| The Beat |

Swampington, D.C.

The sense that where Trump and his foes are concerned, the Washington establishment (a.k.a. “the Swamp”) follows very different rulebooks

The central organizing principle of American politics today is that despite everything, the percentage of Donald Trump’s support inside the Republican Party is in the upper 60s. That number is the fulcrum around which everything else revolves. It’s the reason that GOP challengers tiptoe gingerly round the front-runner, scared of alienating his base. It’s the reason that a weak Biden-Harris ticket is still in business, with Democrats desperate for a candidate who is a proven Trump-slayer.

While his opponents wonder anew at Trump’s Teflon-like ability to shake off scandal and defeat, there is one very good reason for it: the sense that where Trump and his foes are concerned, the Washington establishment (a.k.a. “the Swamp”) follows very different rulebooks.

That sense was reinforced last week as two IRS whistleblowers alleged swampy behavior of the worst kind, testifying that the Justice Department slow-walked investigations into the Bidens’ dealings with Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.

Those dealings have always emitted a certain whiff. With no discernible credentials other than being the prodigal son of the vice president, Hunter Biden’s lucrative sinecure on the board of Burisma seemed — at best — extraordinarily providential.

When Joe Biden told a think tank in 2018 that as VP, he’d leaned on Kyiv to fire an allegedly corrupt prosecutor — who just happened to be sniffing around Burisma in an attempt to root out corruption — the pong level increased.

The IRS agents’ testimony raises strong questions about the Department of Justice’s own impartiality leading up to Hunter’s plea bargain, which Republicans call a “sweetheart deal.”

Joseph Ziegler, the main agent investigating the case, told Congress that despite prosecutors in the DOJ agreeing that Hunter Biden’s serial tax avoidance was felonious, he wasn’t charged. Further, the investigation was blocked and hamstrung at every turn, and normal procedures were ignored in Biden’s case.

Gary Shapley, a supervising agent, added that in a pattern of behavior that consistently favored Hunter, prosecutors concealed information like the contents of the latter’s notorious laptop; slow-walked execution of search warrants; a US attorney ruled against executing a search warrant on Joe Biden’s house because of the problematic optics; and prosecutors were instructed not to ask about the “Big Guy” or “Dad” (allegedly code for Joe Biden) when conducting interviews with Hunter.

“There should not be a two-track justice system,” said Shapley, “yet in this case, there was.”

Until now, Attorney General Merrick Garland has been able to argue that the investigation was walled off from DOJ pressure, under the sole purview of US Attorney for Delaware David Weiss, a Trump appointee.

That line is now increasingly tenuous. As Shapley testified, he felt obligated to speak out when he heard Weiss tell a roomful of senior FBI and IRS officials that he was not the ultimate authority in the case — thus contradicting Garland’s claim.

These allegations are qualitatively different from what came before. They aren’t the fevered ravings and oppo research of Trumpworld, but the sober assessments of the IRS agents entrusted with the investigation. While Shapley is a Republican, Ziegler is a socially liberal Democrat.

None of this will move the political needle much. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, painted the whistleblowers as well-meaning, but too junior and ill-informed to know of the correct workings of the DOJ.

So, the show will go on: Republicans will vilify Biden to the best of their ability, and Democrats will defend him come what may.

But the image of Swampington, D.C., in action, as an establishment closes ranks to protect its own, in a morass-like murk of political intrigue, is oxygen to the very Trumpism that Democrats claim to fear.

X Marks the Spot

How do customers react when you change the name of their favorite brand to something both meaningless and vaguely brooding? How about when you do it mid-crisis, as your former best-in-class brand is beset by a powerful challenger and a falling share price?

Elon Musk is about to find out. Never a man to do things by half, the Tesla and SpaceX boss has reacted to the slumping fortunes of Twitter, the social media giant that he paid $44 billion for last year, by changing its name to “X.”

Good luck with that. Twitter/X Corp. was recently valued at a mere $15 billion — or a third of its value last October, and the renaming is unlikely to stop the freefall. In fact, irritating consumers by frivolous gestures like this is normally bad for business.

When it comes to Twitter, it’s not clear that Musk is driven by the bottom line, though. His release of the Twitter files showing the company’s censorship of heterodox views on Covid and Trump was ideological, in line with his increasing identification with the right.

But if he buries Twitter, driving it into the ground by a combination of frivolity and ideology, then the X of this latest decision will mark the spot.

History Desk

What would the Holocaust have looked like if the Nazis had conquered Britain? The display of Hashgachah that was the Royal Air Force’s performance in the Battle of Britain means that it’s thankfully an academic question, a counter-factual of history.

But what re-emerged this week was that the Holocaust actually did take place on British soil, on the Crown Dependency of Alderney, part of the Channel Islands, which lie a few miles off the French coast.

In 1940, Alderney’s population was evacuated to Britain, as the islands were seen as too difficult to defend after the German takeover of France.

Over the course of the war, thousands of forced laborers, including what’s estimated to be hundreds of Jews, built fortifications for the Germans there. Many died there, and are buried in mass graves. Others were sent to the death camps.

The issue of what happened on British soil — and the postwar cover-up by the UK government — is back in the news after Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives ordered a review of the episode. It’s a reminder that the depths of Holocaust suffering will never really be plumbed.

1,000 Kilometers

What’s happened to Ukraine’s long-touted summer offensive? Even after extensive rearming from Western sources, Kyiv’s forces have quietly ground almost to a halt, as they encounter dense Russian fortifications along the 1,000-kilometer front line. Re-supplied by China and playing defense, Russia has shown that it’s capable of adapting to the 21st-century version of trench warfare. In that meat-grinder, Moscow’s numbers are telling. Adept at telling his country’s story, Ukraine’s Zelensky has a difficult task at hand; failure discourages his Western donors, and makes it more likely that they’ll twist his arm to come to terms with Putin.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 971)

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