In 2018, impunity came to an end.
Ever since the 2016 election, it’s been common for some people to refer to whatever year we’re in as a synonym for dystopian weirdness. (Last year, for example, CNN’s Jake Tapper tweeted “Peak 2017” about a headline saying, “US ambassador denies own comments, then denies denial.”) The world has felt continuously off-kilter, like a TV drama whose writers developed a sudden fondness for psilocybin. Last month astronomers at Harvard wrote that a strange oblong space object “may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization,” and it barely made a ripple in the news. There was simply too much else going on.
Amid this ceaseless barrage, things many of us have taken for granted have been called into question, including the endurance of liberal democracy, the political salience of truth and the assumption that it would be a big scandal if a president were caught directing illegal payoffs to a pornographic film actress. Often it feels like in American politics, none of the old rules still apply.
.. But in 2018, they did. (At least some of them.) Alien probes aside, this was a year in which things started to make sense again. The Democratic landslide in the midterms proved that the laws of political gravity haven’t been suspended; Trump’s incompetence, venality and boorishness had electoral consequences. Further, it was a year of justice and accountability for at least some of those who foisted this administration on the country. An awful menagerie of lowlifes was swept into power by Trump’s victory two years ago. In 2018, at least some of them started to fall back out again.
.. At the beginning of 2018,
- Michael Cohen was still Trump’s loyal personal lawyer.
- Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was sleeping in his own bed at night.
- Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy, had not yet made a plea deal with Robert Mueller, the special counsel.
- Mueller’s investigation hadn’t yet sent anyone to prison.
- The Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about work he’d done with Gates for the former Ukrainian president, became the first, in May.
- He was followed by Richard Pinedo, seller of fake IDs and fraudulent bank accounts,
- and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.
When this year began,
- Scott Pruitt was still indulging in spectacular corruption as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Omarosa Manigault Newman had just been fired from her senior administration job and had not yet revealed her stash of secret recordings.
- Rob Porter, who has been accused of abuse by two ex-wives, was still White House staff secretary.
- David Sorensen, accused of abuse by one ex-wife, was still a White House speechwriter.
At the start of 2018, the
- casino mogul Steve Wynn was the Republican National Committee’s national finance chairman. He resigned after The Wall Street Journal reported that he’d been accused of committing multiple acts of sexual harassment and assault. (Wynn denied assaulting anyone.)
- Elliott Broidy, owner of a private security company, was an R.N.C. deputy national finance chairman. He resigned after The Journal reported that he’d paid hush money to a former Playboy model who said she’d had an abortion after he got her pregnant.
- (Cohen was also a deputy chairman; he resigned in June.)
As this year began,
- Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign head and chief White House strategist, whose sympathy for white nationalists did so much damage in so little time, was still running Breitbart News. He’d not yet burned his bridges to Trumpworld with his comments in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury,” which was published in January. Since then, Bannon has lost considerable pull. He most recently made headlines after he was scheduled to speak at a conference on sex robots; a backlash to his invitation led to the conference being postponed.
- McClatchy reported that the F.B.I. was investigating whether Russia funneled money through the National Rifle Association to aid the Trump campaign. Throughout the year, as evidence of sketchy connections between the N.R.A. and Russia kept emerging, many on the right poo-pooed it. (“This attempt to turn the N.R.A. into another cog in the Russian conspiracy is laughable, but the mainstream media apparently still find it deeply compelling,” wrote Breitbart editor Joel Pollak in March.)
- On Thursday, Maria Butina, a Russian who’d nurtured ties to N.R.A. leadership and to Trumpworld, pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as a foreign agent. The plea described how, after arranging a junket to Moscow for a “Gun Rights Organization,” she wrote a message to her handler that was translated as, “We should allow them to express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.”
Apr 24, 2018 – Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt listens to President … Scott Pruitt moved Tuesday to limit what science can be used in writing … The proposed rule would only allow the EPA to consider studies where the …
Last summer one of his senior schedulers, Madeline G. Morris, was fired by Mr. Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff, Kevin Chmielewski, who said he let her go because she was questioning the practice of retroactively deleting meetings from the calendar. Mr. Chmielewski has emerged as a harsh critic of Mr. Pruitt after a bitter falling out that led to his departure from the agency as well.
.. Madeline G. Morris, was fired by Mr. Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff, Kevin Chmielewski, who said he let her go because she was questioning the practice of retroactively deleting meetings from the calendar.
.. One case involved the deletion of several of Mr. Pruitt’s meetings during a spring 2017 trip to Rome, including one with a controversial cardinal then under investigation for sexual assault.
.. The E.P.A. acknowledged in a series of legal memos last year that it did in fact direct an agency scheduler — although it did not name the person — to revise Mr. Pruitt’s daily calendar retroactively. The agency said it was doing so to remove errors that had been left in the electronic record after various events were canceled or happened differently than expected.
.. Ryan Jackson, Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff, dismissed Mr. Chmielewski’s criticism as a fabrication by a disgruntled former employee. “Whatever he’s telling you about altering calendars is not correct,”
.. Ms. Morris was called last July by two agency lawyers, who told her that the changes she was making to Mr. Pruitt’s schedule might be illegal, according to a person familiar with the conversation. The following month, Ms. Morris noticed that a number of changes had been made to the record of a trip Mr. Pruitt had taken to Italy. Ms. Morris questioned the legality of the changes to Mr. Chmielewski and Mr. Jackson, and a few days later was fired, he said.
.. In another potential violation of federal law, the E.P.A. continued to pay Ms. Morris for six weeks after she was fired from the agency.
.. In July 2017, according to Mr. Chmielewski, Ms. Morris was instructed by him and Mr. Jackson to retroactively delete some meetings Mr. Pruitt held with lobbyists and replace them with staff meetings in the calendar, which was maintained in Microsoft Outlook. He and other people familiar with the calendar also said Ms. Morris was asked not to enter some of Mr. Pruitt’s meetings on the official calendar.
.. Mr. Chmielewski cited an August 2017 meeting with billionaire Denver-based businessman Philip Anschutz, a prominent donor to Republican Senate candidates and owner of an energy company regulated by the agency. Mr. Pruitt’s calendar for that day, which was publicly released, does not include the meeting.
.. including a special tour of the necropolis below St. Peter’s Basilica — as well as one meeting with Cardinal George Pell, a prominent Vatican leader who was then being investigated on allegations of sexual abuse.
If embattled Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt were to leave office, the reins of the agency could fall to a former Senate aide and coal mining lobbyist who was confirmed 53 to 45 Thursday afternoon to become second-in-command at the EPA.
Andrew Wheeler worked at the EPA more than two decades ago and later served as an adviser to Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), a high-profile critic of climate science who famously brought a snowball to the Senate floor as a prop. For the past nine years, Wheeler has been a lobbyist for a variety of companies, including Appalachian coal mining firm Murray Energy.
.. Wheeler, who works for the lobbying firm Faegre Baker Daniels, received $370,000 in fees last year from Murray Energy
.. Murray asked Perry to increase payments to coal and nuclear plants supplying electricity to the Midwest and Appalachia. Perry tried to implement such a plan, but independent electricity regulators rejected it... “It is critically important that the public understand Wheeler’s career as a lobbyist for some of the worst actors in the energy industry,” Keith Gaby, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund, said in an email this week. “Andrew Wheeler running EPA would go far beyond having an administrator overly influenced by lobbyists — the head of EPA would be an energy industry lobbyist.”.. “The mission of the EPA is to protect human health and the environment, but Andrew Wheeler has dedicated his career to weakening environmental protections, serving as a lobbyist for numerous fossil fuel clients, including one of our country’s biggest polluters, Murray Energy.. Karpinski pointed to a measure Inhofe co-sponsored known as the Clear Skies Act, which would have undermined the landmark Clean Air Act. Inhofe was a vocal critic of climate-change science, which he said was “the greatest hoax” ever foisted on U.S. citizens.
.. Wheeler spent four years as a career employee at the EPA under President George H.W. Bush and President Bill Clinton before moving to the Hill.
.. Wheeler wrote a post on his personal Facebook account the day before Super Tuesday pleading with those considering voting for Trump to reconsider. In his six-point critique, Wheeler questioned Trump’s character, business acumen and viability as a general-election candidate. Trump was a “bully,” Wheeler wrote in the since-deleted Facebook post obtained by The Post. He said that Trump “hasn’t been that successful” in business and “has more baggage then all of the other Republican candidates combined.”
.. Wheeler added that Trump “has demonstrated through the debates and interviews that he doesn’t understand how the government works.”
.. But Wheeler has changed his tune.
“I was just looking at the debates and what I saw on the news, and I hadn’t focused on what he was saying,”
.. when I started looking into what he was saying and what his campaign and what his candidacy was about, I was fully on board.”
.. Three Democrats voted for Wheeler, all from coal states. They included Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.).
.. “Andrew Wheeler is Big Oil’s backup plan in case Scott Pruitt’s corruption finally finishes him,”