An Orgy Of Criminality

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This week’s Republican National Convention was filled with dark and divisive propaganda, rank hypocrisy, and often untethered from reality. More importantly, however, the convention was an orgy of criminality, from its continual violations of the Hatch Act to the actual criminals scheduled to speak, that only illustrates just how corrupt the Republican party has become under Trump. If you did not know any better, you might think the convention was a modern-day version of the Apalachin meeting or one of those police ruses to catch fugitives with outstanding warrants by offering free stuff.

Of course, some of the scheduled speakers were otherwise detained before the convention even began. Steve Bannon had his speaking slot cancelled after he was indicted for fraud, using close to $1 million of money raised for the private Build the Wall effort for his own personal expenses. Bannon also apparently perjured himself in front of the Senate committee investigating Russian interference in 2016, but Bill Barr’s DOJ has not acted on that referral. Similarly, Mary Ann Mendoza, whose police officer son was killed by a drunk driving undocumented immigrant, had to be pulled from the RNC lineup after approvingly tweeting a link to a QAnon thread that regurgitated anti-Semitic bile, including the usual tropes about George Soros and the “Protocols of Zion”, while also claiming Hillary Clinton is a “Satanic High Priestess” and hinting that Obama’s house smells like sulfur because he is connected to the Devil.

Ms. Mendoza was not the only speaker who sounded like she might be suffering from Facebook’s Stockholm syndrome. A public school teacher who addressed the convention by attacking teachers’ unions has previously claimed that public schools are designed to groom children for sexual predators. Another high-profile anti-abortion speaker earlier declared that her biracial son should be racially profiled because “statistically, my brown son is more likely to commit a violent offense over my white sons”. Apparently, GOP family values include ensuring that racism is practiced on your own family.

While the lunatic fringe which currently makes up the core of the Republican party was well represented, the RNC speaker lineup was also a truly astonishing cavalcade of criminals. On Monday night, we heard from the McCloskeys who have been charged with felonies in regard to their unlawful use of firearms to threaten peaceful protesters who happened to be marching by their home. The McCloskeys darkly warned that white suburban families might also see their “quiet neighborhoods” disrupted by peaceful protests if Biden became President. They were followed by Don Jr., who, like Bannon, also apparently committed perjury in his testimony to the Senate committee investigating Russian interference. Junior also apparently committed fraud in his attempts to sell apartments at Trump SoHo but, as always, managed to buy his freedom with a well-timed campaign donation to Manhattan DA Cy Vance. Earlier in that first evening, Don’s significant other, Kimberly Guilfoyle, ranted about “Human sex drug traffickers” invading the country. Guilfoyle is currently paid $180,000 a year by the Trump campaign but those payments are effectively laundered through companies controlled by Brad Parscale in order to avoid FEC disclosure requirements.

Night 2 of the RNC had fewer criminals speaking but provided us with actual crimes instead. Mike Pompeo broke the established norm of Secretaries of State avoiding speaking at their party’s convention and making public political endorsements. That he did so while speaking as a representative of the United States in Jerusalem was even more astounding, considering Republicans’ long-standing concern that “politics stops at the water’s edge”, except, of course, when there is a Democratic President. Pompeo’s speech quite possibly violated the Hatch Act which prohibits federal employees, with the exception of the President and Vice President, from engaging in political activity in federal buildings or while on duty. It seems hard to be “off duty” when you are in a foreign country representing the United States. Even if it wasn’t a Hatch Act violation, it certainly violated State Department rules regarding political activity that Pompeo himself earlier stressed in a cable to State employees.

But Pompeo apparently believes the rules don’t ever apply to him. He is currently under investigation for numerous abuses involving taxpayer money, primarily for his own personal and political benefit. The Inspector General who was looking into these abuses was then fired by Trump at Pompeo’s request. Pompeo has also been accused of acting illegally in declaring an emergency in order to override Congress and send arms to Saudi Arabia. He is openly defying subpoenas from House Democrats while reportedly feeding selected State Department documents to only the Republicans in the Senate.

But if Pompeo’s speech raised questions about the Trump campaign’s violation of the Hatch Act, the two proceedings involving a presidential pardon and a naturalization ceremony, both of which occurred in the White House, demolished any doubt. The naturalization ceremony perfectly illustrated the criminal nature of the entire convention. The ceremony opened with two US Marines opening the door for the President to enter the room where the naturalization was taking place. Uniformed soldiers are never supposed to appear at political events. In fact, the Democrats were rightly criticized for the appearance of two uniformed soldiers as part of their roll call to nominate Biden. Those soldiers are currently under investigation for violating Defense Department rules and rightly so. But the Marine Corps is now defending these two Marines, saying they were only doing their job.

The Marines were not the only unwitting participants. At least two of those being naturalized were not informed that they too were going to be used as a political prop for the President. The Acting DHS Secretary, Chad Wolf, swore these new citizens in, but his actual legal authority as an acting secretary ran out months ago and the Government Accounting Office has determined that both he and Ken Cuccinelli have been serving under an “invalid order of succession” according to the law. To summarize, the RNC illegally used the White House and US Marines as political pawns in a naturalization ceremony that was itself illegal because the person swearing in these new citizens had no legal authority to do so. What’s even more outrageous about this stunt is that the Trump administration suspended in-person interviews and oath-taking ceremonies this spring because of the pandemic. There are now nearly 300,000 eligible citizens, and therefore potential voters, waiting to to take their oath and become legal citizens. In addition, the Trump administration is currently in federal court trying to extend the time non-citizens would have to spend in the military before they become eligible to apply for citizenship.

The actual commitment of crime overshadowed the speakers on Night 2 but there was still a nice collection of criminals. There was Pam Bondi, who dropped her investigation of Trump University after another well-timed and illegal campaign donation from Trump’s bogus foundation. Lara Trump regurgitated a fake Lincoln quote in her speech and she, like Kimberly Guilfoyle, is being paid by Parscale’s company in order to avoid FEC disclosure requirements. She was followed by Eric Trump, who is defying a subpoena from the New York Attorney General regarding bank and tax fraud at the Trump Organization. The final speech was another outright violation of the Hatch Act, with Melania Trump speaking from the Rose Garden. Melania still has not adequately explained whether she was working in this country illegally and also managed to find a dress for the occasion that was reminiscent of the revolutionary garb of Vilma Espin, another consort to a dictator.

While Mike Pence did not violate the Hatch Act with his speech from Fort McHenry on Night 3, any Park Service employee that helped in setting that speech up certainly did. And it set the stage for a further corruption of the Park Service with the fireworks on Thursday. Unsurprisingly, the Park Service has been without a Senate-confirmed appointee for Trump’s entire term. Of course, serial Hatch Act violator KellyAnne Conway also spoke. The US Office of Special Counsel (OSC) recommended that Conway be fired, describing her as a “repeat offender” of the Hatch Act. Conway’s abuses began early on in the administration with her recommendation to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff” and continued with more overt political advocacy. Needless to say, the Trump administration ignored the OSC recommendation and Conway herself blew it off, remarking “If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work. Let me know when the jail sentence starts”. Earlier in the program, the Trump campaign trotted out another Black man, Jack Brewer, to claim that Trump himself is not personally racist, denying that he described the anti-Semites and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville as “very fine people”. Brewer was charged with insider trading by the SEC earlier this month in a penny stock scam. If you understand how hard it must be to actually get indicted by Trump’s SEC, it might make you think that Brewer has ulterior motives for supporting the President.

Thursday provided a fitting denouement to the RNC’s orgy of criminality. Ben Carson, the man who ordered a $31,000 dining table for his office and used his position at HUD to provide jobs for his family, led things off. We got to hear from Ivanka Trump, implicated with her brother in the Trump SoHo fraud as well as managing the Trump project in Azerbaijan that was effectively laundering money for the Iranian National Guard. There was Rudy Giuliani who is currently facing multiple federal investigations. The US Attorney in New York and the DOJ in Washington are investigating his business dealings in Ukraine even as he was nominally representing the President of the United States. In addition, there is an ongoing counterintelligence investigation into Rudy and his connection to foreign attempts to illegally influence the 2020 election. Finally, there is apparently still an outstanding investigation of leaks Giuliani received from rogue FBI agents in the New York FBI office during the 2016 election.

That all set the stage for Trump, the true Don of this criminal gathering, a man who has been impeached; named as a co-conspirator in a felony campaign finance crime; violates the Emoluments Clause on a regular basis; has asked Russia, China, Brazil, and Ukraine to help him get re-elected; routinely defies subpoenas; apparently lied under oath in his written answers to Mueller; has offered to pardon those he encouraged to engage in criminal activity; has been credibly accused of bank, insurance, and tax fraud by his own lawyer and documents uncovered by the NY Times; whose business is basically money-laundering; and ran multiple fraudulent business schemes. And the thrust of his acceptance speech is that he is the law and order candidate.

Finally, every government employee who helped arrange that White House speech or attended it, as well as the National Park Service employees involved in the post-speech fireworks, violated the Hatch Act. Trump administration officials reportedly “take pride” in violating this law and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows made that explicit when he declared “Nobody outside of the Beltway really cares” about the Hatch Act. But the Act has a real purpose and that is to protect lower-level federal employees from being forced into partisan political activity with the implicit threat that their job may be in peril if they don’t. And, as Mark Joseph Stern points out, there is an enforcement mechanism for the Hatch Act called the Merit Systems Protection Board. But Trump has gutted that mechanism, leaving the Board with no members since 2019 and only one member prior to that since his inauguration. And for those who say the Hatch Act is never enforced, tell that to the 41 low-level federal employees who were disciplined and the 31 who were forced to leave government or stop their political activity during Trump’s term.

The criminality wasn’t limited to the RNC this week either. The Trump administration reiterated its open defiance of the Supreme Court’s DACA ruling. The Court has ruled Trump’s rescission of DACA illegal and ordered that the program be restored to its original state before the rescission. But the Trump administration is not accepting any new DACA applications and is only only offering a one-year renewal instead of the original two. Trump has also indicated he is preparing to send law enforcement to monitor polling places this November. As we have seen in Portland and Kenosha, that call will be taken up by sheriffs departments and right wing vigilante groups. Trump also reached another milestone this week, racking up his 500th visit to one of his properties and the White House says that it is “building up a very large ‘dossier’” on reporters who are trying to determine just how much money Trump properties have made due to Trump’s constant violations of the Emoluments Clause. Barr’s DOJ appears to be directly targeting Democratic governors in an investigation of nursing home deaths due to COVID-19. Perhaps most sickening of all, we discovered that Trump and his administration were considering using a microwave heat ray on immigrants on Mexican soil who got too close to the border as well as flesh-piercing spikes on his mythical border wall. Finally, at least 3,500 Americans did from COVID this week, black men continue to get murdered by police, and right-wing paramilitaries continue to kill innocent protestors, all of which are ignored by the President and his party.

Yes, the overt racism, the outright lies, the “Dear Leader” sycophancy, the rank hypocrisy, and the encouragement of violence were all a disgusting part of the RNC. But this was more of a coronation than convention, a place where Trump could parade his criminal cronies and show he can violate the law with impunity. The brazen Hatch Act violations showed that every part of the government must be subservient to Trump’s re-election effort, something he has successfully accomplished with the DOJ, DHS, State Department, Commerce Department (involving the census), USPS, and now the Park Service, the CDC and the FDA. This was Trump declaring that he is the Republican party and he is the state. And this orgy of criminality that was the RNC is only a prelude to what Trump will do as the election approaches and thereafter.

Originally published at https://thesoundings.com on August 29, 2020.

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