An intriguing story broke this week about possible corruption surrounding eagerly awaited news of Donald Trump’s presidential pardons. He got the turkey out of the way, as expected for Thanksgiving, and added a somewhat controversial pardon of Michael Flynn, which the Democrats are unhappy about because they used Flynn’s case to launch the obsessive Russiagate campaign.
Alex Acosta and the Guidelines of the Elite
Associated Press Journalist Eric Tucker has had access to a heavily redacted Justice Department court document from August of this year revealing “that certain individuals are suspected of having acted to secretly lobby White House officials to secure a pardon or sentence commutation and that, in a related scheme, a substantial political contribution was floated in exchange for a pardon or ‘reprieve of sentence.’”
Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:
The principal form of currency used by the corporate and financial elite in Washington, DC, for the purchase of their essentials: friendly laws, lucrative contracts, pardons, diverse forms of influence and all other monetizable commodities that have a starting price of no less than $1 million.
The Guardian quotes from the report the more brutal description of the acts as “bribery-for-pardon schemes.” President Trump predictably explained the whole thing away: “Pardon investigation is Fake News!” Any reasonable observer, with an understanding of how news cycles work, would be tempted to reformulate this as, “Pardon investigation is Ephemeral News!” In all likelihood, this will be a one-day scandal. CBS News offers this commentary: “While the release by the court indicates the investigation was underway during the summer, it is unclear whether the allegations have yet or ever will be brought before a grand jury.” When a journalist says something is “unclear,” it means simply that it “ain’t gonna happen.”
Is this a call for justice? More likely, the story itself is the result of a leak by someone, possibly even by a Trump loyalist attempting to warn the president that pardons of particularly toxic people could irreparably damage his reputation. Those whose names were redacted in the document will now understand that their chances of receiving a pardon have been nullified. And they won’t even be able to blame Trump himself for not honoring their friendship, meaning that, if justice served to them is not too severe, they will have other opportunities to support Trump’s future campaigns.
Twenty years ago, President Bill Clinton’s set a precedent with a last-minute pardon of ace fraudster, tax evader and billionaire Mark Rich. This caused a scandal at the time. Clinton even admitted to Newsweek in 2002 that “It wasn’t worth the damage to my reputation.” Clinton’s remorse may have been slightly disingenuous because, for one thing, by 2002, Clinton’s reputation was clearly on an upward tick. His expression of mild regret also allowed him to deviate some of the blame to both the Reagan administration and Israel.
Further investigation revealed that Clinton’s explanation was at least half-right, even if he lied about the Reagan justice department’s contention that Rich was wrongly accused. Rich’s donations to the Clinton machine turned out not to be the determining factor in his decision to pardon. Joe Conason, writing for Salon in 2009, revealed that the more compelling reason Clinton had for pardoning Rich was that “Rich had long been a financial and intelligence asset of the Jewish state.”
In 2016, Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of CounterPunch, reconstructed the entire timeline of unsavory acts and squalid relationships leading to Rich’s pardon. It reveals something less anecdotal and more substantial about US politics in general. St. Clair states his case brutally: “Marc Rich bought his pardon,” but not just through direct contributions. He reminds readers that at one point, prior to the pardon, Rich “neared the top of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.” This was not about misdemeanors or “poor judgment.”
St. Clair exposed the deeper, more complex truth behind the “request” by the Israelis: “Rich offered his services to the Israeli government, especially the Mossad.” Rich had already fled to Europe from US justice and was actively exploiting his vast financial resources. According to St. Clair, “Rich was subsidizing Israeli intelligence operations. He financed numerous covert missions and allowed Mossad operatives to work covertly in his offices around the world.”
Some might see parallels with Jeffrey Epstein. When Epstein’s federal prosecutor Alex Acosta — recently accused of “poor judgment” — was grilled by the Trump transition team before his nomination as secretary of labor, he indicated that Epstein was untouchable because he “belonged to intelligence.” Acosta never indicated whose intelligence he was working for, but other sources have revealed connections between the Maxwell family — Robert and Ghislaine — with the Mossad. In today’s world of politics, as soon as the word “intelligence” is evoked, wise people know that it’s prudent to stop asking questions.
We will probably never know whether Israel has anything to do with the pardons of the names redacted in the court document that has just come to light concerning eventual Trump pardons. The crimes of which they are accused sound more like the desperate initiatives of the types of grifters and scoundrels whose friendship Trump has cultivated throughout his career. But the case of Clinton’s pardon of Mark Rich demonstrates that pardons have never really been about the personal magnanimity of a departing president. If Trump is interested in demonstrating magnanimity, he might seal his reputation as someone truly independent of the establishment by pardoning Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning. That seems unlikely.
Concerning Trump’s eventual self-pardon, Ruth Marcus at The Washington Post may be historically correct when she writes: “The United States is not a place, chants notwithstanding, where those in power lock up their political enemies. There is a delicate line between the pursuit of justice and indulging the urge for retribution.”
But it is also a place whose unity, which is increasingly frayed, depends on a shared belief by most citizens in basic ethical ideals linked to the idea of democracy. These ideals are codified less by the text of the Constitution than by the idea associated with the cartoon character, Superman, “truth, justice and the American way.” Donald Trump’s assault on truth and neglect of justice appear to have remodeled many people’s idea of “the American way.”
The fraying of any sense of unity or national purpose has been accelerating, particularly over the past four years. But Trump is the effect rather than the cause of it. His genius has been to serve as the detective’s magnifying glass to reveal the extent of the damage as well as clues pointing to the culprit. The rift has become not just visible after magnification, but glaringly obvious to the entire world. Nothing demonstrates it better than the showdown that is expected to take place on January 20, the date on which Trump has threatened to launch his 2024 presidential campaign in a race for ratings against Joe Biden’s inauguration.
It may well be that the US is not a nation where “those in power lock up their political enemies,” but this is the first time a guilty leader has refused to facilitate a smooth transition. Ruth Marcus is wrong to dignify Trump with the label of Biden’s “political enemy.” He has become a symbol of every trend that has pushed US society and culture to an immoral extreme. The list includes greed, narcissism, bullying, destructive competition, in-your-face consumerism and bling, amoral materialism, assertiveness understood as aggressiveness, pathological individualism and the exaltation and adoration of celebrity.
Trump neither created nor imposed any of these modes of perception and values that have become the dominant character traits of post-industrial US culture. Its adepts take pride in neutralizing those who militate for respect, humility and concern for the downtrodden. They define an entire class of modern social norms. Trump simply exemplified them in his person. He overturned the tradition of hypocrisy and Tartufferie in which presidents and social leaders not only masqueraded their own deep respect for these pernicious trends, but encouraged others to develop them.
While playing the role of dignified decision-makers, traditional political leaders charged with managing the economy considered all these traits to be the necessary ferment of the consumer society, a concept that justified the idea of continual progress and positioned the US as exceptional.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]
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