Thursday Reads: Accountability For The Trump Crime Family?

Arne Kavli

By Arne Kavli

Good Morning!!

We appear to be inching closer to the possibility that Trump and his minions could actually be prosecuted. It hasn’t happened yet, but news has broken over the past few days that suggests that real accountability could be coming for the Trump crime family.

Bill Chappelle, Andrea Bernstein, and Ilya Marritz at NPR: What We Know So Far About The Trump Organization Criminal Investigation.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is investigating former President Donald Trump’s business, the Trump Organization, “in a criminal capacity,” her office says, ratcheting up scrutiny of Trump’s real estate transactions and other dealings.

The state attorney general is joining forces with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who has been conducting a separate criminal inquiry into Trump’s business practices and possible insurance or financial fraud as well as alleged hush money payments to two women who said they had affairs with Trump before he became president….

Dorothy Weir Young, “Seated Girl Reading Newspaper,” 1930

Dorothy Weir Young, “Seated Girl Reading Newspaper,” 1930

The new collaboration between the state and local offices is an unusual event in itself: In New York, the attorney general and the district attorney have historically been rivals. But in this case, they’re working together.

Two assistant attorneys general have now joined the district attorney’s team of prosecutors. They’re all trying to unravel troves of complicated information, including millions of pages of tax returns and other documents related to how the Trump Organization operates in the U.S. as well as its sprawling international enterprises.

With the shift in focus from James’ office, we now know that both of these prosecution teams are making a determined and coordinated effort to sift through evidence of possible crimes.

Read the whole article. It’s a good summary of where things stand right now. Here’s the latest breaking news on the investigations:

The New York Times: Top Trump Executive Under Criminal Investigation Over Taxes.

The New York attorney general’s office has been criminally investigating the chief financial officer of former President Donald J. Trump’s company for months over tax issues, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The office of the attorney general, Letitia James, notified the Trump Organization in a January letter that it had opened a criminal investigation related to the chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, the people said. The investigators have examined whether taxes were paid on fringe benefits that Mr. Trump gave him, including cars and tens of thousands of dollars in private school tuition for at least one of Mr. Weisselberg’s grandchildren….

Auguste Macke woman reading

Auguste Macke, Woman reading

The focus on perks and Mr. Weisselberg overlaps with the Manhattan district attorney’s long-running criminal fraud investigation of Mr. Trump and his family business. The district attorney’s office has been investigating the extent to which Mr. Trump handed out fringe benefits to some of his executives, including Mr. Weisselberg, and whether taxes were paid on those perks, The New York Times previously reported.

In recent weeks, Ms. James’s office suggested to the company in a new letter that it had broadened the criminal investigation beyond the focus on Mr. Weisselberg, one of the people said. It was unclear how the inquiry had widened.

In general, fringe benefits — which can include cars, flights and club memberships — are taxable, though there are some exceptions. Companies are typically responsible for withholding such taxes from an employee’s paycheck….

In addition to the fringe benefits, Ms. James and the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., have examined whether Mr. Trump’s company inflated the value of his properties to obtain favorable loans and lowered the values to reduce taxes.

More details from CNN: 

The New York attorney general’s office has opened a criminal tax investigation into top Trump Organization officer Allen Weisselberg, increasing the legal pressure on the long-time aide to former President Donald Trump, people familiar with the investigation say.

The pressure on Weisselberg is mounting from two directions with the attorney general looking into his personal taxes, while prosecutors in the district attorney’s office are digging into his role at the Trump Organization, his personal finances, and benefits given to his son Barry, a long-time employee of the Trump Organization.

Prosecutors are seeking to find leverage that could sway Weisselberg into cooperating with authorities, people familiar with the investigation said, potentially raising the legal stakes for Trump and his family. It’s a common tactic used by prosecutors to try to get individuals to “flip” to help build a case higher up the corporate ladder. Vance’s office is coordinating with James’ office on its criminal investigation into Weisselberg….

Mary Cassatt, woman reading

Mary Cassatt, Woman reading

The tax investigation into Weisselberg’s personal finances by New York attorney general Letitia James was opened several months ago and is being handled by a small unit within the office that has authority to bring criminal charges, people familiar with the investigation said.

Those investigators have been coordinating with prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney’s office led by Cyrus Vance Jr, which has been investigating the Trump Organization, going through Trump’s tax returns, and recently has been examining perks the company gave to employees, Weisselberg’s finances, and benefits he and his son received, people familiar with the inquiry said.

And a bit more on the AG’s investigation from The New York Daily News: 

James’ office announced late Tuesday that her long-running civil investigation into Trump’s alleged financial wrongdoing had evolved into a full-fledged criminal inquiry, but did not spell out when or why that significant upgrade was made.

Duncan Levin — an attorney for Jennifer Weisselberg, the estranged daughter-in-law of a top Trump Organization executive — shed some light on that omission Wednesday, telling the Daily News that his client has been cooperating in the criminal component of James’ investigation since March.

“We’ve been aware of the attorney general’s criminal investigation for several months now, since March, and have been in touch with prosecutors in the criminal division and have provided them with evidence,” Levin said….

James’ exact line of criminal inquiry is unclear, but the fact that she’s conducting it with [New York District Attorney] Vance’s help suggests it could also be focused on allegations of fraud. A source familiar with the matter told The News that two assistant attorneys general from James’ office have been specifically tapped to spearhead coordination with Vance….

Jennifer Weisselberg, whose estranged father-in-law is Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s longtime chief financial officer, has been asked by prosecutors from James’ criminal division about a Trump-owned Midtown apartment overlooking Central Park that she and her ex-husband lived in rent-free for years, Levin said.

Paritosh Sen, Woman reading a newspaper

Paritosh Sen, Woman reading a newspaper

Levin said his client has also provided James’ investigators with documents about her family’s finances.

Another key cooperator in both the James and Vance probes is former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who has met with the DA’s team nearly a dozen times.

James’ criminal announcement, Cohen said Wednesday, shows “the troubles for Donald Trump just keep on coming.”

“Soon enough, Donald and associates will be held responsible for their actions,” Cohen said. “Now that you see the [Manhattan] district attorney and the attorney general’s offices working in concert, I do believe that indictments will be issued shortly, and definitely before summer’s end.”

At The Atlantic, Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore, offers even more details on possible charges: The Country Is on the Cusp of a New Era.

Yesterday evening, New York State’s attorney general, Letitia James, announced, “We have informed the Trump Organization that … We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity.” According to The New York Times, James will be sending two of her office’s prosecutors to join the team of Cyrus Vance Jr., the Manhattan DA. With this news, Donald Trump, those around him, and the country as a whole inch closer to the prospect that a former president could face criminal charges, and possibly even prison time. The country has not been through anything like this before.

The ongoing investigation is sweeping. James began it as a civil investigation following the 2019 congressional testimony of Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, that the Trump Organization had lied about the value of its assets in order to secure loans and insurance and to reduce its tax liability. Her focus includes the Trump Organization’s valuation of Seven Springs, a 213-acre estate in Westchester County, which it used to claim a $21.1 million tax deduction for a conservation easement on the property in 2015. James is also looking into a $160 million loan on a property at 40 Wall Street in Manhattan, which Trump personally guaranteed for $20 million, as well as “large portions of debt owed by the Trump Organization” relating to the Trump International Hotel and Tower, in Chicago, that were claimed as taxable income, and the valuation of Trump National Golf Club, in Los Angeles.

Vance’s municipal-level, criminal grand-jury investigation adds other areas of possible criminality to the scope of James’s state-level inquiry, including possible bank and tax fraud. Vance is also reportedly looking into hush money paid to Stormy Daniels and other women on Trump’s behalf—a maneuver that sent Cohen to jail for campaign-finance violations….

H1022-L209565179

By Arne Kavli

By law, grand juries operate in secret, but it’s publicly known that Vance has also subpoenaed Mazars USA LLP, Trump’s personal accounting firm, for financial records relating to the former president and his businesses. In July 2020, the Supreme Court rejected a bid to protect those records from disclosure on presidential-immunity grounds, and Vance finally obtained Trump’s returns in February of this year. Vance’s office has reportedly interviewed Cohen at least eight times, and Cohen has stated that: “Unfortunately for Trump, I have backed up each and every question posed by the district attorney’s office” with “documentary evidence.” Vance has also sought records from two of Trump’s largest creditors, Deutsche Bank AG and Ladder Capital Corp, and from Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School, which is attended by the grandchildren of the Trump Organization’s CEO, Allen Weisselberg, who has worked for the Trump family since 1973. In 2017, he became the only nonfamily member to serve with Trump’s sons, Eric and Don Jr., to manage the trust established to hold Donald Trump’s business assets while president.

According to the grandchildren’s mother, Jennifer Weisselberg, more than $500,000 in tuition was paid through checks signed by either Allen Weisselberg or Trump himself as part of compensation for Allen Weisselberg’s son, Barry, from 2012 to 2019. Vance’s office has been trying to get Allen Weisselberg to cooperate with the investigation.* He was also involved in reimbursing Cohen for the $130,000 payment made to Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election.

For her part, James has also subpoenaed the Trump Organization for records relating to “consulting fees” it paid to Ivanka Trump, in addition to documents regarding the various properties implicated in the investigation. In October, Eric Trump sat for a deposition by lawyers in James’s office. The Trump Foundation dissolved amid an investigation by James’s predecessor, Barbara Underwood, into whether it violated laws in connection with Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and whether its charity work was otherwise legitimate.


Lazy Caturday Reads

Intellectual Cat, Olena Kamenetska-Ostapchuk

Intellectual Cat, Olena Kamenetska-Ostapchuk

Good Morning!!

I hope you are all having a nice weekend. It’s finally starting to feel more like Spring here in Greater Boston after weeks of unseasonably cool weather. It’s bright and sunny and in the 70s today and it looks like the good weather will continue into next week. We might even see some 80-degree days midweek. 

It looks like we might be getting closer to a comeuppance for Trump and his merry band of conspiracy nuts. I don’t want to get my hopes up too much, but Democrats in the House have finally decided to try to set up an independent commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection.

The Washington Post: House members announce bipartisan deal for Jan. 6 commission.

A group of House Democrats and Republicans announced Friday that they had struck a deal to establish an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, a significant breakthrough after months of partisan standoff over the mandate for such a panel — and whether it should exist at all.

Zombie's Mother Katherine Goncharova

Zombie’s Mother, by Katherine Goncharova

The proposed 10-member commission, which emulates the panel that investigated the causes and lessons of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, would be vested with subpoena authority and charged with studying the events and run-up to Jan. 6 — with a focus on why an estimated 10,000 supporters of former president Donald Trump swarmed the Capitol grounds and, more important, what factors instigated about 800 of them to break inside. Trump’s critics in both political parties view it as a means to bring further public scrutiny to his role in inspiring the violence.

“There has been a growing consensus that the January 6th attack is of a complexity and national significance that what we need [is] an independent commission to investigate,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, announcing that he had reached agreement with the panel’s top Republican, Rep. John Katko (N.Y.). “The creation of this commission is our way of taking responsibility for protecting the U.S. Capitol.”

Democrats also proposed a bill to increase security in the Capitol.

The bill puts over a half-billion dollars toward hardening the Capitol and congressional office buildings with movable fences, door and window reinforcements, and additional security cameras and checkpoints. It also dedicates $21.5 million to stepping up security details for members facing threats, whether in Washington, their home districts or traveling between the two — and $18 million to better train and equip the U.S. Capitol Police to respond to riot situations.

But the largest part of the hefty spending bill — nearly $700 million — is simply to pay money owed to the Capitol Police, D.C. police, the National Guard and other federal agencies for costs they incurred in responding to the riot and its aftermath. It also dedicates more than $200 million to the federal courts to address threats to judges and to meet various other costs related to prosecuting those charged in connection with the insurrection.

Both the spending bill and the commission legislation face unique challenges as proponents seek to build enough bipartisan support to get the measures through both chambers of Congress. Thus far, no Republicans have voiced support for the Democrats’ spending bill. And although the commission proposal is bipartisan, and is likely to have enough backing to clear the House when it comes to a vote next week, it is unclear how many Republicans will support it.

Liz Cheney, the ultraconservative who has become a fierce Trump critic, applauded the bill. Newsweek: Liz Cheney Welcomes January 6 Commission, Says Americans Need ‘The Truth.’

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) has welcomed the prospect of a bipartisan commission to examine the violence of January 6, insisting Americans need to know “the truth” of what happened that day….

Still Life with Cats, by Max Beckman

Still Life with Cats, by Max Beckmann

In a statement, Cheney said: “All members, especially House and Senate leaders, should support this effort and there should be no delay in passing this bill to find the facts and the truth about what happened on January 6th and the events leading up to it.

“In the aftermath of national crises, such as Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, or September 11th, our nation has established commissions so the American people know the truth and we can prevent these events from happening again. The same thing is needed for January 6th and this commission is an important step forward to answering those fundamental questions.”

More from Cheney at CNN: Cheney says some GOP members voted against impeachment out of fear for their lives.

Telling CNN’s Jake Tapper on “The Lead” that there are “more members who believe in substance and policy and ideals than are willing to say so,” Cheney cited the impeachment vote earlier this year, in which she was one of only 10 House Republicans who voted to hold Trump accountable for the Capitol riot.

“If you look at the vote to impeach, for example, there were members who told me that they were afraid for their own security — afraid, in some instances, for their lives,” she said. “And that tells you something about where we are as a country, that members of Congress aren’t able to cast votes, or feel that they can’t, because of their own security.”

Hours earlier on Friday, New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, a vocal ally of the former President who has a less conservative voting record than Cheney, was elected House GOP conference chairwoman. The key difference between the two women is that Stefanik has supported Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election while Cheney has repeatedly rebutted them, leading House Republicans to complain that the Wyoming Republican is undermining the party’s message of promoting Trump’s brand of politics.

Cheney said her role as a member of Congress obligated her to oppose the widespread lie of fraud in the election and she believes that “we’ve had a collapse of truth in this country.”

“We’ve seen an evolution of, you know, a general situation where conspiracy theories are rampant, where good people in a lot of instances have been misled and believe things that are not true,” Cheney continued. “And so, I think that we all have an obligation to make sure we’re doing everything we can to convey the truth, to stand for the truth and to stand for the Constitution and our obligations.”

Three cats, Franz Marc

Three Cats, by Franz Marc

At Mother Jones, David Corn questions whether the bipartisan commission could fully uncover the truth: House Dems and Republicans Strike a Deal on a 1/6 Commission—But There’s One Big Catch.

On Friday morning, big news hit: Democrats and Republicans in the House had reached a compromise to set up a bipartisan, independent commission that would investigate the January 6 assault on the US Capitol. For weeks, GOPers had opposed a proposal from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to establish such a body, complaining it permitted Democrats to appoint a majority of the commissioners. But last month, she pitched a new deal with equal representation. And under the agreement concocted by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), the top Republican on the panel, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate would each get to appoint five members of the 10-person body, which will be modeled on the 9/11 commission. (The Dems will name the chair, the Republicans the vice chair.) Yet there is one big wrinkle: Though this commission will have the power to subpoena witnesses, subpoenas must be approved by either the chair and vice-chair or by a majority of the commissioners. That means the Republicans on the commission will have the power to block any subpoena.

It is not hard to envision numerous scenarios in which the commission—which would have to be approved by the Senate—could become immersed in conflict over the question of who to interview, what information to seek, and which witnesses to subpoena. After all, there is no way for the commission to do its job thoroughly without fully scrutinizing the actions of various Republicans, pro-Trump activists, the Trump White House, and former President Donald Trump himself. And if some of these potential subjects refuse to voluntarily cooperate with the commission’s investigators, the only recourse will be subpoenas. But will Republican-appointed commissioners okay subpoenas for GOP witnesses? 

Corn offers a list of necessary witnesses, including Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Rudi Giuliani, Roger Stone, Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump. Would Republicans on the commission go along with subpoenaing those important witnesses? He conclues:

The public deserves a complete, no-holds-bar accounting of the January 6 tragedy. But there is no way for any commission to fully uncover and report the whole truth without questioning Republicans and past and present members of Trump’s inner circle. This attack was a Trump production, and some of the most important eyewitnesses of that day are prominent Republicans and Trumpers. Should a commission be established—and it’s no done-deal yet—will Republican commissioners actually allow their gumshoes to haul in these sorts of witnesses? If not, this exercise could end up being yet another GOP assault on American democracy.

The Matt Gaetz investigation seems to be heating up. Here’s the latest.

The New York Times: Former Gaetz Confidant Agrees to Plead Guilty and Cooperate.

Woman with Cat, Jose Manuel Merello, 1960

Woman with Cat, Jose Manuel Merello, 1960

A former confidant of Representative Matt Gaetz admitted in court papers on Friday to an array of federal crimes, including sex trafficking of a 17-year-old girl, and agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department’s ongoing investigations.

The plea deal by Joel Greenberg, the onetime associate of Mr. Gaetz who had served as a tax collector in Seminole County, Fla., north of Orlando, until he was indicted last year, provided prosecutors a potential key witness as they decide whether to charge Mr. Gaetz, the Florida Republican who is a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump.

Mr. Gaetz is said to be under investigation over whether he violated sex trafficking laws by having sex with the same 17-year-old.

Mr. Greenberg did not implicate Mr. Gaetz by name in court papers filed by prosecutors in Federal District Court in Orlando. But Mr. Greenberg admitted that he “introduced the minor to other adult men, who engaged in commercial sex acts” with her, according to the documents, and that he was sometimes present. The others were not named.

Mr. Greenberg, who has been meeting with prosecutors for at least five months, has told investigators that Mr. Gaetz had sex with the girl and knew that she was being paid, according to a person briefed on the inquiry.

And from The Daily Beast: Rep. Matt Gaetz Snorted Cocaine With Escort Who Had ‘No Show’ Gov’t Job.

When Rep. Matt Gaetz attended a 2019 GOP fundraiser in Orlando, his date that night was someone he knew well: a paid escort and amateur Instagram model who led a cocaine-fueled party after the event, according to two witnesses.

The Florida congressman’s one-time wingman, Joel Greenberg, will identify that escort to investigators as one of more than 15 young women Gaetz paid for sex, according to a source familiar with the investigation.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

By Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

But what distinguishes this woman, Megan Zalonka, is that she turned her relationship with Greenberg into a taxpayer-funded no-show job that earned her an estimated $7,000 to $17,500, according to three sources and corresponding government records obtained by The Daily Beast.

On Oct. 26, 2019, Gaetz attended the “Trump Defender Gala” fundraiser as the featured speaker at the Westgate Lake Resort in Orlando. Two witnesses present recalled friends reconvening at Gaetz’s hotel room for an after-party, where Zalonka prepared lines of cocaine on the bathroom counter. One of those witnesses distinctly remembers Zalonka pulling the drugs out of her makeup bag, rolling a bill of cash, and joining Gaetz in snorting the cocaine.

While The Daily Beast could not confirm that Gaetz and Zalonka had sex that night, two sources said the pair had an ongoing financial relationship in exchange for sex. “She was just one of the many pieces of arm candy he had,” said one source familiar with the encounters between Gaetz and Zalonka.

The congressman—who has declared that he “never paid for sex”—wrote off the stay at the hotel as a campaign expense, with his donors picking up the tab.

Yuck. I can’t believe Gaetz is still in Congress and on the House Judiciary Committee.

Finally, investigations that were blocked under Trump may be able to go forward. CNN reports on some possibilities: Biden administration gives House panel documents related to Trump hotel.

The General Services Administration has provided House Democrats with documents related to former President Donald Trump’s Washington hotel, in the second case this week where the Biden administration gave the House information that the Trump administration had blocked it from obtaining….

House Transportation Chairman Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, requested a slew of records in March related to the Trump International Hotel lease of the Old Post Office Building, which is not far from the White House. It was a request he had resubmitted to the GSA after it had been blocked by the Trump administration.

Jan F. Welker

By Jan F. Welker

The GSA responded in a letter to DeFazio last week that it was turning over some of the requested records, including monthly financial statements from the Trump hotel, audits and lease amendments — though the GSA declined to provide legal memorandums, arguing that those records were part of “internal executive branch legal advice.” The letter from the GSA said it was still working to fulfill DeFazio’s request for memos and communications from the White House or other federal agencies related to the lease of the Old Post Office Building….

The GSA’s willingness to provide documents to the House comes around the same time that the Justice Department struck an agreement with the House Judiciary Committee this week for the long-sought testimony of former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn. The House’s agreement with the Justice Department came ahead of a scheduled court hearing on the matter.

There are still several other outstanding court cases in which the House is fighting for Trump-related documents — most notably the effort by the House Ways and Means Committee to obtain Trump’s tax returns from the IRS. That case has a status update scheduled for May 28.

Have a great Caturday, Sky Dancers!! As always, this is an open thread.


Monday Reads: Domestic Terrorism and White Nationalism

Elaine de Kooning, Portrait of Fairfield Porter, 1954

Good Day Sky Dancers!

I hope you have the same kind of sunny spring weather there that we have here in New Orleans!  I actually made a trip to Walmart yesterday!  I can’t even remember the last time I’ve been there and it use to be at least a 2  or 3 trip a month destination for me being the poor old semiretired prof that I am.

I could tell that every one has spring fever around here by the number of obvious hipster transplants parading all over the neutral ground yesterday.  I was rather hoping the herons would bomb them away but I just went to my room and took a nap hoping it would be over by the time I had to work on line. The demographics of my neighborhood these days disturbs me.  Where did all this young white people come from and why do they keep bringing this burbie breeder vibe to my hood?  

The Walmart in Chalmette is amazingly diverse because of the number of immigrant diasporas that have landed there.  It’s still rather rural even though it feels more like an exurb in many ways .  However, it’s more working to middle class that bougie rich.  There are Somalians and folks from South America.   There is still a Vietnamese presence although a good deal of that community lives in the east and on the Westbank. And, of course there are many Black Americans there that are descendants of the slaves of the now way gone Plantations as well as transplants from around the Caribbean.

So, it was great just watching the elderly, young families, and others pour into to do their weekly shopping like there was no pandemic.  However, there were still adjustments.  The benches by the front door are gone.  The Walmart greeters are busy sanitizing the carts and pointing you to the hand sanitizers before you grab a cart.  Then, you get a pretty good view of what a wide assortment of masks there are available these days.  If you forget to bring one, Walmart gives you a disposable one.

Elaine de Kooning: Harold Rosenberg, Art Critic (1956)

So, I went with a friend and she was stuck in the checkout line.  I got to stand for quite awhile where the benches used to be and watch the comings and goings.  It was a pretty smooth operation until 3 white guys loaded themselves out of a big red pick up truck with this poor black dog on what could barely be called a leash. The two with the dog had masks on. The one with the weird razor cut and hitler moustache didn’t. I was like okay, here it comes.

At that point, white male boundary pushing and  dominance achievement techniques began.  The dog was just an emotional support dog so of course he should be allowed in to wander the grocery aisles.  Said dog had no usual orange vest of either of a service or emotional support dog let alone the credential card. Guys started screaming at the poor woman saying no to the dog.  Then the guy without the mask just started moving pass her to the station with the masks and a few more women who all eventually called for security back up.  Fortunately, these women were not playing and were obviously experienced.  Dog got sent to some one’s girlfriend for a walk in the parking lot and the mask guy eventually complied.  I guess the beer run was more important than facing down all these middle aged women of various sizes, deportment, and race.

Meanwhile, every one else just tried to go about their day. All I could think was welcome to America where most of us are a community of folks just trying to live. Then, there are those guys come in and do their performance art of white male rage/fragility.

So, today’s artwork actually has something to say along these lines.  This is the work of “Elaine de Kooning, Portraiture, and the Politics of Sexuality.”  It comes from the University of Colorado, Boulder.  It’s part of the gender archive and the portraits are of highly sexualized men.

De Kooning’s portraits of men are fascinating because she reverses the standard male artist/female model dynamic and in many of her portraits she captures the sexual power of her subjects, challenging the male privilege of looking and female role of object to be looked at.  She was not, however, attempting to reverse the power dynamic by placing men in the western tradition of the passive reclining female pose, nor was she dismantling the anonymous male body by employing an Abstract Expressionist style.  Rather she records her clothed male friends and lovers in an upright position with their legs spread apart, acknowledging and relishing her active role in depicting this socially accepted pose that asserts male sexual power, a pose that would not have been deemed appropriate for a “feminine” woman in the 1950s to highlight. 

Robert de Niro by Elaine de Kooning (1973) (c)Elaine de Kooning Trust

There’s a lot of ‘those guys’ in the news today. So, here I go …
Adam Jentleson –Author of “Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate”–wrote this at The Atlantic today: “How to Stop the Minority-Rule Doom Loop. The next two years might be the country’s last chance to protect the basic democratic principle of majority rule.”  I think we can safely say that the Republican Party is the epicenter of White Male Dominance.

The doom loop consists of four interlocking components. Candidates who represent white conservatives—Republicans, in our ideologically sorted era—begin every election cycle buoyed by a sluice of voter suppression and gerrymandering (what I call electoral welfare), which makes it easier for them to win. Then antidemocratic features of the American system that have always existed but never benefited one party over the other in any systematic way help those same candidates take control of institutions such as the White House and the Senate, despite winning fewer votes and representing fewer people than their opponents. Once in control of these institutions, these newly elected officials use them to entrench their power beyond the reach of voters. If they are eventually voted out of power, they retain a veto over the agenda of the majority, which they use to block change and feed the conservative case that the government is “broken.” This hastens their return to power—along the very path they greased with voter suppression.

The loop starts at the ballot box, where Republicans are making it harder than at any time in recent history for those who are unlikely to vote for them to vote at all. According to Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida and one of the nation’s foremost experts on voting laws, “We are witnessing the greatest rollback of voting rights in this country since the Jim Crow era.” The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder unleashed a new wave of voter suppression targeted at reliably Democratic constituencies such as nonwhite voters and young people. The pace of suppression has only increased since the November election. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks voter-suppression efforts across the country, 47 states have seen 361 bills aimed at restricting voting rights since the beginning of the year.

Republicans don’t just have an easier time winning elections; they have an easier time piecing together individual election wins to gain control of the institutions that govern American life. Here, too, the doom loop gives a big boost to candidates who represent predominantly white conservatives. Over the past half century, demographic shifts have rendered the antidemocratic features of American government newly vulnerable to exploitation, but especially by candidates who represent white conservatives.

Elaine de Kooning
Portrait of a Young Man

They’ve been on this path a very long time. At the very least, it started with the policies of Ronald Reagan with its racist signaling campaign opener of “welfare queens”.  Here’s a 2013 NPR article “The Truth Behind The Lies Of The Original ‘Welfare Queen'”  exploring Reagan’s earliest attempts at dog whistling following the Nixon era “Southern Strategy” to pull Dixiecrats into to the Republican fold.  I watched it spread through the state parties in the midwest like wildfire mostly by the ground work of those weirdish white evangelical christian churches with no real affiliation, southern baptists churches, and some catholic parishes.  They started showing up with marching orders to take over the party structure and just basically kept at it until coming full circle in the Trumpist regime.

This all goes hand in hand with the gun fetishists and the groups of armed militias sprinkled around the country.  This is from today’s Washington Post: “The rise of domestic extremism in America Data shows a surge in homegrown attacks not seen in a quarter-century.

Domestic terrorism incidents have soared to new highs in the United States, driven chiefly by white-supremacist, anti-Muslim and anti-government extremists on the far right, according to a Washington Post analysis of data compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The surge reflects a growing threat from homegrown terrorism not seen in a quarter-century, with right-wing extremist attacks and plots greatly eclipsing those from the far left and causing more deaths, the analysis shows.

The number of all domestic terrorism incidents in the data peaked in 2020.

“What is most concerning is that the number of domestic terror plots and attacks are at the highest they have been in decades,” said Seth Jones, director of the database project at CSIS, a nonpartisan Washington-based nonprofit that specializes in national security issues. “It’s so important for Americans to understand the gravity of the threat before it gets worse.”

More than a quarter of right-wing incidents and just under half of the deaths in those incidents were caused by people who showed support for white supremacy or claimed to belong to groups espousing that ideology, the analysis shows.

Victims of all incidents in recent years represent a broad cross-section of American society, including Blacks, Jews, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, Asians and other people of color who have been attacked by right-wing extremists wielding vehicles, guns, knives and fists.

Let’s also not forget the victims of domestic violence for they also are part of this increase in violence and search for control over others.

An absolutely horrifying police shooting of a young black man in Minneapolis happened showing just how out of hand the use of power and suppression is in the nation’s police force also.  There was also an incident of pepper spraying a young black Army Lt. and his dog in Virginia.  Both were responses to simple traffic stops. Both officers have been fired but this only brings into more focus the unequal treatment of the largely white male police force around the country and its inability to police without responding differently to people of color.

Pele No. 1,
Elaine de Kooning, 1982

Another blow was dealt to the likes of the “Hillbilly Elegy” narrative as we see in this Washington Post article written by Eugene Scott on “Data about the Capitol rioters serves another blow to the White, working-class Trump-supporter narrative” for The Fix.

After a Donald Trump campaign event in Mobile, Ala., in 2015 attracted about 20,000 attendees, a narrative emerged that his popularity centered on White working-class voters in small towns in red states. Books such as “Hillbilly Elegy” rose to the top of bestseller lists as a way to help more Americans understand this group of voters that got behind the wealthy reality star from Manhattan. And cable news networks regularly featured panels of journalists asking these voters why they continued to back such a widely unpopular leader.

But new data supports something that some critics of the former president were confident of from the earliest days of Trump’s presidential campaign: The Ivy League graduate from New York City got to the White House with the support of more college-educated professionals than is often acknowledged.

Robert A. Pape, director of the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, worked with court records to analyze the demographics and home county characteristics of the 377 Americans arrested or charged in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington aimed at overturning the 2020 election.

“What we know 90 days later is that the insurrection was the result of a large, diffuse and new kind of protest movement congealing in the United States,” the political science professor wrote in The Washington Post. “Those involved are, by and large, older and more professional than right-wing protesters we have surveyed in the past. They typically have no ties to existing right-wing groups. But like earlier protesters, they are 95 percent White and 85 percent male, and many live near and among Biden supporters in blue and purple counties.”

While Trump often spoke about jobs and factories being shipped overseas to manufacture American products — it wasn’t solely economic anxiety that drew many of his supporters to the wealthy real estate developer who allegedly avoided paying taxes that could benefit low-income Americans. It was cultural anxiety — regardless of their economic status — that was a consistent factor in support for Trump. While concerns about changing views on faith, gender and sexuality were often expressed by many of the former president’s most die-hard supporters, fear about America becoming less White — and less “great” — was at the root of at least some of the loyalty to him.

I don’t want to spend too much time on these two but both Tucker Carlson and Matt Gaetz are in the news again basically still trying to play their white male privilege cards as entitled little trustfund babies.

From CNN: Embattled Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz is denied a meeting with Trump. Ah, poor little boy denied daddy time!  I guess Trumperz thinks he’s damaged goods now and not an asset to the Family Crime Syndicate.

Elaine De Kooning-Portrait of Scott ,Chaskey,number-3, 1983

From Tom Porter at Insider: “Tucker Carlson is repeatedly using his platform to downplay white supremacy and violence, critics say

In comments on his show last week Carlson appeared to endorse the white nationalist Great Replacement conspiracy theory, prompting outraged responses including a call from the Anti-Defamation League for him to be fired.

Before this Carlson had for weeks argued that the Capitol riot had been overblown by liberals as part of a plot to persecute conservatives, and he has said there is “no evidence that white supremacists were responsible for what happened on January 6.”

The facts say otherwise, with law-enforcement agencies having charged close to 60 members of far-right organizations, including the Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, and Proud Boys, with involvement. Rioters were pictured in the Capitol bearing Confederate banners, wearing far-right insignia, and chanting far-right slogans.

At the heart of Carlson’s persona is a challenge to those he portrays as smug liberal elites, who he claims have sought to disenfranchise ordinary Americans for decades. It’s a stance that made him one of the defining conservative voices during the Trump years.

But when applied to downplaying the threat of white nationalist violence, it’s a view that has imperiled lucrative advertisement deals on his show.

And as BB wrote yesterday, this is all from the Heir of Swanson Foods.  That should be a boycott-worthy situation. We’re learning Georgia is sure getting it over voting rights as 100s of CEOs figure out what Voter Suppression Laws will do to their bottom line and the attitudes of their customers and workforce this week.

The Biden/Harris administration continues to churn out appointments and policies that seem quite normal while still facing total Republican opposition.  Some of the usual sources are asking the same damn questions that shouldn’t be asked during this first 100 days.  For example: “Can Biden Be Our F.D.R.? The president wants to change the trajectory of the country. He’s off to a good start b

Anyway, I have to work today and grade today and do stuff around the house and I still can’t adjust to fake time so I’m running late again.  Y’all take care!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Lazy Caturday Reads

Jean-Metzinger-French-1883-1956-The-cat-c.-1915

Jean Metzinger, French, 1883-1956

Good Morning!!

Before I get to today’s news, here’s a little comic relief. This was in yesterday’s Boston Globe, but I can’t get past their rigid paywall. But I found the story at The Pest Control Daily: Boston Public Backyard used to have child alligators — sure, alligators — and other people fed them rodents. The “public backyard” is the Boston Public Garden, adjacent to the Boston Common. I had heard about cows grazing on the Common, but not about alligators in the Public Garden.

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There are several newspaper articles from this period referring to the alligators who lived in a basin – or pond – near the entrance to Arlington Street amid a “magnificent” row of lilies. Reports vary, but for some time there were between three and four alligators on the site, strikingly complementing the many other exotic features of the public garden at the time.

A story in the September 19, 1901 issue of the Boston Post said three of the city’s alligators were given by “a Charlestown woman” who “became afraid of them and introduced them to the city of Boston.” The fourth alligator was given to the city by a man from Chelsea, though it’s just unclear why.

An article that appeared in an August 9, 1901 issue of the Boston Globe said the alligators – known as babies – belonged to William Doogue, the city’s superintendent for common and public reasons.

orordatpb5s61Doogue oversaw the public garden from 1878 to 1906, according to Friends of the Public Garden, a nonprofit advocating Boston Common, the public garden, and the nearby Commonwealth Avenue Mall and known for its exceptional green thumb….

The alligators have certainly rubbed some city dwellers the wrong way. But it wasn’t so much their presence that was annoying – people often huddled around the pool looking for them – it was how they were sometimes fed.

“Some objections to feeding live rats and mice to those in the public garden pond,” read the headline of the August Globe article.

The newspaper reported that in “warm weather” the alligators were put in the public garden and fed by park officials once a week….

“Live rats exposed to hungry alligators,” read a headline in the Boston Post on August 9, 1901. “The public garden exhibit attracts morbid interest from women and children.”

The article says, “The city doesn’t feed them in the summer … the city doesn’t have to” because “the alligators make their own living by entertaining the public”.

The story included an illustration of primitively dressed people gathered around a small pond-like structure and watched a man kneel to feed the alligators with the animals’ mouths wide open.

Apparently this was seen as a low-life activity. There is much more detail at the link about the feeding of the alligators. Apparently they were moved to the Franklin Park Zoo during the colder months, and their presence in the Boston Garden lasted for about 6 years.

White Supremacist News

Remember those neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us?” Fox News’ Tucker Carlson was trending on Twitter all day yesterday after he parroted a white supremacist conspiracy theory that liberals are trying to replace white people with immigrants.

Fortunato Depero, Elasticità di gatti (1936–1939)

Fortunato Depero, Elasticità di gatti (1936–1939)

Media Matters: Tucker Carlson, the face of Fox News, just gave his full endorsement to the white nationalist conspiracy theory that has motivated mass shootings.

For decades, white nationalists have invoked the specter of nonwhite immigration, multiculturalism, and declining birthrates to argue for the existence of a vast conspiracy aimed at eliminating white populations as a dominant demographic. On Fox News, Tucker Carlson is distributing the language, grievances, goals, and inherent call to action of the conspiracy theory to massive audiences.

On the April 8 broadcast of Fox News Primetime, Carlson offered perhaps his most explicit justification yet for the core belief of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory: that a wave of “Third World” invaders is coming to replace you and reshape your environment, and that you, the audience, should do something about it.

The Fox News host claimed that “what’s true” is that “the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate, the voters now casting ballots, with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World,” and no one should “sit back and take that.”

More from Media Matters: White nationalists praise Tucker Carlson’s full embrace of their “replacement” conspiracy theory.

After the Anti-Defamation League called on Fox News to fire Carlson for his remarks, white supremacist and far-right personalities were quick to make their approval known.

White supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes explained what Carlson actually meant in his statements, lamenting that Carlson wasn’t more direct and theorizing that he probably had to dial it back in order to avoid consequences at Fox….

Other racist and extreme far-right media personalities and social media accounts also backed Carlson, celebrating him for broadcasting “what nationalists have been talking about for decades” and defending him against criticism.

Matt Gaetz Updates

The Washington Post: House opens ethics investigation into Florida Republican Matt Gaetz.

The House Ethics Committee announced Friday it would investigate claims that Rep. Matt Gaetz engaged in sexual misconduct and illicit drug use and showed images of naked women on the House floor, opening a new front in the growing scandal enveloping the Florida Republican.

Jean-Metzinger-Still-life-with-cat-and-fish-1950.

Jean Metzinger, Still Life with Cat and Fish, 1950

Gaetz responded hours later with a defiant speech before a welcoming crowd at former president Donald Trump’s Miami-area hotel and golf club, dismissing the claims against him as an attempt by the political establishment to silence his political views.

“Let me assure you, I have not yet begun to fight for the country I love, and for the nation that I know benefits from America First principles,” he said to cheers at an event sponsored by Women for America First, a group that sponsored the rally at the White House Ellipse before the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. “I’m built for the battle, and I’m not going anywhere. The smears against me range from distortions of my personal life to wild — and I mean wild — conspiracy theories.”

The news of the investigation came a day after Gaetz’s friend, Joel Greenberg, who has been charged with sex trafficking of a minor among other offenses, signaled to a federal judge through his lawyer that he was negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors that could help them in an ongoing probe into whether Gaetz paid for sex or trafficked a woman across state lines for sex.

Click the link for more details.

Fred Grimm at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Scandal leaves Florida’s congressional provocateur with few friends.

His fellow congressional Republicans have risen as one to defend Matt Gaetz.

Oh, sorry. My bad. Make that two.

Jim Jordan of Ohio — Abbott to Gaetz’s Costello in their Capitol Hill clown act — came through for Matt. Sort of. After Gaetz denied allegations that he had been galivanting with escorts and even a 17-year-old girl, with allusions to orgies and illicit drug use, Jordan managed a four-word tweet: “I believe Matt Gaetz.” Which seemed an understated reaction from the likes of Jordan, whose usual outbursts have been unfettered by propriety, truth or the national interest.

You’d think the pugnacious Jim Jordan, of all people, would have come up with a more defiant defense of his fellow provocateur. But no.

Still life with cat and lobster, Pablo Picasso

Still life with cat and lobster, Pablo Picasso

Which left Marjorie Taylor Greene from Planet QAnon as his defender-in-chief. “Take it from me rumors and headlines don’t equal truth. I stand with @mattgaetz,” tweeted the Georgia congresswoman, a propagator of astounding untruths, slanders and conspiracy theories. Not sure that character references from the woman who suggested California wildfires had been ignited by Jewish space lasers can rehabilitate Gaetz’s mucky reputation.

Support was also slow coming from Mar-a-Lago, although Gaetz had been Donald Trump’s most outlandish congressional defender through two impeachments and an insurrection. Yet, the ex-president kept quiet in the week after The New York Times reported that the FBI has widened an investigation of former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg — who faces a slew of federal charges — to include his former best buddy and fellow philanderer. The Times said the FBI is looking into allegations that Greenberg and Gaetz arranged sexual trysts with paid escorts, including a 17-year girl. (Which Gaetz denies.)

It wasn’t until reports surfaced that, during Trump’s final days in office, Gaetz had sought a preemptive pardon for any federal charges that might come his way, that the ex-president finally said something. Not much, but something. His office issued a carefully worded, unTrumpian statement: “Congressman Matt Gaetz has never asked me for a pardon,” adding, like an afterthought, “It must also be remembered that he has totally denied the accusations against him.”

I just can’t get enough of Gaetzgate.

Coronavirus News

The Washington Post: Trump officials celebrated efforts to change CDC reports on coronavirus, emails show.

Trump appointees in the Department of Health and Human Services last year privately touted their efforts to block or alter scientists’ reports on the coronavirus to more closely align with President Donald Trump’s more optimistic messages about the outbreak, according to newly released documents from congressional investigators.

Still life with grey cat, Jean Metzinger

Still life with grey cat, Jean Metzinger

The documents provide further insight into how senior Trump officials approached last year’s explosion of coronavirus cases in the United States. Even as career government scientists worked to combat the virus, a cadre of Trump appointees was attempting to blunt the scientists’ messages, edit their findings and equip the president with an alternate set of talking points.

Science adviser Paul Alexander wrote to HHS public affairs chief Michael Caputo on Sept. 9, touting two examples of where he said officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had bowed to his pressure and changed language in their reports, according to an email obtained by the House’s select subcommittee on the coronavirus outbreak.

Pointing to one change — in which CDC leaders allegedly changed the opening sentence of a report about the spread of the virus among younger people after Alexander pressured them — Alexander wrote to Caputo, calling it a “small victory but a victory nonetheless and yippee!!!”

In the same email, Alexander touted another example of a change to a weekly report from the CDC that he said the agency made in response to his demands. The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, or MMWRs, which offer public updates on scientists’ findings, had been considered sacrosanct for decades and untouchable by political appointees in the past.

Two days later, Alexander appealed to White House adviser Scott Atlas to help him dispute an upcoming CDC report on coronavirus-related deaths among young Americans.

“Can you help me craft an op-ed,” Alexander wrote to Atlas on Sept. 11, alleging the CDC report was “timed for the election” and an attempt to keep schools closed even as Trump pushed to reopen them.

Thank goodness these horrible people are gone now. But Fox News is continuing the anti-vax brainwashing.

CNN: Nearly 40% of Marines have declined Covid-19 vaccine.

Nearly 40% of US Marines are declining Covid-19 vaccinations, according to data provided to CNN on Friday by the service, the first branch to disclose service-wide numbers on acceptance and declination.

1940-Le-chat-au-papillon

Le Chat au Papillon, Jean Metzinger, 1940

As of Thursday, approximately 75,500 Marines have received vaccines, including fully vaccinated and partially vaccinated service men and women. About 48,000 Marines have chosen not to receive vaccines, for a declination rate of 38.9%.

CNN has reached out to the other services for acceptance and declination rates.

The corresponding acceptance rate for vaccinations among Marines — 61.1% — is not far off the military estimate of two-thirds, or about 66%.

Another 102,000 Marines have not yet been offered the vaccines. The total number of Marines includes active-duty, reserves and Individual Mobilization Augmentee Marines.

The declination rate at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, one of the prominent Marine Corps bases, was far higher, at 57%, according to another set of data provided to CNN. Of 26,400 Marines who have been offered vaccinations, 15,100 have chosen not to receive them, a number that includes both II Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Installation East — Camp Lejeune. Another 11,500 active-duty Marines are scheduled to be offered the vaccines.

I’ll end there. I tried to keep it somewhat light today. What stories are you following?


Thursday Reads: Matt Gaetz’s Wild and Crazy Scandal

Saad Yagan, 2017

Saad Yagan, 2017

Good Afternoon!!

What on Earth is going on with Matt Gaetz? The story just keeps growing stranger by the day. It all began with this New York Times story published on Tuesday: Matt Gaetz Is Said to Face Justice Dept. Inquiry Over Sex With an Underage Girl.

Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida and a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump, is being investigated by the Justice Department over whether he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him, according to three people briefed on the matter.

Investigators are examining whether Mr. Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, the people said. A variety of federal statutes make it illegal to induce someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value. The Justice Department regularly prosecutes such cases, and offenders often receive severe sentences.

It was not clear how Mr. Gaetz met the girl, believed to be 17 at the time of encounters about two years ago that investigators are scrutinizing, according to two of the people.

The investigation was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William P. Barr, the two people said. Given Mr. Gaetz’s national profile, senior Justice Department officials in Washington — including some appointed by Mr. Trump — were notified of the investigation, the people said.

Then Gaetz appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox and made everything worse for himself.

Aaron Rupar at Vox: Matt Gaetz’s disastrous Tucker Carlson interview, explained.

Hours after the New York Times broke the news that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) is under federal investigation for alleged sex trafficking, he was given a platform by Fox News host Tucker Carlson to tell his side of the story. But Gaetz ended up botching the softball interview so thoroughly that Carlson ended up telling his millions of viewers it was “one of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted.”

Pablo Picasso, 1939

Pablo Picasso, 1939

At various points during the interview, Gaetz — who denies the allegations — volunteered the existence of criminal allegations against him that aren’t yet part of the public record, brought up sexual misconduct allegations against Carlson that most of his viewers probably weren’t aware of, and went out of his way to involve Carlson in stories about his personal life.

“I can say that actually you and I went to dinner about two years ago, your wife was there, and I brought a friend of mine — you’ll remember her — and she was actually threatened by the FBI, told that if she wouldn’t cop to the fact that somehow I was involved in some pay-for-play scheme, that could face trouble,” Gaetz said. “So I do believe there are people at the Department of Justice that are trying to smear me. Providing for flights and hotel rooms for people that you’re dating who are of legal age is not a crime.”

It sounds like he’s admitting he paid for travel and hotel rooms for a person he was dating, doesn’t it?

…more importantly than the bizarreness of the interview is the fact that Gaetz didn’t do a very convincing job trying to refute the very serious criminal allegations underpinning the federal investigation. His defense basically amounts to claims that he’s the victim of a vast conspiracy….

During the interview with Carlson, Gaetz denied improper conduct, but he did so in a very limited and specific way, using language that raised more questions than it answered.

Butterflies and Poppies, Vincent Van Gogh

Butterflies and Poppies, Vincent Van Gogh

“The New York Times is running a story that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman, and that is verifiably false; people can look at my travel records and see that that is not the case,” Gaetz said — even though a 17-year-old is not a “woman,” the allegations go beyond mere “traveling,” and it’s unclear how “travel records” could disprove any of them.

Gaetz went on to allege that word of the investigation was leaked as part of an extortion plot, saying “what is happening is an extortion of me and my family involving a former Department of Justice official” who demanded $25 million in exchange for making the sex trafficking allegations go away.

But during an MSNBC interview a short time later, one of the Times reporters bylined on the Gaetz story, Katie Benner, debunked one of Gaetz’s central claims, saying unequivocally that the former official Gaetz accused by name of being part of an extortion plot isn’t even involved in the investigation.

I’m still very confused.

Washington Post fact checker Salvador Rizzo explains why travel records could not prove the allegations against Gaetz are false. Basically, these records aren’t available to the public.

Here’s the bottom line: House members’ personal travel and expenses are not subject to disclosure, so there would be no public records to check regarding Gaetz’s private life.“If this was just personal travel, and he wasn’t using campaign or official funds, there’s no disclosure,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Airline flight manifests and personal credit card or bank statements would chart who went where with whom at what times and at whose expense, but those sensitive records are not public. Only law enforcement investigators could look through them by getting subpoenas.

Philip Bump at The Washington Post: The Matt Gaetz allegation, explained.

“The Justice Department is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz — a Florida Republican considered a close political ally of former president Donald Trump — over an alleged sexual relationship with an underage girl,” The Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett explain. That relationship allegedly included paying for the girl to travel, potentially across state lines, adding the complexity of potential federal charges related to sex trafficking, according to the Times. Both the Post and Times stories are constrained for fairly obvious reasons, including the limits of available information and the need to accurately convey the potential risk Gaetz faces.

landscape with butterflies, 1956, Salvidor Dali

Landscape with Butterflies, 1956, by Salvador Dali

The investigation apparently spun out of another sex-trafficking probe in Florida. That one focused on a former county official named Joel Greenberg, who was charged in the summer with a number of federal offenses, including sex trafficking of a minor.

“According to an indictment in the case, Greenberg abused his access to a statewide database, using it to look up the personal information of people with whom he was in ‘sugar daddy’ relationships, including the minor, and to help produce fake identification documents to ‘facilitate his efforts to engage in commercial sex acts,’ ” Zapotosky and Barrett report. “He was also accused of seeking to undermine a political opponent by surfacing fabricated evidence of racism and misconduct.”

It’s worth noting that questions about Gaetz’s relationships have emerged in the past. A Mother Jones article from 2019 documents concerns raised by a former member of Gaetz’s staff about a 21-year-old he was then dating and who was apparently posting photos of the two of them on Instagram alongside other photos showing not-conservative-politician-friendly activities.

There’s more explanation and confusion at the link. What is clear is that there are two different investigations that Gaetz is trying to combine in his defense. Other than that, I’m still confused.

Gaetz’s father chimed in at Politico yesterday: Matt Gaetz’s dad says he wore a wire for FBI probe into DOJ extortion claims.

Rep. Matt Gaetz’s father, Don, a former Florida Senate president, said he is working with the FBI, including wearing a wire on more than one occasion as part of an investigation into an alleged extortion plot that the pair said was organized by former federal prosecutor David McGee.

Herons and Lilies, 1862 by Frank W. Benson

Herons and Lilies, 1934, by Frank W. Benson

“The FBI asked me to try and get that information for Matt and an indication we would transfer money to Mr. David McGee,” Don Gaetz said in an interview late Tuesday, without specifying what information he was referring to.

McGee, who is now in private practice with a Pensacola, Fla.-based law firm, did not respond to a POLITICO request seeking comment, but told other media outlets there is no truth to the alleged extortion plot.

Don Gaetz said in the interview he wore a wire during a meeting earlier this month with McGee and said he was set to meet Wednesday with Stephen Alford, a local developer who he said is also part of the alleged extortion scheme. During that meeting, Don Gaetz said, he was again set to wear a wire and try to get Alford to talk about payments he allegedly was to make to McGee, but the meeting fell apart when news broke that his son was being investigated by the Justice Department. Alford did not respond to text messages seeking comment.

In separate interviews, Don and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) acknowledged a Justice Department probe involving the younger Gaetz, 38, into whether he had improper involvement with a 17-year-old girl. The Gaetzes say they are the target of an extortion plot seeking money to keep the DOJ investigation quiet.

Today The Washington Post reported that the scandal involves Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran and is believed to be dead. Here’s a summary at The Week: The Matt Gaetz case now involves a missing FBI agent last seen in Iran.

When Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-Fla.) father received a message that referred to a Justice Department investigation into his son and asked for help funding the search for Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran 14 years ago, he thought the request was suspicious and went to the FBI, people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post on Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, The New York Times reported that in the waning months of the Trump administration, the DOJ launched an investigation into whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him out of state. Gaetz, who denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes, released a statement saying his family had been targeted by extortionists, and his father wore a wire at the insistence of the FBI.

Boy with butterfly net Henri Mattisse, 1907

Boy with butterfly net, by Henri Mattisse, 1907

People familiar with the matter told the Post that Gaetz’s wealthy father, Don Gaetz, received a text message and document from two men who said if he gave them money to help with the search for Levinson, Matt Gaetz would be seen as a hero and his legal troubles would likely go away. Levinson disappeared from Iran’s Kish Island in 2007 while trying to get information on the country’s nuclear program, and was last seen alive in a 2010 hostage video. His family has said the U.S. government told them they believe Levinson is dead.

When Don Gaetz received these messages, the DOJ investigation into his son was not known publicly. It isn’t clear how the men learned about the investigation, and they do not appear to have any direct connection with the investigation. People with knowledge of the matter told the Post it will be hard to prove this was an extortion attempt because the men did not threaten to expose Gaetz’s DOJ investigation if the family did not give them money.

Matt Gaetz appeared on Fox News Tuesday night and accused a lawyer named David McGee of being involved in this effort. McGee has represented the Levinson family for years, and on Tuesday night he said Don Gaetz called him and they had a “pleasant conversation” about “the trouble his son was in.” McGee denied being involved in any extortion attempt, and his law firm on Wednesday called the allegation “false and defamatory.” Catherine Garcia

One more Gaetz story from ABC News: In investigation of Rep. Gaetz’s alleged sexual relationship with minor, feds looking beyond Florida, sources say.

Sources told ABC News the investigation has been going on for months and began during the Trump administration. Former Attorney General Bill Barr was briefed on the investigation’s progress several times, the sources said.

One source told ABC News that federal authorities have already interviewed multiple witnesses as part of their probe.

Morning Bird Dance, Edvard Munch

Morning Bird Dance, Edvard Munch

Gaetz has reportedly told confidants he is considering retiring from Congress and possibly joining the right-wing media outlet Newsmax, according to an Axios report earlier Tuesday.

Yet within the last several weeks Gaetz started reaching out to prominent attorneys, according to one source. The source said that one of the attorneys Gaetz asked to represent him was Washington attorney Bill Burck, who represented Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus and Don McGahn during the Mueller probe. Burck turned down the case, according to a person familiar with the decision.

So this story keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. One interesting point is that apparently Gaetz is very unpopular with Republicans and they are rooting for him to go down in flames. A few more links to check out:

Jeff Stein at Spy Talk: Gaetz ‘Extortion’ Figure’s Levinson Obsession.

The Daily Beast: The Creepy, Disturbing Case That Ensnared Matt Gaetz.

Ben Jacobs at New York Magazine: Matt Gaetz Gets a Scandal As Wild As Him.

Raw Story: Here are 7 new bombshell details from the complex and unraveling Matt Gaetz investigation story.

The Daily Beast: Republicans Have Been Waiting for a Matt Gaetz Scandal to Break.

The Hill: Fox has no interest in hiring Matt Gaetz.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this story, because it’s still so confusing to me. I guess we’ll be learning more soon. So what’s on your mind today? As always, this is an open thread.