump’s character and loyalty, which he privately disclosed to Republican members in June 2016, when he told them that he believed Putin was paying Trump, and added, “Swear to God.” Trump’s subservience to Putin and his sway over the Republican Party’s “semi-fascist”leadership matter enormously. The real investigations of “Russia Russia Russia” have revealed a grave threat to US and world security – and that threat has not receded an inch.

How Can Jews Still Support A Republican Party Infested With  Anti-Semites?

The anti-Semitic outbursts of Kanye West have exposed again the increasing tolerance of foul bigotry within the Republican Party and among its "conservative" mouthpieces. With West now touted as a new Black GOP voice (despite or perhaps because of his admitted mental illness), his sickening threats against Jews were quickly excused by the likes of Tucker Carlson, the top Fox News host whose own embrace of explicit anti-Semitism appears imminent.

Over the past few years, nearly every day has seen an anti-Semitic outrage perpetrated by some figure or organization associated with the Republicans; as the intensity and frequency of these offenses grows, the response by the party and its officials, never robust, has only become weaker and more cowardly.

The question is what Republicans — not the burgeoning caucus of neo-Nazis who call themselves Republicans, but actual conservatives — will do about this cancer on their party. It is a question especially pertinent to the handful of American Jews who have provided substantial financing for the Republicans, and for the man who has stimulated so much hate, former President Donald J. Trump.

When Trump initially excused the murderous Nazi rioters in Charlottesville, Virginia, he upset at least some of the Jewish Republicans who had supported him, such as the financier Stephen Schwarzman and the investment banker Gary Cohn. They felt the disdain of the overwhelming majority of Jews who want no part of Trump or Trumpism.

And yet many of those same Jewish Republicans continue to support the party as its extremism endangers their community and every other minority in the United States. It is curious indeed that someone like the hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, whose son is gay and therefore a target of fascist violence, would continue to subsidize this social poison.

Despite the fact that his own daughter and grandchildren are Jewish, Trump revived the "America First" slogan first popularized here by Hitler's agents and supercharged the return of fascist movements, with their animus against Jews, Blacks, gays and anyone else deemed "different." Having recently donned a "Q" pin to advertise his affinity for the conspiratorial, anti-Semitic and violent QAnon movement, the former president clearly understands that these hideous elements are crucial to his base. But the blame for this menace can no longer be attributed to him alone. Too many other Republicans are directly implicated or complicit.

In Arizona, much of the Republican apparatus is tainted by anti-Semitic rhetoric and ideologies, in particular state Sen. Wendy Rogers, who sucks up to the neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes and his America First Political Action Committee, and Rep. Paul Gosar, the member of Congress notorious for posting homicidal images of himself murdering Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and President Joe Biden. Mark Finchem, the party's nominee for secretary of state this year, is touting his endorsement by the openly anti-Semitic social media site Gab and its founder Andrew Torba, whose speeches explicitly echo the German Nazi Party.

In Pennsylvania, the Republicans nominated for governor a Christian nationalist state senator named Doug Mastriano, who hired Torba to send Gab's anti-Semitic subscribers to his campaign. He followed up with a bit of unsubtle Jew-baiting of his Democrat opponent Josh Shapiro.

In New York, the Republicans chose Carl Paladino, a raving racist, for an upstate congressional seat; his endorsement of Adolf Hitler as "the kind of leader we need" didn't bother Rep. Elise Stefanik, third-ranking Republican in the House, enough to evoke comment, let alone a disendorsement. And let's not forget Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the lunatic anti-Semite and apostle of QAnon violence who was nevertheless backed by nearly every House Republican last year when Democrats moved to strip her committee assignments.

The roster of white nationalists, fascists and neo-Nazis who identify as Republicans goes on much longer and includes such prominent party figures as Trump adviser Steve Bannon. There is now an entire wing of the party, bidding for dominant status, that bills itself as "nationalist" and promotes the authoritarian anti-Semitic leader of Hungary, Viktor Orban, as a Republican role model. That wing even has its own financier, the gay tech billionaire Peter Thiel, whose attraction to white nationalism may someday make him the Republican version of Ernst Röhm.

Whatever has motivated decent Republicans, including those of Jewish descent, to continue supporting what is rapidly becoming the party of fascism and anti-Semitism, they must stop and reconsider. If they imagine that they are using the far Right to achieve a political agenda of lower taxes or less regulation, they ought to recall how that worked out a century ago, when German conservatives, aristocrats, and nationalists thought they were manipulating Hitler and his movement to thwart socialism.

Those willing instruments of Nazism are stained forever — and that legacy of disgrace will be shared by the Republicans who are now enabling fascism in America.

Deep Connections Between GOP And Saudi Monarchy Drive Oil Scheme

Only suckers believe that Joe Biden is responsible for the price of gasoline, but then we all know that a sucker is born every minute (which explains a lot about our politics). The propaganda about oil prices now emanating from the Republican Party, which blames Biden for energy costs, is designed to conceal a much more sinister reality.

Oil prices are rising again because the Saudi monarchs and the Kremlin dictator want Republicans to win the midterm elections and eventually regain the White House, preferably with Donald Trump as president again. In fact, the latest decision by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to curtail production only weeks before Election Day is the petrocrats’ most brazen attempt to manipulate American politics in recent memory -- well, at least since the Russian intervention to install Trump in 2016.

In response to the emergence of this new political axis, media outlets have featured myopic analysis focused on Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia and his “fist bump” moment with the Saudi crown prince, Mohamed bin Salman, reiterating a narrative of recrimination. Yet Biden made a responsible diplomatic effort to moderate energy prices in wartime – and then was betrayed by a dubious “ally” whose regime we have spent hundreds of billions to protect.

It is fair to say the United States should have begun to disengage from the corrupt Saudi monarchy years ago, not only because of that regime’s egregious abuses of human rights, but because those abuses reflect a violent and dangerous fanaticism that it has exported around the world to universal peril. The Saudis still have not been held accountable for their horrific murder of the journalist Adnan Khashoggi, their murky role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, or the countless Islamist atrocities allowed and even encouraged by their Wahhabi extremism.

Biden inherited the policy that had backed the Saudi government with weapons and prestige in exchange for Western energy security. That devil’s deal is no longer a reliable guide for American policymakers, who are coming to understand that the interests of the world’s democracies – as well as the prospects for mitigating climate change – conflict with the self-serving Saudi agenda.

Perhaps the most obvious reflection of that clash is the burgeoning alliance between Moscow and Riyadh, which supports Vladimir Putin and his murderous assault on democratic Ukraine. The Saudi ruler reportedly admires the Kremlin boss, whose brutality and greed so closely resemble his own style of butchery.

International analysts foresaw that the Saudi government would assist the Republicans months ago. Writing in Modern Diplomacy last April, James M. Dorsey noted that “Saudi Arabia appears to be looking forward to a time when US President Joe Biden’s wings may be clipped…The kingdom seems to be betting on a better reception in Washington if Democrats lose control of Congress in this year’s midterm elections and/or Donald J. Trump or a Republican candidate with similar inclinations wins the White House in the 2024 presidential election.” Subsequent events have amply confirmed his prediction.

But the troubling collaboration between the Republican Party and the Saudi monarchy goes much deeper – and raises serious ethical questions for the GOP leadership, or would if they still evinced any semblance of ethics.

As Eli Clifton reported in The Intercept last month, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a major party super PAC founded and chaired by former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman – who also happens to be a highly paid lobbyist for Saudi Arabia. It’s a sleazy arrangement that allows Coleman to distribute hundreds of millions of dollars to Republican candidates in this cycle, to turn around and seek the support of those same elected officials for various initiatives “on behalf of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia.”

The Congressional Leadership Fund is closely allied with American Action Network, a dark-money “nonprofit” that funnels up to $30 million annually from unspecified donors to CLF and its candidates. Although its spokesman swears that those funds are all raised from domestic donors – since foreign donations are illegal – nobody really knows whether Coleman’s Saudi patrons have figured out a way to grease his super PAC. What we do know is that domestic allies of Saudi Arabia, notably the Chevron Corporation, which operates oil production facilities for the monarchy, have shoveled millions of dollars into the Congressional Leadership Fund.

Is this picture becoming clearer now? If not, consider the $2 billion investment of the Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund in Jared Kushner’s fund, or the Saudi funded LIV golf tournament at the Trump clubs for an unknown amount.

The corrupt and authoritarian monarchy in Saudi Arabia, like the crooked dictatorship that rules Russia, strongly favors the Republican Party, especially as defined by Trump – a would-be autocrat and lifelong grifter. They hate President Biden, who opposes their vicious conduct and aims to wean us from the fossil fuels that are destroying the planet.

Put simply, the Saudi despots and their Russian allies are raising energy prices, hoping that will dupe angry American consumers into voting Republican. Those consumers would have to be very, very stupid to believe that electing Republicans will reduce their gas and oil bills – or result in anything except ruin for themselves and their families. The axis is betting that P.T. Barnum was right.

When A Republican Governor Suddenly And Desperately Needs Federal Aid

On his very first day in Congress -- long before he began to preen as a potential presidential candidate – Ron DeSantis proved that he was unfit to hold the highest office in the land. The date was January 4, 2013, and he cast his maiden vote on the House floor against $9.7 billion in federal flood insurance aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy, which had devastated New York and New Jersey.

Now, nearly a decade later, that vote strikes a stunning chord of hypocrisy and cruelty, when he is pleading for far larger sums from Washington to rebuild the communities destroyed by Hurricane Ian in his home state. With his characteristic arrogance, DeSantis abruptly dismisses any questions about his self-interested reversal as “politics” and “pettiness.”

Back when he voted “no” on Sandy aid to the northern states, DeSantis pretended to be a fiscal conservative. He claimed to sympathize with the victims of that storm but wasn’t inclined to send them any help beyond the usual Republican thoughts and prayers. According to him, increasing the flood insurance program’s debt at that time “with no plan to offset the spending with cuts elsewhere is not fiscally responsible.”

That finger-wagging and penny-pinching is entirely absent from the letter DeSantis sent a few days ago to President Joe Biden. Instead, he urged the administration to provide “100 percent reimbursement” for the hurricane damage suffered in southwest Florida. Nowhere did his letter suggest – and in none of his media appearances has the governor ever said – that the White House should first identify “budget offsets.” (In fact, DeSantis had earlier abandoned all that sanctimonious noisemaking when he voted in October 2017 for a $36.5 billion relief bill after a trio of catastrophic storms struck Florida. That bill contained no offsets either. The following year, DeSantis ran for governor.)

Republican demands for fiscal probity, as a rule, apply only to blue states, which actually pay for the disaster aid that is shared all over the country and flows uninterrupted to red states that send far less to the Treasury than they receive. But Biden, a decent man who believes with his whole heart in patriotic goodwill, would never mention how DeSantis tried to deprive their fellow Americans of the assistance they so desperately needed. Nor would he ever ask why DeSantis has done nothing as governor to increase the rate of flood insurance among Florida’s coastal homeowners, while he has so much free time to spend to persecute gays and immigrants, censor opponents, and concoct fairy tales about American history.

Instead, Biden assured the Florida governor – the same strutting bully who just a few days ago threatened to ship Venezuelan asylum seekers to the president’s Delaware residence – that the United States stands ready to fulfill the meaning of its name. DeSantis, for his part, spent weeks on his political stunt of transporting a few dozen migrants to Martha’s Vineyard—valuable time he wasted on demagoguery at Florida taxpayer expense instead of devoting himself to preparing for the emergency of the hurricane.

As governor, DeSantis is brimming with sound bites and devoid of solutions. But then we’ve seen the same depressing performance on many occasions from his fellow Republicans.

Sen. Ted Cruz, the junior Republican from Texas so widely disliked on both sides of the aisle, notoriously lied about the 2017 disaster relief bill, which he falsely depicted as “pork.” Last year, Sen. Rand Paul, the junior Republican from Kentucky, pulled the same stunt when he demanded tornado relief after years of voting down aid to other states.

Biden and the Democrats have consistently supported aid to blue and red state alike wherever needed—and now to Florida in the wake of Hurricane Ian. On September 30, only 10 Republicans in the House voted for the budget bill that contained disaster relief. In the Senate, 11 Republicans voted against it. And what did Ron DeSantis say about his fellow Republicans who were simply imitating how he behaved in voting against aid for Hurricane Sandy? He is silent in the face of his party’s indifference to his state’s plight. He’s far too ambitious to comment. He has to rely on the good faith of President Biden and Congressional Democrats. Will DeSantis soon return to airlifting migrants to those places that have provided the money to save his state?

It’s deeply irritating when “conservatives” manufactures excuses to oppose assistance to states other than their own -- and it’s tempting to tell them to bugger off when they beg for it, as DeSantis is doing now. That’s when we have to remember that the only thing worse than listening to them is becoming like them.

How Ron DeSantis Made Himself A Communist Dictator's Best Friend

Ron DeSantis never gets bored of telling us how much he despises communism.

Not only does the Florida governor frequently mention his hatred of communism, but last spring he signed a law that memorializes its victims and mandates an annual day devoted to teaching its harmful history in the Sunshine State's public schools. "I know we don't need legislation here to do this," said DeSantis when that bill passed, "but I think it's our responsibility to make sure people know about the atrocities committed by people like Fidel Castro and even more recently people like Nicolas Maduro" — yes, the autocratic ruler of Venezuela.

The first "Victims of Communism Day" since the passage of that law is coming up on November 7, but it's not at all clear why those who have suffered under such regimes would be in any mood to mark the occasion with DeSantis. To advance his career, the belligerent governor is himself now victimizing those who have fled communism — and he may have violated the law in doing so.

After Maduro, the greatest oppressor of Venezuelans, who also treats them like dirt, is none other than DeSantis.

Among the millions fleeing Maduro's crashed economy and brutal repression, many have sought refuge in the United States, which has vowed to help them. And some who entered this country, exercising their legal rights under our asylum statutes, had the misfortune last week to encounter covert agents of the DeSantis administration who deceived them last week into boarding flights northward.

A "tall blond woman" calling herself "Perla" promised the immiserated and exhausted Venezuelans, whom she found near a migrant center in Texas, that they would receive "employment, housing, and educational opportunities" if they got onto a small plane that she said would take them to Boston. The charter flight landed instead on Martha's Vineyard, an island off Massachusetts that is a summer destination for affluent vacationers.

The next day, as everyone now knows, DeSantis announced boastfully that he was responsible for the cruel ruse. It later emerged that the governor had bragged beforehand about this plan, financed by Florida taxpayers, at a "briefing" for the Republican Party's biggest donors. No doubt those plutocrats were amused by what DeSantis portrayed as a clever prank. But others with long memories were reminded of the 1960s segregationists who deceived poor Black people into boarding buses from Mississippi to Hyannis, another Massachusetts resort town, where President John F. Kennedy's family maintained a residence (and still does).

If the point was to demonstrate the hypocrisy of liberals, who were perhaps expected to shun or stigmatize the unexpected guests, it failed. The good people of Martha's Vineyard rallied instantly to provide cash, copious food, safe shelter, amusements for children and anything else the Venezuelans needed until the state moved them to an Air Force base on nearby Cape Cod.

Now, more than one law enforcement agency is investigating whether DeSantis violated any laws by transporting the Venezuelans under false pretenses, and some of the asylum seekers are suing him in federal court.

Many details of how the governor's minions carried out this plot remain to be discovered. For instance, he has refused so far to release the state's $12-million contract with the aviation firm that oversaw the flights, but news outlets have reported that its owners are major Republican donors with longstanding financial ties to a top DeSantis aide. That firm has also done business with a sanctioned Russian helicopter company. Russia, of course, is Maduro's chief protector and patron.

Aside from the usual sleazy grift, what remains so striking here is the casual abandonment of the Republicans' own professed principles. While DeSantis claims to empathize with the victims of Maduro's incompetence and violence, that didn't stop him and his undercover goons from scamming them.

Indeed, the Florida law that financed the Vineyard flights stipulates that Venezuelans escaping the Maduro regime are not "unauthorized aliens," meant to be shipped away like other Central American refugees, because they are exercising a legal right to asylum. Evidently such distinctions don't matter to DeSantis, whose mission is to impress Republican voters by "owning the libs." DeSantis believes this nasty demagogic exploitation of the Venezuelans' misery will help lift him to the 2024 presidential nomination. Here it's worth recalling that one DeSantis ancestor was an illiterate Italian woman deemed "undesirable" who was somehow able to slip past those regulations — luckily for her descendant, the immigrant-baiting Ronald.

His "prank" must be making one man laugh the loudest. That would be Maduro, who can only view DeSantis' sadistic treatment of the Venezuelans as a clown show that benefits him. The Florida governor has made himself a useful idiot for the Caracas regime and by extension, Vladimir Putin.

A century ago, when Italian immigrants were sharply limited from entry into the United States under the draconian immigrant restriction law of 1924, they were commonly considered to be of another race, meaning not white. Whatever differences now exist among the current stream of refugees and migrants, there is one crucial trait they share. In the eyes of DeSantis — and the Republican Party's nativist Know-Nothings — all those people are the wrong color.

What We Can Still Learn From Kenneth Starr

For anyone who criticized the late Kenneth W. Starr in life, it might be prudent to observe the ancient Latin injunction: Say nothing but good of the dead. Or to step by in silence.

Yet the career of the former federal appellate jurist who served as Whitewater independent counsel and instigated the impeachment of President Bill Clinton merits rigorous attention, if only because his story illuminates so starkly the hostility of the religious right and the Republican Party toward American women.

No doubt Starr would protest that assessment and instead call attention, as he so often did, to his pietistic moralism. He always peppered his speech with phrases like “as we say in the New Testament,” and once sent forth a flack to inform Washington reporters that as he jogged along the Potomac River every morning, he sang Christian hymns.

That posturing went on full display during the Whitewater probe that he steered into a sex hunt. He was appointed by a panel of right-wing Republican judges after they forced out the moderate Republican Robert Fiske, who was about to end the fruitless investigation. From the beginning, Starr was tainted.

Whitewater was in fact a dry hole, because the Clintons had lost money on the ill-fated land deal and done nothing wrong. Having promised and failed to bring down both Bill and Hillary, he tried to resign– and then was forced by outraged conservatives to resume the hunt with his tail between his legs. It was not long before he started searching for a way to shape the prurient gossip about Bill Clinton into a criminal prosecution.

At that point, Monica Lewinsky fell into his clutches, thanks to Linda Tripp, a vindictive “friend” who also happened to be a conservative zealot, and Lucianne Goldberg, a scheming literary agent who had once spied on reporters for Nixon. Starr mercilessly exploited the young woman who had entered into an affair with the feckless president. Rather than accept a proffer that had been given to his own prosecutors, Starr tormented Monica (and her mother!) for months with threats of prison, unless she told the untrue story he wanted to hear, and wore a wire into Oval Office.

He concluded the investigation by humiliating both her and the president with the publication of The Starr Report, described aptly by critic Renata Adler as “a voluminous work of demented pornography.” By then Starr’s manic invasion of what many Americans regarded as private behavior had turned the public decisively against him. His inquisition crashed, along with his lifelong yearning for a seat on the Supreme Court.

In the ensuing episodes of his life, Starr confirmed all the suspicions about him aroused by the Lewinsky debacle. His professed concerns with morality and the protection of womanhood proved time and again to be a scrim for his worldly priorities of profit and power.

In 2007, Starr joined the defense team of Jeffrey Epstein, the wealthy pedophile who had raped many underage girls and ultimately committed suicide in a Manhattan jail cell. He arranged for Epstein to obtain a sweetheart plea deal from US Attorney Alex Acosta, who had worked under him at Kirkland & Ellis, Starr’s longtime law firm. When exposed a decade later, this revolting scheme forced Acosta’s resignation from his Trump administration post as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Yet Starr’s “morality” easily accommodated this lucrative and depraved bit of lawyering.

Even so, a few years later Baylor University, a Baptist religious institution, named Starr as its president and chancellor. The university had reason to regret that choice soon enough, when Starr was revealed to have repeatedly concealed an epidemic of rapes at the school between 2012 and 2016. The Baylor regents bounced him from the presidency after an independent investigation of his conduct, and he subsequently quit his posts as chancellor and law professor in disgrace.

When Starr returned to the public stage as a lawyer for Donald Trump during his first impeachment, nobody could still pretend to be surprised by his hypocrisy. Untroubled by Trump’s history of boastful adulteries and serial abuse of women --including his first wife, who had accused him of marital rape -- or his hush payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels, Starr liked to talk about how proudly he had voted in 2016 to prevent a Hillary Clinton presidency. Naturally, Trump eulogized him as “a great American patriot.”

How did Starr’s perverse style of conservatism, supposedly motivated by Biblical rectitude, inform his abuse of the heroic Lewinsky and his subsequent excusal of rapes and rapists? Apparently, he justified it all in the name of his godly mission. But now we have the whole sordid record of how he used virtue as a cover for vice. It is impossible to find in this reactionary figure even a trace of respect for female dignity and equality.

And now we know just how deeply embedded his pious misogyny is in the modern Republican Party that still admires Ken Starr.

A Final -- And Fully Fact-Checked -- Verdict On 'Her Emails'

The Washington Post's fact-checker Glenn Kessler has delivered a conclusive verdict on the subject that gave the presidency to Donald J. Trump: What about her emails? His analysis follows a column I wrote last week examining whether any of Hillary Clinton's emails contained government secrets that would have justified her criminal prosecution, as Trump has urged for years — and has repeated with vehemence since the FBI seized top-secret documents including sensitive nuclear intelligence hidden at his Mar-a-Lago residence.

Kessler has at last settled the controversy that lasted for seven years. Former Secretary of State Clinton, linking to my column in a September 6 Twitter thread, put it bluntly: "The fact is that I had zero emails that were classified."

Beginning in 2015 when "her emails" became the subject of a long and tortuous FBI investigation, Kessler scolded Clinton more than once for "legalistic parsing" of the accusations against her. But now he has closely examined the facts at issue again, done additional reporting, and found "new details" that mitigate former FBI Director James Comey's harsh, unprecedented, and decisive interventions into the 2016 election, which unquestionably swayed it for Trump.The so-called "scandal" stemming from "her emails" wildly dominated election coverage. "News reports on this topic ran 19-to-1 negative over positive," reported the Shorenstein Center at Harvard's Kennedy School.

As the veteran Post reporter explains in painstaking detail, "a review of the recent investigations, including new information obtained by the Fact Checker, shows Clinton has good reason for making a distinction with Trump." Quoting State Department reports and other official documents, with appropriate links, Kessler elucidates what few have understood about the disputes over classification between the State Department and other agencies, and how Comey distorted those disagreements to suggest that Clinton disclosed classified data even when the documents carried no classification markings.

A 2018 report by the Trump Justice Department's inspector general, cited by Kessler, reiterates Clinton's exoneration by the FBI two years earlier: "There was no evidence that... former Secretary Clinton believed or (was) aware at the time that the emails contained classified information," or that she intended to jeopardize classified data in any way.

Kessler also elucidates the flaw behind Comey's assertion that "110 emails in 52 email chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received." This meant, as he notes, that "an intelligence agency, such as the CIA, had decided information in the email was classified, even if the email itself had not been marked classified."

How could Clinton — or anyone else — know that a document was deemed secret or even confidential if it carried no such markings? Comey stated that she or any reasonable person simply "should have known." If that sounds absurd, it's because it is absurd. Comey was playing a word game, suppressing essential information about the process of classification, and, after the damage was done to the Clinton candidacy, assumed a sanctimonious pose that his motive was above politics — all the while violating basic protocols of the Justice Department in making his public statements up to nine days before the election.

The absurdity of Comey's criticism is highlighted in one of several communications between a State Department security official and Clinton's attorney David Kendall. The official concedes that certain disputed information "was likely not classified at the time of sending, but the (department's) Senior Classification Review Panel (SCRP) later determined that it was." Such retroactive determinations are analogous to ex post facto laws, which are unconstitutional because they are so manifestly unfair and subject to abuse.

To maintain a semblance of order, the U.S. government has explicit rules and manuals controlling the classification of its files. Not a single one of the documents that appeared on Clinton's server was marked in accordance with those regulations, not even the three that Comey claimed had such markings. Eventually, he backed away from that claim in congressional testimony. Now the self-righteous Comey has declined to be interviewed by Kessler.

Finally, Kessler reports the conclusions of the two Trump State Department investigations of "her emails," both of which stated that beyond using a private server for State Department communications, a practice continued from her predecessor Colin Powell, she had done nothing wrong. "There was no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information," according to the Diplomatic Security Service, which conducted the department's final probe in 2019. And again: "None of the emails at issue in this review were marked as classified."

No longer should anyone — not any reputable reporter, not any credible news organization — report other than that irrefutable conclusion.

The facts laid out first in my column and now in fully documented detail by The Washington Post will not, of course, discourage Trump from his endless smears against Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and all his enemies who should be in prison, or how the FBI and the "deep state" are persecuting him.

Going forward the national media should avoid promoting any false equivalence between "her emails" and Trump's dangerous stashing of national defense secrets, and instead consult the now established facts. As the truth about his grotesque and felonious misconduct emerges in full, the contrast will become starker than ever.

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.

How Many Of 'Her Emails' Were Classified? Actually, Zero

Nearly every day fresh revelations emerge in the federal investigation of the national security and presidential records that Donald Trump purloined from the White House. So far, his alibis have been exposed one after another as empty, and we have seen no adequate public reckoning of why he took those papers, what he meant to do with them, how some went missing, or even exactly how many documents he hijacked to his Florida estate.

As more and more evidence of the former president’s reckless and potentially criminal misconduct comes to light, he and his defenders keep pointing to “her emails.” They insist that because the Justice Department declined prosecution of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after a long and thorough probe of how she handled allegedly classified information, there should be no investigation, let alone indictment or conviction of Trump.

But while we don’t yet know the extent or nature of Trump’s abuse of classified documents, we can determine how many were found by investigators, after exhaustive searches, among Clinton’s thousands of State Department emails.

The accurate and definitive answer is zero – although few if any news outlets have informed the public of that startling fact. Moreover, it is a fact that the Trump administration itself confirmed three years ago.

In the recent coverage that references her emails, former FBI Director James Comey is sometimes quoted as saying that of the 33,000 Clinton emails examined by bureau investigators, three had classification markings. That’s less than one-hundredth of one percent, and not worth comparing to Trump’s malfeasance anyway, but it’s still false -- apparently meant to bolster Comey’s absurd claim that other Clinton emails were “classified” although never marked as such.

Those three State Department documents were “call sheets,” innocuous memos reminding Clinton to make scheduled phone calls. During her FBI interview, investigators showed her one of those memos, reminding her to place a condolence call to the president of Malawi--not exactly a top secret matter. As Comey himself later admitted, any classification marking on that sheet had been wrongly applied.

In short, the three supposedly classified documents attributed to her emails were barely even confidential, let alone secret or subject to the sanctions of the Espionage Act.

Still, the hunting of Hillary never ends and – amid regular threats to her by Trump when he was president -- inevitably resumed after the FBI investigation concluded. What has been overlooked is that “her emails” and those of her State Department aides became the target of not one but two departmental probes that picked up where her exoneration by the Justice Department left off.

The first round, which began under Rex Tillerson, Trump’s first Secretary of State, opened with an inquiry into a claim of 41 “security incidents” attributed to Clinton and concluded, after months of argument and appeals by her attorneys at Williams & Connolly, that none of those alleged incidents was valid, though she shouldn’t have used a private email server. In that respect her conduct was no different from her Republican predecessor, the late Colin Powell, who advised her to use private email, or many officials in the Bush White House, including Karl Rove.

The second State Department review commenced with more fanfare in 2019 under Tillerson’s unscrupulous successor Mike Pompeo, who, it is worth noting, soon came under official scrutiny himself for gross and self-serving misuse of State Department resources. By then, the hypocrisy behind Republican indignation over “her emails” had been highlighted by massive, repeated security breaches in the Trump White House, where numerous officials , including Ivanka Trump, unlawfully used private email accounts and normal protective protocols were routinely flouted.

No doubt Pompeo, a veteran of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, hoped to find something, anything to arraign Clinton. But again, in the end, there was zero, zilch, nada. Although the second review began with a July 31, 2019 notice from State Department officials that they “suspected” Clinton might be responsible for 12 classified “spillages,” this investigation concluded nine weeks later that she did not “bear any individual culpability” for those incidents.

Again, the overarching absurdity of the State Department and FBI investigations lay in the fact that nearly all of the documents at issue had been classified retroactively – meaning they had carried no markings identifying them as such when Clinton handled them. Comey's assertion that documents can somehow be deemed inherently secret, without proper markings or any classification history whatsoever, is extremely dangerous and hostile to the concept of open democratic governance. It is an idea that should never have been entertained by a free press.

Nobody in their right mind would hold Clinton, or any official, to be culpable under those circumstances.

The same cannot be said for Trump in the current documents scandal, as must be obvious to anyone who has seen that photograph of the folders, clearly marked “TOP SECRET,” strewn around his office floor at Mar-a-Lago, or the folders emptied of their contents, who knows where.

Despite the hysterical accusations that persist to this day, Hillary Clinton was repeatedly judged to be innocent of jeopardizing national security, including twice by the Trump administration. It now appears frighteningly obvious that Donald Trump is not nearly so innocent.

Don't Compare 'Her Emails' With Trump's Brazen Misconduct

Ever since the FBI searched Donald Trump’s premises at Mar-a-Lago on August 8 to retrieve the boxes of files he kept there unlawfully, he has tried to distract attention by reviving his bawling about "her emails."

For years, Trump has insisted that Hillary Clinton somehow escaped the punishment she merited — amid shrieks of "Lock her up!" from the likes of Rudy Giuliani and Mike Flynn— and now complains that he is somehow the victim of a "double standard" because the FBI is investigating his apparent theft of national security materials. "Absolutely nothing has happened to hold her accountable," he whined earlier this month.

In fact, the former secretary of state endured many months of an intrusive investigation that cost her heavily in legal fees and personal demonization —although she was finally and fully exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing or intent by the Justice Department.

Rather than benefiting from favorable treatment by the FBI, Clinton was the target of a concerted smear campaign by Trump allies within the bureau instigated by Giuliani. Their internal operation pushed then FBI director James Comey to brazenly violate strict Justice Department political guidelines by discussing her case publicly twice, the last time only weeks before the November 2016 election — while at the same time concealing the counterintelligence probe of the Trump campaign's collusion with the Kremlin. The sanctimonious Comey, who claimed to be above politics, cowered under threat from right-wingers lodged within the Bureau.

So, while the differences between the Clinton and Trump cases are vast indeed, they leave little space for the feigned indignation of the former president and his flunkeys.

What we know about Hillary Clinton's emails is that of the many thousands examined by the FBI, only a tiny proportion — a number in the low single digits — were deemed to have been "classified." Of those, none disclosed sensitive information that could have jeopardized national security, such as nuclear weapons secrets, but instead involved drone strikes that had already been prominently reported in national news outlets. Most of the emails deemed secret had either been classified after the fact or were improperly marked in the first place.

As Comey explained at the time, the FBI found no evidence that Clinton, her aides, or her attorneys had intentionally withheld any information from the State Department, the National Archives or the Justice Department, or obstructed the investigation in any way.

We know far less about the documents that Trump allegedly removed from the White House, but what has been reported so far draws a sharp contrast with the Clinton emails episode. According to the search warrant and receipt released by Attorney General Merrick Garland, Trump evidently absconded with hundreds of hard copies of highly classified documents — all properly marked — that implicated serious national security and defense matters.

The Justice Department plainly suspects him of violating the Espionage Act, of hiding or destroying those sensitive documents, and of obstructing the government's efforts to locate and retrieve them.

In other words, Trump acted with purpose and in direct violation of the law, including the Presidential Records Act. He continued to defy the law even after the Justice Department issued a subpoena for documents he had withheld — which was why the FBI went to Mar-a-Lago to recover them.

Despite the excessive and obsessive media coverage that contributed to Hillary Clinton’s loss, the more we learned more about the substance of Clinton's emails, the more their importance diminished, ultimately to the vanishing point. The opposite is true of Trump's purloined documents, whose significance only seems to be increasing. And we are still at the very beginning of this scandal.

In panic, Trump and his henchmen now insist that he had "declassified" all those papers, and many others too, supposedly for the sake of transparency. But top officials of his administration have openly ridiculed that assertion, which is absurd on its face, as a brazen lie. Much like his election lies, it is a hollow claim, devoid of any supporting facts or evidence. Donald Trump lie? What a surprise!

Protecting the nation requires a careful declassification process, even when the president wishes to alter the status of specific documents. For Trump to void secrecy with a wave of his hand would create a state of chaos, gravely damaging national security. And since he believes in exercising presidential power so recklessly, he must never be allowed anywhere near the nation's secrets again.

Trump and his minions only bring up Hillary Clinton as a ruse. Keep in mind that "her emails" only became an issue because House Republicans were trying to damage her politically, bring down her poll numbers, as the perpetually stupid Kevin McCarthy blurted out, by concocting a pseudo-scandal from the Benghazi attack. She put that to rest when she testified before the House Benghazi committee for 11 hours, answering every question posed by her inquisitors.

Three days after the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago, on August 11, Trump invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 440 times in response to questions from the New York Attorney General investigating his crooked business practices. In 2016, Trump said, “If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?" We should expect that if he is ever compelled to testify about the potential crimes involved in swiping and concealing White House documents, we will hear him repeat the Fifth Amendment many more times.

Why He May Not Get Away This Time

Most Americans have long believed former President Donald Trump perpetrated multiple felony offenses both before and after entering the White House, according to opinion surveys — and yet those same citizens have also assumed that Trump would never be held accountable. But just at the moment that his escape from the law no longer seems quite so certain, the Republicans have almost all fallen into line behind him like lemmings.

There can be little doubt that the former president is in deep legal trouble. To evade the law, he is employing his usual tactics, from slick spin to torrential lying to feigned outrage to threats of mob violence, but mostly delay.

Let us leave aside for a moment the various crimes that Trump clearly appears to have committed in his attempts to overthrow the U.S. government and Constitution leading to the insurrection of January 6, as well as his schemes to defraud tax authorities. Currently under investigation by grand juries in New York, Washington and Georgia, and being prepared for referral by the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection to the Justice Department, these crimes will be addressed in due course.


What we have before us now are a whole new set of specific potential crimes enumerated in the federal warrant that enabled FBI agents to search Trump's offices and home at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Revealed on August 12 pursuant to an unusual request "in the public interest" from Attorney General Merrick Garland, the warrant and accompanying receipt for items seized during the search confirm that Justice Department prosecutors had "probable cause" to believe that Trump violated three federal statutes.

By taking hundreds of pages of top secret, secret, and classified documents to his private home, they believe he violated the Espionage Act, 18 U.S. Code 793, which prohibits the removal of national defense materials from government facilities without authorization; they also believe he obstructed repeated attempts over the past 18 months to retrieve those documents, in violation of 18 U.S. Code 1519, and concealed, altered, or defaced them in violation of 18 U.S. Code 2701.

All are serious crimes subject to punishment by long prison terms and heavy fines.

The list of items removed from the Mar-a-Lago premises last Monday includes 11 boxes of classified documents. At least three boxes held "miscellaneous documents" at the very highest level of secrecy that requires them to be examined only in a "secure compartmented information facility" or SCIF — a heavily fortified space that doesn't exist at the porous country club and Trump abode at Mar-a-Lago. Among those are thought to be nuclear secrets that the Washington Post reported have caused grave concern to Justice Department officials.

Ever since the search and seizure occurred, Trump and his apologists have aimed to provoke rage against federal law enforcement by concocting lies about what was happening and why. The Republican yes-men offer a rotating set of excuses and distractions to cover up Trump's transgressions.

Following Trump's brazen lie, his echo chamber in right-wing media blasts that FBI agents "planted" the many boxes of documents on Trump's property, an outlandish accusation to match their absurd claims of "voter fraud." Trump and his gang. have also ludicrously pointed to former President Barack Obama, claiming that he took millions of documents with him, including "lots" of nuclear data, all debunked by the National Archives and Records Administration, which oversees the Obama White House records.

They have claimed — and this one is calculated obviously as a possible criminal defense — that Trump had the authority to declassify all the documents he stole. But that argument suffers from at least two major flaws. Trump didn't possess the lawful power unilaterally to declassify top secret materials, which must undergo a process that never occurred here; and Trump's absconding with these documents and failure to return them finally on the demand of a grand jury subpoena in June violated the law whether they were classified or not.

In short, the rhetorical confetti spewing from the Trump clown cars just gets swept away when the elephants leave the ring. It's just another act to distract his endlessly gulled marks, who are dunned every day to hand over their money to defend him.

Since his first trip to Moscow in 1986, we have known that Trump, despite his "America First" blather and his flag-kissing antics, always has had self-aggrandizing motives at the heart of everything he has done. For the moment, we can see only the bare outline of these grave misdeeds. How far he went — whether he tried to monetize national security information or destroyed incriminating documents — we may only find out when he is prosecuted.

What we have learned from Merrick Garland is that he means business when he talks about the rule of law. Trump is only at the beginning of a long process of unraveling his nefarious plots.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Viktor Orban Is A Racist Bully — And A Failed Leader

Nobody should still pretend to be shocked that the Conservative Political Action Conference, an entity no longer "conservative" in any meaningful sense, would feature an appearance by an authoritarian leader like Viktor Orban. The Hungarian autocrat is the idol of the international far Right. He has repeatedly enjoyed the bootlicking attentions of Tucker Carlson on Fox News and indeed, CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp led his gang to celebrate Orban in Budapest earlier this year.

What makes Orban so alluring to the American far rightists is his example as an illiberal politician who, unlike their idol former President Donald Trump, has managed to corrupt Hungarian democracy so thoroughly as to guarantee his own continuing rule.

Trump attempted to steal the 2020 election by an assortment of tactics that included mob violence but failed (although he and his followers are poised to try again). Trump complains about the news media, while Orban seized control of media outlets in Hungary and ruthlessly suppressed his critics. Trump blurts out racist and anti-Semitic allusions, but Orban openly encourages bigotry against Jews, immigrants, gays and lesbians along with state action against the vulnerable targets of his Christian nationalist dogma — which echoes the fascist ideology that once ruled his homeland. Both of these pseudo-populists decry "globalism," whatever that means (and what it means can change instantly according to political convenience).


In short, the Orban regime is just what Republicans like Schlapp and Carlson envision for America's future, with or without Trump himself.

Behind the aggressive rhetoric of the Budapest boss, however, lies a less imposing reality. In Dallas, Orban exhorted the boisterous CPAC crowd to join his angry movement against "the globalists." That conspiratorial rubric includes the European Union, of course, despite the inconvenient fact that Hungary is an EU member state. "We must take back the institutions in Washington and Brussels," he thundered.

To the cowboy fascists, Orban must sound like one tough hombre — except that he is currently on his knees before the European authorities, ten-gallon hat in hand, as he pleads for their financial assistance. Years of his incompetent rule have inflicted fiscal and monetary disaster on Hungary, and he is begging the "globalists" to bail him out. But his admirers in the West are much too polite (and dishonest) to mention these embarrassing realities.

Consider inflation, the rallying issue that Republicans hope will create a "red wave" in midterm elections. Nearly every day, outfits like CPAC issue broadsides against President Joe Biden that blame him and Democrats for rising prices. They won't acknowledge the real inflationary pressures caused by pandemic disruptions and the Russian assault on Ukraine.

And what CPAC won't ever mention is that inflation in many other nations is higher than here — including Hungary, where year-on-year prices have spiked by almost 12 percent so far and are expected to keep going up. Orban recently made matters worse for the average Hungarian family by ending a price cap on household utilities, but his mismanagement left no other choice. The same inexorable forces led him to raise taxes on small business, which will be passed on to consumers.

The Hungarian currency is plunging to new lows, along with its stock market, while the country's deep budget deficit has yet to reach bottom. Naturally, the middle-class and working-class voters who voted to back Orban are infuriated by his failures - and thousands of them have taken to the streets in protest. They didn't mention that in Dallas either.

In Brussels, meanwhile, the European Union leaders have given Hungary's finance ministry a long list of demands that Orban must meet before any bailout funds will be released. The conditions include restoring the rule of law, curbing the government's dictatorial tendencies and dealing more transparently with Hungary's rampant corruption. Rather than defying the EU as he suggested in Dallas, Orban meekly stopped baiting Brussels over LGBTQ issues — and has instead proclaimed his eagerness to make a deal.

Yes, like most bullies, he retreats when anyone his own size hits back.

Americans should beware the populist temptation offered by thuggish politicians of Orban's stripe. They promise to lift up the "forgotten man," whom they invariably betray in favor of plutocratic cronies and corrupt plunderers. And they consistently seek to shift public anger toward minorities, immigrants, feminists, gays, transsexuals, public school teachers and any other scapegoats perceived as too weak to resist.

Not long before his CPAC appearance, Orban spoke on immigration in Romania, declaring that Europeans "do not want to become peoples of mixed race." So horrified was one of his closest advisers that she resigned publicly, denouncing the speech as "a purely Nazi diatribe worthy of Joseph Goebbels."

That sickening incident didn't disturb Orban's CPAC fans at all, of course. Everyone knows that's what they like about him.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Why Don't Republicans Act Against Their Party's Neo-Nazi Infestation?

As the Republican Party gives off an increasingly strong stench of fascism — with the anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic attitudes inherent in that ideology — the party establishment looks more and more like the "Junker" conservatives of Germany in the 1930s. While those monarchists and militarists felt distaste for Hitler and his Nazi thugs, many of them nevertheless abetted his rise to power.

A disturbingly similar scenario is now visible in what was once the party of Lincoln, where the spineless Rep. Kevin McCarthy, conniving Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and sundry other "leaders" say little or nothing as fascists openly conspire to take over. Rather than confront the repeated provocations by their Nazi-adjacent colleagues over the past year, those timid figures are instead allowing the authoritarian cancer to grow out of control. Both McCarthy and McConnell know what's happening in the GOP, but their weak character will likely prevent them from acting with any resolve until it is far too late, if ever.

Instead, the scandalous connections continue to metastasize between far-right Republican officials and a motley assortment of neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and fascist thugs.

In Pennsylvania, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, an election-denying insurrectionist and Christian nationalist, won the party's gubernatorial primary last spring. Mastriano, a state senator, then proceeded to bring a vocal and aggressive anti-Semite named Andrew Torba into his campaign, along with Torba's followers. Torba operates Gab, the tiny social media site that serves as a headquarters for unsavory rightists — notably including the maniac who murdered 11 people at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue just after posting a diatribe on the website.

To save face, Torba denounced that massacre and insisted he opposes violence. But he isn't shy about expressing his desire for a nation free of Jews, which he frames in furious terms. He promotes violently anti-Semitic material, and recently opined that Jews can no longer be accepted as conservatives.

In this appalling saga's latest development, Mastriano declared that he opposes anti-Semitism and that Torba "doesn't speak for me or my campaign." But a few weeks ago, Mastriano, who rarely speaks to mainstream outlets, sat down for an interview with Torba and gushed: "Thank God for what you've done."

Reacting to the erupting controversy, Torba denied being a Mastriano consultant and — in a revealing remark — explained that the Republican was merely buying advertising on Gab. "The campaign paid Gab as a business for advertising during the primary," he wrote. "The campaign posts on Gab, as do 50-plus other campaigns from around the country."

So more than 50 Republican candidates are buying ads to entice the troglodytic Nazi subscribers on Gab — and providing many thousands of dollars in revenue to its obnoxious proprietor.

The official Republican response to this filthy tableau has been feeble indeed. The Republican Jewish Coalition, such as it is, tweeted its pathetic "hope" that Mastriano would reject Gab. Of all Mastriano's GOP colleagues in the state legislature, exactly one has spoken up to condemn Torba and demand his "total rejection" by Mastriano, which isn't happening. The Republican Governors Association, the Republican National Committee, the GOP congressional leaders, and the entire party apparatus evidently see no cause for alarm.

Sadly, it would be foolish to expect anything better from the Republican Party, because its Dear Leader Donald Trump has created a permission structure for fascism and even anti-Semitism, despite the fact that his oldest daughter and a couple of his grandchildren are Jews. Trump's own anti-Semitic emissions long ago became notorious, along with his coddling of neo-Nazis.

Why? Principally because those scum constantly praise his bigotry and bullying, so he sees nothing wrong with them. It's always and only about him — and the Nazi sympathizers are his most faithful fans, dating back to Richard Spencer's "Heil Trump" salute during the 2016 Republican convention.

But the white nationalist disease within the GOP now extends far beyond Trump and will surely outlast him. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) talks about Jewish space lasers and repeats anti-Semitic slurs about George Soros, as do so many of her colleagues. She and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) both spoke before the neo-Nazi America First Political Action Committee, an outfit run by Holocaust denier Nicholas Fuentes. So did Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, another raving Republican anti-Semite who called Fuentes "the most persecuted man in America."

The list of anti-Jewish and racist offenders in the GOP could take up many more pages, ad nauseam. There are less blatant but equally dangerous figures closer to the party's power centers, such as billionaire Peter Thiel, the would-be kingmaker who has courted a white nationalist leader and revealed his disdain for democracy — and is now financing U.S. Senate candidates in Arizona and Ohio.

The question remains whether decent Republicans, of whom there must still be many, intend to save their once-great party from slime and shame. So far, they've only demonstrated blindness and cowardice. And they seem fated to end like the Junkers, who waited until 1944 to act against Hitler — and ended up on the gallows.

They can't say nobody warned them.

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

Bannon's Bluster Exposed The Trump Coup Before It Even Began

In the world according to former President Donald Trump and his apologists, the former president sincerely believed — and still believes — that election fraud and "irregular" voting deprived him of victory in the 2020 election. They will tell you that he never thought those he had summoned to Washington on January 6 would physically attack the Capitol, and that rather than inciting violence, he tried to send the mob home "in peace."

But the evidence that continues to emerge is vaporizing that fabricated version of events, despite the increasingly frantic and obscene repetition of his insulting lies. As the true story of Trump's attempted coup unfolds, it is more and more obvious that he not only knew the fraud claims were false, but that he and his criminal gang had planned their election deception for months in advance.

The latest proof comes directly from the mouth of Steve Bannon, the crypto-fascist agitator who formerly served Trump as his 2016 campaign manager and White House political strategist.

On July 12, Mother Jones magazine published an audiotape of Bannon boasting privately about Trump's strategy of deception on Oct. 31, 2020, a few days before the election. Speaking to a group of right-wing Chinese immigrants sponsored by Guo Wengui, a dubious business figure who backs Bannon's political ventures, he predicted in accurate detail how Trump would behave on Election Night.

After noting that Republicans would tend to vote in person while Democrats were more likely to vote by mail, Bannon explained why this meant a delay in counting ballots that afforded Trump a "natural advantage... And Trump's going to take advantage of it. That's our strategy. He's gonna declare himself a winner."

Their simple plan was to exploit the "red mirage" of an early lead.

"What Trump's gonna do is just declare victory. Right? He's gonna declare victory. But that doesn't mean he's a winner," Bannon chortled. "He's just gonna say he's a winner." Describing what would happen when, as Bannon expected, Trump amassed an early lead in key states, he added, "As it sits here today," at 10 or 11 o'clock Trump's gonna walk in the Oval, tweet out, 'I'm the winner. Game over. Suck on that.'"

Of course, there was no way for Bannon or Trump to know on Election Night how many votes would ultimately accrue to either candidate, or whether any irregularity or "fraud" swayed the outcome. Nor did any of that matter to them at all. Days before a single vote was tallied, Bannon knew that his candidate would claim victory, ignore the actual votes of Americans and deny the peaceful transfer of power, possibly by instigating violence.

At no point on the hourlong tape does Bannon proffer any complaints about actual Democratic "fraud," the Big Lie he and Trump and their claque have since shrieked so insistently. No, there isn't even a hint of the usual fake indignation that is a favorite GOP propaganda tactic. Instead, he laughs about the very real and cold-blooded fraud that his old boss is about to perpetrate on American democracy — and the bloody response that he hopes will ensue.

Those remarks were the ranting of a criminal conspirator, in Bannon's case a remorseless crook whose monetizing of political extremism earned him a federal fraud indictment for swindling Trump's gullible donors in his "We Build the Wall" scheme. According to The Washington Post, Trump pardoned him (though not his co-conspirators) because of his ardent advocacy of the Big Lie and support for the attempted January 6 coup. He was in frequent contact with Trump, speaking to the then-president on January 5 and 6, 2021, and was present in the Trump campaign "war room" at the Willard Hotel on those days leading up to the coup and insurrection.

But now he is under indictment again, for defying a House select committee subpoena, and he has been trying to worm his way out of that difficulty by promising to testify. It's too late for that, however. He will almost certainly be convicted of contempt, with a potential sentence of two years in prison and large fines. The gravity of his offenses makes a maximum penalty imperative — unless he finally abandons his authoritarian daydreams, turns over every document and testifies fully and honestly.

Bannon knows much more about the plot against America than he has revealed so far. The Justice Department's constitutional duty is to squeeze the truth out of him — and all of the treacherous gang around Trump.

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.