Manic Monday Reads: This is AmericaPosted: November 28, 2022 Filed under: just because | Tags: Gaslighting, Republican pervs, sex trafficking 12 Comments
Good Day Sky Dancers!
The GOP is the party of projection. They gaslight us all the time. It’s not all that ironic that I got to use Merriam-Webster’s word of the year at the top of this post, as reported by PBS Nightly News. You’ll see my point soon enough.
“Gaslighting” — behavior that’s mind manipulating, grossly misleading, downright deceitful — is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year.
Lookups for the word on merriam-webster.com increased 1,740 percent in 2022 over the year before. But something else happened. There wasn’t a single event that drove significant spikes in curiosity, as it usually goes with the chosen word of the year.
The gaslighting was pervasive.
“It’s a word that has risen so quickly in the English language, and especially in the last four years, that it actually came as a surprise to me and to many of us,” said Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press ahead of Monday’s unveiling.
“It was a word looked up frequently every single day of the year,” he said.
There were deepfakes and the dark web. There were deep states and fake news. And there was a whole lot of trolling.
Merriam-Webster’s top definition for gaslighting is the psychological manipulation of a person, usually over an extended period of time, that “causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”
More broadly, the dictionary defines the word thusly: “The act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage.”
Gaslighting is a heinous tool frequently used by abusers in relationships — and by politicians and other newsmakers. It can happen between romantic partners, within a broader family unit and among friends. It can be a corporate tactic, or a way to mislead the public. There’s also “medical gaslighting,” when a health care professional dismisses a patient’s symptoms or illness as “all in your head.”
Despite its relatively recent prominence — including “Gaslighter,” The Chicks’ 2020 album featuring the rousingly angry titular single — the word was brought to life more than 80 years ago with “Gas Light,” a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton.
It’s also a great movie from 1944.
Gas light is a 1944 American psychological thriller film directed by George Cukor, and starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten and Angela Lansbury in her film debut. Adapted by John Van Druten, Walter Reisch, and John L. Balderston from Patrick Hamilton‘s play Gas Light (1938), it follows a young woman whose husband slowly manipulates her into believing that she is descending into insanity.
We lost the late great Angela Lansbury this year on October 11th. I loved her in The Manchurian Candidate, which is also apropos viewing to accompany the last few years. It was filmed in 1962, But Gaslight was filmed during the same period that Rachel Maddow’s Ultra covered when many Republicans in the country became enamored with Hitler. Everything old becomes new again.
One of the strangest narratives and most deadly that Right Wing Republicans have come up with is that the Democratic party is rampant with “groomers” and pedophiles. This has primarily been used to attack the GLBTX community and to suggest anything that talks to the love that dares not speak its name focuses on children. This conspiracy really took off a right-wing conspiracy disinformation campaign, #PizzaGate. It has its own hashtag and just never goes away. Here’s a little review of its relevance from the SPLC. “‘There’s nothing you can do’: The Legacy of #PizzaGate.” The story is from last year.
The Washington City Paper, a small D.C. outlet, ran a story called “Alt Right Conspiracy Theorists Obsess Over Comet Ping Pong” on Nov. 6, 2016. A phone call requesting comment for the article marks the moment that restaurateur James Alefantis’ life changed.
The online disinformation campaign now known as #Pizzagate, which extremists blasted into mainstream visibility on such sites as Twitter and Reddit, targeted Alefantis with a storm of harassment and lies, falsely suggesting that liberal elites abused children in the basement of his pizza restaurant. The #Pizzagate fable ultimately inspired a man to drive across state lines from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., to “save” fictitious victims. He fired a gun inside Comet Ping Pong in December 2016, when the restaurant was full of families eating lunch. Trolls continue to target Alefantis and his staff with harassment even now, as the event approaches its fifth anniversary.
Researchers of the far right still talk about #Pizzagate, but for different reasons: #Pizzagate influenced the politically charged disinformation campaigns that followed it in significant, often underreported ways. #Pizzagate helped birth the sprawling, pro-Trump conspiracy #QAnon, which in turn led to a number of violent crimes. #Pizzagate represents a watershed moment for Trump-era extremists, and its popularity united such figures as the actress Rosanne Barr with open neo-Nazis and, potentially, the Russian government. It can be viewed as a forerunner to the so-called Big Lie, wherein millions of Americans falsely came to believe that former President Trump won reelection in 2020 but liberal elites colluded to change the outcome.
Hatewatch published a detailed analysis of Twitter’s enabling of the far right on July 7. The analysis frequently references #Pizzagate due to the degree to which once-obscure extremists who pushed those lies went on to achieve fame on the website without ever facing consequences for their actions. Hard-right disinformation peddlers such as Jack Posobiec, Mike Cernovich and Cassandra Fairbanks, who hyped #Pizzagate on Twitter, also later used the site to push lies about the 2020 election in the runup to the violent insurrection attempt on the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6. Twitter has enabled these figures for years and even recommended to readers Posobiec’s misleading content about the trial of Derek Chauvin, despite the sensitivity around the trial and his connections to the white supremacist movement.
As Vox notes, “The right’s moral panic over “grooming” invokes age-old homophobia. “Groomer” accusations against liberals and the LGBTQ community are recycled Satanic Panic.” This is from last April.
A renewed moral panic, stoked by the far right and trickling into mainstream conservatism, has come on the heels of an abrupt shift in the fight for gay rights in America. Following the recent passage of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law and a wave of other homophobic and transphobic legislation throughout the country, current right-wing rhetoric has focused on accusations of “grooming.” The term — which describes the actions an adult takes to make a child vulnerable to sexual abuse — is taking on a conspiracy-theory tone as conservatives use it to imply that the LGBTQ community, their allies, and liberals more generally are pedophiles or pedophile-enablers.
Attempting to reframe the controversial Florida law, Gov. Ron DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw described it as “the Anti-Grooming Bill” in early March, tweeting that if you’re against it, “you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children.” Those familiar with QAnon will recognize this bizarre leap in logic. Pushaw adopted language that QAnon conspiracy theory believers and the related #SaveTheChildren crusaders have used to imply that liberals are, if not pedophiles themselves, advocates of pedophilia.
This rhetoric has long existed among fringe conspiracy-theory-mongers and extremists, but Pushaw’s usage helped turn grooming into a mainstream conservative talking point.Fox News has run several segments devoted to pedophilia throughout March and April. During the same period, numerous Fox pundits began describing the behavior of parents and teachers who want to allow children to express their transgender identity as grooming; one Fox and Friends guest suggested children were “being ripened for grooming for sexual abuse by adults,” while America Reports guest Charlie Hurt said affirmative care for trans children “goes beyond just predatory grooming” into “psychological torture.”
Accusations of pedophilia were also a refrain during the March 2022 confirmation hearings for new Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. After Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) falsely accused Jackson of giving child pornographers unusually lenient sentences and “soft” treatment, other conservatives, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and the Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway, ran with the idea that Jackson and anyone who supported her confirmation was supporting or sympathetic to pedophilia.
The result of this fear-mongering is grim: Vice reports that users of extremist right-wing websites like Patriot.win recently tried to publicize the address of a school superintendent who they claimed was “grooming” children. In March, the superintendent placed a school nurse on leave for allegedly making inappropriate statements on Facebook about a student who may have been receiving gender-affirming care.
Claiming the superintendent was “supporting leftist grooming in her schools” by implicitly protecting the welfare of a potentially trans student, one Patriot.win user wrote that she “needs to be executed by our judicial system.” Other users made violent references to hangings and gallows in response to various debates over trans identity. There’s concern that these online threats could lead to real-world physical violence; as Vice noted, many of the platforms pushing this current narrative are home to extremist communities, including some that were involved in planning the January 6, 2021, insurrection.
Framing homosexuality as a wicked specter and queer people as pedophiles is one of the oldest narratives in the homophobic playbook; proponents of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and other recent anti-gay and anti-trans legal actions across the US have been all too happy to recycle it. Only now, due to the paranoiac tendency of the modern right wing, it’s also being expanded and applied to LGBTQ allies, to educators whose work gets caught in the cultural crossfire, and to liberals writ large.
One of the heroes of these freaks is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has whistled every dog whistle and pushed every possible law to support these false accusations and narratives. It is Gas Lighting. And, it’s odd that whenever we get into the history of any of these folks, we find their policies and lack of action endanger children. Living, breathing, sentient, feeling, and vulnerable children suffer under Republican regimes.So, I’ve taken quite a bit to set this up. No, it’s not the usual pedophile Republican pol or judge caught in the act. It’s Ron DeSantis’ own government doing it. “Innocence Sold: Florida’s foster system provides dangerous sex traffickers with easy access to vulnerable children.” This article is behind a strict paywall, so I will try to share it with you as much as possible. It is also a part of the South Florida Sentinel’s podcast series “Felonius Florida.” It’s the story of 15-year-old Sophie Reeder, who walked out of her bedroom one night 5 1/2 years ago and never returned.
Somebody knows what happened to Sophie Reeder. But not the police. Not her parents. Not the private investigators who tried to find her.
Despite powerful evidence that she fell into the hands of a sex trafficker, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department’s handling of her case diminished the chance she’d ever be found.
Sophie’s case was part of the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s year-long investigation into child sex trafficking, a vile crime that is relatively easy to get away with in Florida.
Sophie wasn’t a runaway, or a foster child, or an abused daughter, like many girls who fall under a predator’s sway. She was a middle-class girl with two parents who loved her — parents who had the means to help. Friends and family saw red flags, but no one realized quite what they were seeing.
Her case shows that sex trafficking is common, hiding in plain sight.
In Sophie’s cell phone, police found messages she sent a friend, discussing prices charged for commercial sex acts.
“There are so many cases in our local community, and the average person has no clue,” said John Rode, a former South Florida cop who has searched for Sophie for five years. “If I ask 10 people, ‘What is human trafficking?,’ most are going to say it’s a container on a ship, and there’s 50 Haitian people packed into the container like the movies. Most of the cases are just young runaway girls that get mixed up with the wrong person and sooner or later they can’t get out or they can’t be found.”
Although most of their stories aren’t told, children are reported missing every day in Florida. Last year, 2,166 kids were reported missing in Florida, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. All but 145 of them were found.
These children — runaways and other missing kids — are among the most vulnerable to sex trafficking, researchers have proven.
Their stories are eerily similar: a girl with low self-esteem meets an attentive older man. He may offer gifts, compliments, promises of a better life — or even love.
Sophie suffered from anxiety and depression. Many teens do. I was one of them.
It’s not just the institutions in governments like Ron Desantis that cause these inefficiencies. Their attitudes toward living, breathing children who are now subjected to school programs make them feel like outsiders. It also is a program that provides no solutions, no information, and no help. You’re on your own, kid.
And I will go there. This is from Salon. It’s also from last April, and I’m so sorry I missed reading all this then. It took Sophie’s story to get me to dig into it all. “So, Let’s Talk About Republicans and Sex Crimes. This seems like an appropriate moment.” Paging anyone that can prosecute Matt Gaetz! Floriduh pervert.
Because American politics are now just one, long, low-rent nightmare, Republican culture warriors have spent the past few weeks slandering their various enemies as being soft on pedophilia. For some time, this sort of raving was mostly confined to adherents of QAnon, the Trump-idolizing conspiracy cult that believes Democratic politicians and other elites are secretly operating a global child trafficking ring.
But a confluence of events has helped bring a version of it mainstream.
During the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in March, Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz attempted to smear the nominee by inaccurately claiming that she had a record of handing out unusually light sentences in cases where defendants were accused of viewing child pornography. The issue descended deeper into absurdity after three moderate Republicans voted to confirm Jackson this week and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene—the walking id of MAGA-America—tweeted about them, saying “Murkowski, Collins, and Romney are pro-pedophile.”
Meanwhile, defenders of Florida’s new “don’t say gay” law, which strictly limits public school teachers’ ability to discuss LGBTQ people and issues in the classroom, began referring to the legislation as an “anti-grooming” bill—evoking the deeply homophobic idea that an adult would only talk about these topics with a child in order to prime them for abuse. After Disney, one of Florida’s largest employers, called for the law to be repealed, conservative social media influencers and Fox News personalities like Laura Ingraham launched a wild crusade against the company accusing it too of being complicit in “grooming.”
This is all galling. But it’s especially rich considering that, of the two major parties, the GOP has many more notable and recent scandals involving the sexual abuse of minors and young students—as well as a recent track record of reacting to them with a shrug.
Let’s review some of that history …
In 2006, Florida Rep. Mark Foley was forced to resign after it was revealed that he’d sent sexually explicit messages and propositioned teenage congressional pages via email and text.
In 2015, former Rep. Dennis Hastert, the longest-ever serving Republican speaker of the House, pleaded guilty to making illegal hush-money payments in order to cover up his history of sexually abusing high school wrestlers he had coached decades before.
“Nothing is more stunning than having ‘serial child molester’ and ‘speaker of the House’ in the same sentence,” the judge said at his sentencing.
During and after the 2016 presidential race, among the dozens of women who accused former president Donald Trump of being a sexual predator were several contestants in the 1997 Miss Teen USA pageant, who reported that he barged into their dressing room while girls as young as 15 were changing. (Trump allegedly told them, “Don’t worry, ladies, I’ve seen it all before.”)
His campaign denied the accusation, but CNN unearthed a 2005 Howard Stern interview where Trump bragged about walking into backstage dressing rooms at the pageants he ran.
During the 2018 midterms, Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore was accused of preying on girls as young as 14 and 16; the New Yorker reported that his habit of trying to pick up high schoolers was so notorious that it actually got him banned from a local mall.
Also in 2018, Rep. Jim Jordan, one of Trump’s fiercest allies and a co-founder of the hardline conservative Freedom Caucus, became embroiled in a scandal over his time as a wrestling coach at Ohio State University, where a team doctor named Richard Strauss, who committed suicide in 2005, was found to have sexually abused more than 177 male student athletes.
An investigation commissioned by the university found that Strauss regularly used examinations as an excuse to grope and fondle the students, sometimes to the point of ejaculation; often ordered them to strip nude unnecessarily; and in two cases, attempted to perform oral sex. Numerous former wrestlers told reporters that Jordan was personally aware of the abuse during the early 1990s but chose to turn a blind eye. The Congressman simply denied having any knowledge of it—and suggested at least one of the accusers claiming otherwise was acting on a personal vendetta against him.
And finally, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida is currently the subject of a literal sex-trafficking investigation, which is looking into whether he had sex with an underage 17-year-old girl, among other issues. (Greene is close with Gaetz, who denies the allegations, and has defended him.)
On Twitter, liberals have taken to rattling off this list of scandals—among others—in response to conservative accusations of grooming (in a somewhat apt turn of events, a former Republican National Committee staffer was sentenced for a child pornography conviction the same day Jackson was confirmed to the court).
Some have gone further, remarking that the GOP is particularly afflicted with a pedophilia problem. “Every accusation is a confession,” goes one popular refrain. (Some large social media accounts have been trying to make the phrase “pedocon” stick.)
So, the word gas lighting seems appropriate, don’t you think? There are many vulnerable populations in this country. Just think of our amazing backlog of testing rape kits! You can check the backlog in your own state at the link.
While the press fritters its print away on the psychosis of Elon Musk or the hapless pursuit to be Speaker of the House by Kevin, the pandemic continues. Women cannot get accessible and affordable reproductive healthcare. Voting Rights are being decimated. Folks are trying to vote in Georgia as we speak. We’ve got a few days past a mass shooting, and it goes out of the national consciousness that quickly. But, hey, that football game!
And the republican gaslighting and victim-blaming, and projection keep going on. Donald Trump meets with a White Supremacist, and Stephen Miller trots to the Capitol to speak to Kevin. Nobody presses a potential presidential candidate for the Republican Party on it. Lindsay Graham was omnipresent on the Sunday Talk shows at one time. Where is he now? Plus, why don’t they have a platform and a list of planned policies? We need a much more involved press to get to answers. I’m not sure if they just took Thanksgiving weekend off to watch football and eat turkey or what. But these things demand answers. And only a few regional newspapers with fewer reporters go after the stories about our community problems and solutions. The repeats of whatever on the new stations were maddening. Why all the time spent yammering on about clogged airports?
It’s more than just covering the bullets after they’ve torn through a nightclub, a second-grade classroom, or a place of worship. Why are our children so vulnerable? Why have we still not taken back the night? Who is following droughts all over the world? Check where big money goes, and you’ll find the answer. It goes from gun manufacturers to Republicans. It goes from Wall Street and Silicon Valley to Republicans. It goes from the Fossil Fuel Industry to Republicans. Everything old is new again.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Thursday Reads: Matt Gaetz’s Wild and Crazy ScandalPosted: April 1, 2021 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, just because, U.S. Politics | Tags: David McGee, DOJ, Don Gaetz, FBI, Fox News, iran, Joel Greenberg, Matt Gaetz, Robert Levinson, sex trafficking, Tucker Carlson 8 Comments
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Tuesday Reads: Jeffrey Epstein, Trump, and the Politicized DOJPosted: July 9, 2019 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Bill Barr, Department of Justice, Donald Trump, Jeffrey Epstein, sex trafficking 54 Comments
The news is full of Jeffrey Epstein stories; I can only hope that this time his victims will finally get justice. Bill Barr has recused himself from the case, but will that keep Trump and the Justice Department he now controls from helping his old pal Epstein?
Trump Has Politicized the DOJ
Chris Smith at Vanity Fair: “It Would Be Ridiculously Naive Not To Be Concerned”: Trump has Politicized the DOJ. How Long Can the SDNY Hold Out?
Sally Yates tried to warn us. Way back in January 2017, at the end of the very first week of the Trump administration, the new president signed an executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. It was a blatantly political act, following months of Trump campaign promises, and it immediately provoked lawsuits challenging the order as religious discrimination. Yates, the acting attorney general, refused to defend the legally indefensible and was summarily fired. “The president is attempting to dismantle the rule of law, destroy the time-honored independence of the Justice Department, and undermine the career men and women who are devoted to seeking justice day in and day out,” Yates wrote in a New York Times op-ed published in July 2017.
Two Julys later, Trump’s politicization of the DOJ is gaining new momentum and depth. The president’s choice of William Barr as attorney general, and Barr’s entirely predictable attempts to undercut the Mueller report, has been the highest-profile, highest-stakes move to weaponize the department for partisan purposes. But two fresh episodes demonstrate Trump’s relentless push to subvert the DOJ, and how far-reaching the damage will be to the rule of law. First came Sarah Fabian, the senior attorney in the DOJ’s Office of Immigration Litigation, telling a California appeals court that it is “safe and sanitary” for jailed immigrant children to go without soap or toothbrushes and to sleep on concrete floors under bright lights. “I actually felt somewhat sorry for her,” a former federal prosecutor says. “You could hear how half-hearted she was in making the point. But there is no way she would have been making that argument at all without it being approved at the highest levels of DOJ….”
The second, ongoing case echoes the events that got Yates fired. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled against adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, after documents from a now deceased Republican consultant’s hard drives were exposed. The census citizenship question, Thomas Hofeller wrote in an analysis, “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.” The DOJ announced it would not be fighting the Supreme Court ruling; the Commerce Department announced it would begin printing the census forms without the question in question.
Trump didn’t care. “We are absolutely moving forward,” he declared on Twitter. Which was news to DOJ lawyers, who found themselves fumbling during an emergency conference call with a Maryland district court judge….
After a few more days of confusion, the DOJ said on Friday it would demur from pursuing the case, at least until the Commerce Department “adopts a new rationale for including the citizenship question.” That new spin should arrive very soon. Over the weekend Trump and Barr replaced the DOJ legal team handling the case. Whether the prior group of career lawyers balked at returning to the Supreme Court with a new, possibly untenable argument or whether Barr simply wants fresh minds on the case, the shift was all but unprecedented, and is yet another indication that Trump sees the DOJ as a political tool.
Will Trump find a way to force the DOJ to help Epstein? I think he’s likely to try. Smith concludes:
…it’s hard to imagine Trump won’t try to intercede if the famously independent SDNY—currently back in the headlines for charging billionaire Jeffrey Epstein with sex trafficking—moves to indict one or more of the president’s high-ranking associates. (Epstein has pleaded not guilty.) “The fear is that Trump doesn’t even need to say it out loud anymore, because Barr is so protective of him,” Rocah says. “It would be ridiculously naïve not to be concerned.”
Also recommended from Zoe Tillman at Buzzfeed News: Trump Is Bringing In New Lawyers On The Citizenship Question Case And No One Knows What’s Happening.
Epstein stories to check out
Ken White provides a good backgrounder on the case at The Atlantic: Jeffrey Epstein Is Out of Luck.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, famously aggressive in pursuing high-profile prosecutions, charged Epstein last week with child sex trafficking in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1591. These new charges represent the Department of Justice’s attempt to redeem a reputation soiled by the extremely questionable plea deal it gave Epstein in 2008.
In 2006 and 2007, Epstein— once a reliable companion of the well-connected — faced extensive, detailed allegations that he paid multiple minors for sexual contact and for their services in procuring other minors. Most people, hammered with that kind of evidence, would spend the rest of their lives in prison. But Epstein could afford the lavish attention of a defense team staffed by legal luminaries like Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr. Most of us hope an attorney will defend us competently at trial, but the super-rich can afford to go on the offense. Epstein’s lawyers hounded the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, which was considering federal charges based on reports that Epstein procured underaged girls across state lines. Former U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta – now President Trump’s Secretary of Labor – characterized it as a “year-long assault on the prosecution and prosecutors,” and complained that Epstein’s team investigated prosecutors and their families “looking for personal peccadilloes that may provide a basis for disqualification.”
The strategy worked. Epstein’s team secured the deal of the millennium, one utterly unlike anything I’ve seen in 25 years of practicing federal criminal law. Epstein agreed to plead guilty to state charges, register as a sex offender, and spend 13 months in county jail, during which time he was allowed to spend 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, out of the jail on “work release.” In exchange, the Southern District of Florida abandoned its criminal investigation of Epstein’s conduct, agreed not to prosecute him federally, and – incredibly— agreed not to prosecute anyone else who helped him procure underaged girls for sex. This is not normal; it is astounding.
Read the rest at the link.
Barbara McQuade at New York Magazine: The Jeffrey Epstein Case Shows What Sex Trafficking Really Looks Like.
When jurors hear “sex trafficking,” they conjure up images of victims bound by chains, subjected to physical force and imprisonment. While some cases include those aggravating facts, more often, the victim instead chooses to stay with her assailant, who preys upon a vulnerability. Defendants recruit victims in a variety of ways and then force them to engage in sex acts with them or with paying customers. Jurors are sometimes persuaded that if the defendant was truly engaging in sex trafficking, the victim would have simply run away or called the police.
As a former federal prosecutor, I have seen cases of sex trafficking, and none of those cases involved victims in ropes or chains. More often, the cases involved runaways, undocumented immigrants, or victims of sexual abuse.
A high-profile case like Epstein’s provides a teachable moment for American jurors. The indictment notes that some of his victims returned to his home to perform sex acts for money, even after they knew full well what was in store for them. The indictment also notes that the victims were “for various reasons, particularly vulnerable to exploitation.” That is the secret sauce of sex trafficking….
Sex trafficking is particularly egregious when it involves children, as in Epstein’s case. Children by definition are unable to consent to sex. In Epstein’s case, girls were lured to his home for sex with promises of hundreds of dollars and the prospect of modeling careers — offers that can be head-spinning and irresistible for a young teen.
One of the reasons that we prosecute crimes is to deter others from committing similar acts. By seeing criminals punished for wrongdoing, others learn from their example. Another potential benefit of the Epstein case is to educate the public that not all victims of sex trafficking are found in chains. Here is hoping that jurors will learn from this example.
Read the whole thing at The Intelligencer.
Vicky Ward (who researched and wrote an in-depth piece about Epstein for Vanity Fair in 2003) at The Daily Beast: Jeffrey Epstein’s Sick Story Played Out for Years in Plain Sight.
For almost two decades, for some nebulous reason, whether to do with ties to foreign intelligence, his billions of dollars, or his social connections, Epstein, whose alleged sexual sickness and horrific assaults on women without means or ability to protect themselves is well-known in his circle, remained untouchable.
As many people know, I spent many months on his trail in 2002 for Vanity Fair and discovered not only that he was not who he claimed to be professionally, but also that he had allegedly assaulted two young sisters, one of whom had been underage at the time. Very bravely, they were prepared to go on the record. They were afraid he’d use all his influence to discredit them—and their fear turned out to be legitimate.
As the article was being readied for publication, Epstein made a visit to the office of Vanity Fair’s then-editor, Graydon Carter, and suddenly the women and their allegations were removed from the article. “He’s sensitive about the young women,” Carter told me at the time. He also mentioned he’d finagled a photograph of Epstein in a swimsuit out of the encounter. And there was also some feeble excuse about the article “being stronger as a business story.” (Epstein had also leaned heavily on my ex-husband’s uncle, Conrad Black, to try to exert his influence on me, which was particularly unwelcome, given that Black happened to be my ex-husband’s boss at the time.)
But much worse was to come from Epstein’s army of willfully blind lobbyists. In 2007 and 2008, as the FBI prepared a 53-page indictment that would charge Epstein with sex crimes, Epstein’s powerful legal team played the influence card.
After one meeting with then-U.S. Attorney Acosta, where presumably “intelligence” was mentioned, the indictment was shelved and, instead, Epstein signed a non-prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors, pleading guilty to one count of solicitation of prostitution and one count of procurement of minors for prostitution, which earned him a cushy 13 months in county jail, from where he was allowed to leave to work at his office and go for walks.
It’s worth reading the whole thing.
More helpful Epstein stories, links only
The New York Times: Seized Photos of Nude Girls Deepens Questions About Jeffrey Epstein’s 2008 Deal.
The New York Times: Inside Epstein’s $56 Million Mansion: Photos of Bill Clinton, Woody Allen and Saudi Crown Prince.
The Washington Post: Epstein indictment renews questions about earlier case handled by Trump Cabinet official.
Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post: Alex Acosta gave a pass to Epstein years ago. He’s still at it as labor secretary.
Michelle Goldberg at The New York Times: Jeffrey Epstein Is the Ultimate Symbol of Plutocratic Rot.
Bloomberg: Mystery Around Jeffrey Epstein’s Fortune and How He Made It.
What else is happening? What stories have you been following?
Lazy Caturday Reads: The Latest News, Accompanied By Library CatsPosted: March 9, 2019 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Asian day spas, Bill Shine, corruption, Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr, Erik Prince, GY US Investments, human trafficking, iran, Li Yang, Mar-a-Lago, Saudi Arabia, Sean Hannity, sex trafficking, Tokyo Day Spas, United Arab Emirates 42 Comments
Yesterday I called Dakinikat early in the morning to tell her about a long investigative piece at The Miami Herald: Trump cheered Patriots to Super Bowl victory with founder of spa where Kraft was busted. She posted a brief excerpt from it in her Friday post. It was just one more example of the corruption Trumph has enabled since becoming “president,” right? Well it looks like there’s a lot more to this story and it could blow up into a huge scandal.
Yesterday multiple photos of prominent Republicans posing with Li “Cindy” Yang, the subject of the Miami Herald story, were posted on Twitter.
Yang founded a chain of “Asian day spas” in Florida, including Orchids of Asia Day Spa, which was recently busted for sex trafficking. Yang is no longer the owner of Orchids, but she and her family members still own numerous such “massage parlors” called Tokyo Day Spas, which are known for providing “sexual services.”
From the Miami Herald story linked above:
Before the 2016 general election, Yang offered no evidence of political engagement. She hadn’t voted in 10 years, records showed. But she has now become a fixture at Republican political events up and down the East Coast. Her Facebook is covered in photos of herself standing with President Trump, his two sons, Eric and Donald Jr., Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Rick Scott, Sarah Palin, the president’s campaign manager and an assortment of other high-level Republican operators she has met at charity events, political fundraisers and galas, many of which require hefty donations to attend. She sometimes carries a rhinestone encrusted MAGA clutch purse.
Yang has shown considerable political largesse. Since 2017, she and her close relatives have contributed more than $42,000 to Trump Victory, a political action committee, and more than $16,000 to the president’s campaign.
In February 2018, Yang was invited by the White House to participate in an event hosted by the Asian American and Pacific Islander Initiative, an advisory commission Trump established by executive order the year before. Later in the year, she attended at least two more AAPI events in Washington, D.C., according to her Facebook page.
The article says that Yang is planning to get out of the day spa business and plans to move to Washington, DC. More on Yang from the Herald piece:
When Donald Trump became a serious candidate for president, politics began to dominate her social media presence.
In January 2017, she was in the crowd at Trump’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. Later that year, she snapped a photo with Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway. In December, she attended her first elite event at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, a poolside steak lunch.
In September 2018, Yang received a personalized note from the president and first lady. It read: “Thank you for your friendship and dedication to our cause. Leaders like you in Florida are the key to fulfilling our bold agenda to Make America Great Again!” [….]
Over the past two years, Yang has racked up a who’s who of photos with politicians at more than a dozen political events. She has enough pictures of the president’s private clubs to fill an album.
In 2018, she attended a Safari Night at Mar-a-Lago hosted by the president’s sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, as well as the White House’s celebration of the Lunar New Year at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. She took photos with Florida’s soon-to-be-governor, Ron DeSantis, at a pro-Israel gala held at Mar-a-Lago, met U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao in Washington, D.C., and posed with Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, U.S. Rep Matt Gaetz and former Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. She also posted a photograph of herself with DeSantis at a restaurant, saying she was having “brunch this morning with Florida’s next Governor.”
She was photographed with Donald Trump Jr. at a winter Mar-a-Lago gala for Turning Points USA, the conservative college organization, and met Eric Trump last month.
Yang claims she doesn’t know Trump personally and is just a volunteer at campaign events. But it turns out there’s a lot more to this story. David Corn at Mother Jones this morning: A Florida Massage Parlor Owner Has Been Selling Chinese Execs Access to Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
…there is another angle to the strange story of Yang: She runs an investment business that has offered to sell Chinese clients access to Trump and his family. And a website for the business—which includes numerous photos of Yang and her purported clients hobnobbing at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach—suggests she had some success in doing so.
Yang, who goes by Cindy, and her husband, Zubin Gong, started GY US Investments LLC in 2017. The company describes itself on its website, which is mostly in Chinese, as an “international business consulting firm that provides public relations services to assist businesses in America to establish and expand their brand image in the modern Chinese marketplace.” But the firm notes that its services also address clients looking to make high-level connections in the United States. On a page displaying a photo of Mar-a-Lago, Yang’s company says its “activities for clients” have included providing them “the opportunity to interact with the president, the [American] Minister of Commerce and other political figures.” The company boasts it has “arranged taking photos with the President” and suggests it can set up a “White House and Capitol Hill Dinner.” (The same day the Herald story about Yang broke, the website stopped functioning.) [….]
The GY US Investments website lists upcoming events at Mar-a-Lago at which Yang’s clients presumably can mingle with Trump or members of his family. This includes something called the International Leaders Elite Forum, where Trump’s sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, will supposedly be the featured speaker. Attendees, the site says, will include “Chinese elites from various countries, including the US states, as well as elite leaders from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Australia, Europe and other countries and regions.” Another event for which Yang’s firm says it can provide access is Trump’s annual New Year’s celebration at Mar-a-Lago. Elsewhere on the website, the firm boasts that “GY Company arranged a number of guests to attend the 2019 New Year’s Eve dinner. All the guests took photos with” members of Trump’s family. This page displays photos of Chinese executives and a Chinese movie star with Donald Trump Jr., suggesting that these pics were arranged by the company, and also includes a photo of Yang with Elizabeth Trump Grau.
I wonder if Yang has anything to do with all those Chinese licensing agreements and trademarks Ivanka keeps getting? Honestly, there is no bottom to the Trump family’s corruption, and there are probably more grifters like Yang picking up the scraps.
In other news, Gabriel Sherman has background on why former Fox News exec Bill Shine is no longer in charge of the White House communications shop: “Trump has been calling him Bill “no shine”: Why Roger Ailes’s Former Right Hand is Leaving the West Wing.
“Bill was iced out,” a Republican close to the White House told me, echoing the view of multiple sources that the president had been souring on the former Fox News co-president for months. “Trump has been calling him Bill ‘No Shine,’” one source briefed on the conversations told me.
Trump’s decision to hire Shine last July completed the Fox-ification of the West Wing. Shine got the job after his close friend Sean Hannity lobbied Trump to name Shine chief of staff. “The relationship was always Hannity based,” a former West Wing official explained. “When Trump hired him it was like he thought, ‘I’m getting Hannity.’ I’m like, no you’re getting the guy who produced Hannity.” Trump put Shine in charge of the beleaguered White House press operation with a mandate to plug leaks and improve his image. Shine accomplished neither. In Shine’s defense, the brief was impossible given Trump’s destructive Twitter habits. “Trump needs someone to blame for his bad press,” another former West Wing official said.
Shine was in over his head from the beginning. As Roger Ailes’s right hand, he had virtually no direct contacts with reporters and no involvement in Fox’s P.R. department. “Bill’s not a strategist,” a former Fox executive told me. That lack of experience was evident last September when Shine was caught flat-footed during the rollout of Bob Woodward’s book Fear. “Trump started complaining to people there was no advance prep on Woodward’s book,” the Republican close to the White House said. “Trump let Shine know he wasn’t happy.”
Trump should just hire Hannity as chief of staff and be done with it.
Medhi Hasan of The Intercept did a hard-hitting interview with Erik Prince and got him to admit to attending a high-level meeting at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign. (The New York Times reported on the meeting in May 2018). Here’s a summary of the story at HuffPost: Ex-Mercenary CEO Erik Prince Admits To Trump Tower Meet With Donald Jr. And Saudi Emissary.
Erik Prince, former head of mercenary business Blackwater, revealed in a bombshell interview Friday that he attended a meeting in Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. and a representative of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to discuss “Iran policy” during the presidential campaign.
The interview marked the first time Prince has publicly acknowledged such a meeting. Prince said in congressional testimony in 2017 that he had no “official” or “unofficial” role in the campaign — other than a “yard sign” and writing “papers” — according to the transcript of his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. Nor did he mention the meeting in his testimony, according to transcripts.
The New York Times reported last year that Prince organized the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with President Donald Trump’s eldest son and Lebanese-American businessman George Nader. Nader revealed at the meeting that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia wanted to aid Trump in his bid for the presidency, according to the newspaper.
The meeting also reportedly included now-top White House aide Stephen Miller and Israeli social media expert Joel Zamel.
The August meeting is yet another secret huddle with a representative of foreign governments that may have provided illegal international aid to sway the American election.
More stories to check out, links only:
Buzzfeed News: Military Doctors Told Them It Was Just “Female Problems.” Weeks Later, They Were In The Hospital.
NBC News: Trump administration responsible for even more separated children, judge rules.
USA Today: Judge: Trump administration may have to reunite thousands of additional migrant families.
Anne Applebaum at The Washington Post: The more we learn about Brexit, the more crooked it looks.
The Washington Post: Trump budget to propose slashing domestic spending, boosting defense.
The Washington Post: A Trump official said seismic air gun tests don’t hurt whales. So a congressman blasted him with an air horn.
Bloomberg: Russian Trolls Shift Strategy to Disrupt U.S. Election in 2020.
The New York Times: Chelsea Manning Is Jailed for Refusing to Testify in WikiLeaks Case.
The New York Times: The Daintiest Slap on Paul Manafort’s Wrist.
The Los Angeles Times: How could anyone think Paul Manafort lived an ‘otherwise blameless’ life?
What stories are you following today?