Donny has so lowered our expectations that he is given effusive credit if he ever performs a routine function even adequately.

Albert Hunt: The Age of Trump Is ‘Defining Deviancy Down’

When the president seems inept or corrupt, we shrug. If he ever fumbles through adequately, he is praised.

Pat Moynihan, the great politician-intellectual, warned about the dangers of “defining deviancy down,” in which worse and

Albert Hunt

worse behavior comes to be accepted as the norm.

The late New York senator’s essay, almost a quarter century ago, was about crime and family structure. Today it applies to the Trump presidency: the danger that chronic lying, ignorance of history and policy, petty invective, racial demagoguery and personal greed fall within the realm of the norm.

If President Donald Trump gives a speech that is reasonably coherent or takes a sensible action, suddenly even some critics treat it as a momentous occurrence. But wait a moment. That’s actually what presidents are supposed to do.

When he commits one of his especially egregious acts, the news media world too often fall into one flawed approach or another. Either they downshift into partisan mode — in which those who constantly attack him continue to do so, and those who critique his critics continue their barrage — or they pursue a misbegotten mission for “balance.”

The sudden firing of the FBI director, James Comey, last week gave us a perfect example. The move was shocking because Comey was leading the investigation into whether any Trump operatives colluded with the Kremlin to affect the American presidential election.

Virtually everything the White House said for two days was untrue: that the action had nothing to do with the Russian probe; that the president fired Comey only because of the recommendation of the attorney general, who supposedly was recusing himself from the matter, and the deputy attorney general; that the president was shocked at “atrocities” Comey committed in an earlier investigation of Hillary Clinton; and that morale was terrible at the FBI. It isn’t clear whether White House aides, and Vice President Mike Pence, lied or whether they were lied to by the president.

It gets worse. Roger Stone, a longtime dirty trickster who has been close to Trump starting three decades ago courtesy of the nefarious Roy Cohn, boasted that he advised the president to fire Comey. Stone, who last year predicted it “soon will be (John) Podesta’s time in the barrel” seven weeks before the Russian-spawned leak of the Clinton chairman’s emails, is a prime suspect in the investigation.

There is one clear truth: Trump fired Comey to stifle the Russia investigation. One reason the bureau considers it a “significant investigation” is a pattern of Trump associates caught in lies about their Russian connections: foreign policy adviser Carter Page, the administration’s initial national security adviser Michael Flynn and the attorney general Jeff Sessions.

Duplicity is the norm for Trump. As a candidate he repeatedly lied. As president he has persistently peddled fiction like the crazed charge that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower and baseless claims of widespread illegal voting.

But it is not the president alone who is defining deviancy down. It’s also how people react to his actions.

When Trump fired missiles at a Syrian airbase, the usually sensible Fareed Zakaria declared “He became President of the United States” with that action. To be president is to have a coherent policy and to pursue it. Can this administration articulate a policy on Syria or North Korea or Russia?

Clear thinking from leading voices in business, economics, politics, foreign affairs, culture, and more.

After Trump’s first address to Congress, the liberal commentator Van Jones gushed over his honoring the widow of a Navy Seal, calling it “one of the most extraordinary moments” in American politics. It was a nice touch, but not as memorable Ronald Reagan honoring the doomed Challenger space crew, or George W. Bush with a bullhorn at Ground Zero after 9/11 or Barack Obama singing “Amazing Grace” at a Charleston church after a white supremacist killed nine African-Americans at a Bible study.

(Actually one of the few memorable lines that evening was Trump’s call that “the time for trivial fights is over.” What a thought. In a tweet a few days ago, the president of the United States renewed his bickering with Rosie O’Donnell.)

This president has so lowered our expectations that he is given effusive credit if he ever performs a routine function even adequately.

James M. Perry, a great Wall Street Journal political reporter, used to worry about any would-be president who didn’t know much about history. Trump keeps demonstrating that he knows almost no history. On ethics, he and his family seems to view 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as a no-risk hedge fund to enrich themselves.

Imagine what Pat Moynihan would say.

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-05-14/the-age-of-trump-is-defining-deviancy-down

Despite ISIS and Trump, even more collusion and treason news comes out

Former CIA director Brennan warned FSB chief that Moscow’s election interference would backfire.

Former CIA director John Brennan said Tuesday that he personally warned the head of Russia’s intelligence service last year that Moscow’s interference in the U.S. election would backfire and cause severe damage to the country’s relationship with the United States.

Describing a previously undisclosed high-level discussion between Washington and Moscow, Brennan said in a phone conversation with the head of Russia’s domestic security service, the FSB, that “American voters would be outraged by any Russian attempt to interfere in the election.”

In congressional testimony, Brennan said that such meddling “would destroy any near-term prospect of improvement” in relations between the United States and Russia. Brennan said that the FSB chief, Alexander Bortnikov, twice denied that Russia was waging such a campaign, but said he would carry Brennan’s message to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

“I believe I was the first U.S. official to brace Russia on this matter,” Brennan said. His remarks came at the start of his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee as part of that panel’s ongoing investigation of a Russian influence campaign in the 2016 presidential election, as well as whether there was collusion or coordination between Moscow and members of the Trump campaign.

Brennan led the CIA during a critical period last year when U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia was not only attempting to disrupt the election but was actively seeking to defeat Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and help elect Trump.

Brennan was among the top officials who briefed then-President-elect Trump on that conclusion — which represented the consensus view of the CIA, the FBI and the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Brennan became so alarmed by the Russian intervention last fall that he held classified meetings with top congressional officials to impress upon them the unprecedented nature of Moscow’s interference.

Brennan testified that he was disturbed by intelligence that surfaced last year showing a pattern of contacts between Russian agents or representatives and individuals with links to the Trump campaign. “I was aware of intelligence and information about contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons that raised concerns in my mind,” Brennan said. He emphasized that the information he saw did not amount to proof of collusion or cooperation between Trump associates and Russia, but said that it “served as the basis for the FBI investigation.”

With that remark, Brennan appeared to identify the point of origin of the FBI investigation that began last July – the first time that a U.S. official has provided insight into what prompted the bureau probe.

He said that the targets of those Russian approaches may not even have been aware of the nature of the contacts, because Russian services often disguise their efforts by using intermediaries. “Many times [U.S. individuals] do not know that the individual they are interacting with is a Russian,” Brennan said.

The former CIA chief is the latest in a series of senior Obama administration officials to appear publicly before Congress in hearings that have often produced damaging headlines for Trump.

Earlier this month, former acting attorney general Sally Yates testified that she expected White House officials to “take action” after warning that then-national security adviser Michael T. Flynn had misled administration officials about his contacts with Russia.

At that same hearing, former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. said that Moscow’s leaders “must be congratulating themselves for having exceeded their wildest expectations with a minimal expenditure of resource,” a reference not only to the outcome of the 2016 race, but the chaos that has characterized the early months of the Trump administration.

Brennan has feuded publicly with Trump over the president’s treatment of intelligence agencies. In January, he lashed out at Trump for comparing U.S. spy agencies to Nazi secret police.

Brennan was particularly offended by Trump’s remarks during a speech at CIA headquarters on the day he was inaugurated. Trump used the CIA’s Wall of Honor — a collection of engraved stars marking lives of agency operatives killed in the line of duty — to launch a rambling speech in which he bragged about his election victory.

Brennan called the appearance “despicable” and said that Trump should be “ashamed.”

Greg Miller for The Washington Post.

 

The president reportedly attempted to enlist the head of the NSA and director of national intelligence to defend against the Russia inquiry.

Rogers NSA

Donald Trump reportedly tried, unsuccessfully, to enlist Admiral Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, and Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, to publicly refute the possibility of collusion after former FBI Director James Comey announced in March that the bureau is investigating potential links between Trump campaign associates and the Russian government, according to The Washington Post on Monday.

DNI Coats

Citing unnamed government officials, the Post’s Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima report that Trump asked Coats and Rogers “to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.” But, according to the report, the intelligence officials turned down the ask, “which they both deemed to be inappropriate.” The White House told the Post that it would not confirm or deny the allegations.

The news follows a series of potentially damaging reports centered on Trump and the former FBI director. Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that Trump asked Comey to halt a federal investigation into his former national security advisor Michael Flynn, who was ousted from the administration after making false claims about his contact with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and that Trump had unsuccessfully attempted to persuade Comey to pledge loyalty prior to abruptly firing him on May 9th. The White House disputes both reports.

Former FBI director Robert Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department to serve as a special counsel in the Russia investigation earlier this month. CNN reported on Monday that Mueller has already been briefed on memos drafted by Comey detailing his interactions with Trump. Monday’s Post report suggests there may be an even more extensive paper trail that could come under scrutiny as part of the investigation.

According to the Post:

Trump’s conversation with Rogers was documented contemporaneously in an internal memo written by a senior NSA official, according to the officials. It is unclear if a similar memo was prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to document Trump’s conversation with Coats. Officials said such memos could be made available to both the special counsel now overseeing the Russia investigation and congressional investigators, who might explore whether Trump sought to impede the FBI’s work.

Congressional Democrats have accused Trump of obstructing justice following reports that he attempted to intervene in the Flynn investigation and another Times report that Trump told Russian officials that he felt relieved of pressure caused by the Russia inquiry after firing Comey.

The Post’s report on Monday also contends that White House officials “sounded out top intelligence officials about the possibility of intervening directly with Comey to encourage the FBI to drop its probe of Michael Flynn.”

When Trump fired Comey, he originally cited a memo criticizing the FBI chief’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server. He later openly acknowledged in an interview with NBC News that “this Russia thing” was on his mind  when he made the decision to fire Comey, who at the time had been serving as the head of the bureau probing ties between Trump associates and the Russian government.

The White House has insisted that there is no evidence of collusion. And Trump flatly denied the possibility at a press conference last week, saying “there was no collusion” with Russia. In the letter the president sent to Comey telling him he had been fired, Trump wrote that he had “greatly appreciate[d]” the FBI director “informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.”

Despite Mueller’s appointment as special counsel, Democrats have continued to urge the formation of an independent commission to further probe the extent of Russian involvement in the election. Those calls, and the pressure on Congress to support such a move, may grow louder now.

 

 

 

 

 

Putin “The Puppet Master” comes to his puppet’s defense

Please play this video, you have see it to believe it.

Take note of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and is buddies yucking it up!

-Putin says he has transcript that PROVES Trump did not pass Russia any secrets, calling the claim ‘rubbish’ as he bashes ‘stupid’ US politicians he says want to undermine the President

-Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia was ready to hand a transcript of Trump’s meeting with Russia’s foreign minister over to U.S. lawmakers if that would help

-He said Moscow initially found debates about Russia meddling in U.S. politics as ‘funny’ but said Moscow is now ‘concerned’

-Putin dismissed the U.S. politicians who came up with the ‘nonsense’ as either being ‘stupid’ or ‘dangerous and unscrupulous’

-Inveighs against ‘political schizophrenia’ in Washington

-Putin implied that someone is hampering Trump’s efforts at being President

-Complains Trump isn’t being allowed to work ‘at full capacity’

-‘It’s hard to imagine what else can these people who generate such nonsense and rubbish can dream up next’

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4514632/Vladimir-Putin-says-prove-Trump-did-not-pass-Russia-secrets.html#ixzz4hLjB7sXt

Don’t worry Donny boy I’ll take care of those pesky reporters

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that U.S. President Donald Trump had not passed any secrets onto Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during a meeting in Washington last week and that he could prove it.

Speaking at a news conference alongside Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Putin quipped that Lavrov had not passed what he said were the non-existent secrets onto him either.

The Russian strongman complained about what he said were signs of ‘political schizophrenia’ in the United States. Backing up Trump, Putin said the U.S. president wasn’t being allowed to do his job properly.

‘It’s hard to imagine what else can these people who generate such nonsense and rubbish can dream up next,’ Putin complained.

Then he mocked the uproar that has thrown the White House into a tailspin.  “I spoke to him (Lavrov) today,” said Putin, smiling. “I’ll be forced to issue him with a reprimand because he did not share these secrets with us. Not with me, nor with representatives of Russia’s intelligence services. It was very bad of him.”

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4514632/Vladimir-Putin-says-prove-Trump-did-not-pass-Russia-secrets.html#ixzz4hLiwnNjK

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Dutch TV documentary links Traitor Trump to criminal racketeering

There is a Dutch TV documentary alleges that Donald Trump has extensive connections to Russia’s ruling oligarchs and a history of illegal racketeering.

No wonder why he won’t release his taxes or financial information

“Donald Trump’s business partners have included Russian oligarchs and convicted mobsters, which could make the president guilty of criminal racketeering charges,” wrote Steven Rosenfeld at AlterNet on Friday.

He continued, “That’s only one of the eyebrow-raising takeaways from a 45-minute Dutch documentary that first aired last week, ‘The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump, Part 1: The Russians.’”

The 45-minute documentary was produced by Zembla TV (an investigative series from the VARA Broadcasting Association, is a Dutch public broadcasting association that operates within the framework of the Netherlands Public Broadcasting system) They examine Trump’s alleged relationship with Russian mobster Felix Sater — which Trump reportedly took pains to hide from regulators.

It also looks at Trump’s arrangements with wealthy Russians that apparently allow them to move their money outside Russia and details the elaborate financial networks these families use as a “pyramid scheme for money laundering,” Rosenfeld said. “The financial trail exposed raises questions about whether Trump fired FBI Director James Comey because the FBI’s investigation of his campaign’s collusion with Russia was encroaching into Trump’s world of dark money and dubious business partners.”

Zembla promoted the documentary by saying, “For months, the FBI have been investigating Russian interference in the American presidential elections. ZEMBLA is investigating another explosive dossier concerning Trump’s involvement with the Russians: Trump’s business and personal ties to oligarchs from the former Soviet Union. Powerful billionaires suspected of money laundering and fraud, and of having contacts in Moscow and with the mafia. What do these relationships say about Trump and why does he deny them? How compromising are these dubious business relationships for the 45th president of the United States? And are there connections with the Netherlands? ZEMBLA meets with one of Trump’s controversial cronies and speaks with a former CIA agent, fraud investigators, attorneys, and an American senator among others.”

Zembla has also released Part Two of the series, “The King of Diamonds,” which explores Trump’s relationship with Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev, who is suspected of trading in blood diamonds.

Watch the English language version of “The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump,” embedded below:

Who will stop Tinpot Dictator Trump?

“YOU’RE FIRED!” That’s what Donald Trump would bark from his boardroom chair at the end of each episode of “The Apprentice.” For years, millions of Americans would smile, laugh, and even cheer in front of their television sets as the property tycoon performed his signature move.

There is little to laugh about this week. The firing of FBI Director James Comey by President Trump will be remembered as a dark and depressing day in the downward spiral of American democracy. It’s difficult to disagree with the scathing assessment of CNN’s senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, who described the sacking as a “grotesque” abuse of power. “This is the kind of thing that goes on in non-democracies,” he told host Wolf Blitzer in a clip that has since, deservedly, gone viral. “They fire the people who are in charge of the investigation.” Toobin continued: “This is something that is not within the American political tradition. … This is not normal, this is not politics as usual.”

There is indeed nothing “normal” about removing the head of the FBI from his post less than four months into a new presidency — and an FBI boss who has been credited with delivering that president his election victory, against the odds. You have to go all the way back to 1993 to find the last — and only other — time a president (William J. Clinton) decided to dismiss his FBI chief (William S. Sessions). And the latter, unlike Comey, was accused of a long list of bizarre ethics violations including, as the Washington Post reported at the time, “charging the government for personal travel,” diverting FBI aircraft to pick up his wife, Alice Sessions, in other cities, and deploying FBI cars “to take her to get her nails done.”

Nor is there anything “normal” about an American president sending his long-standing head of private security, and former bodyguard, to hand-deliver a letter of termination to his FBI chief. There are tinpot dictators in Africa who would have avoided doing that simply in order to avoid giving the wrong impression. Tinpot Trump, however, didn’t care. (His brutish security chief, Keith Schiller, lest we forget, spent the presidential campaign smacking Latino protesters and manhandling Latino reporters on behalf of his boss.)

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was also sacked by Trump via hand-delivered letter. The U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, was sacked by Trump after he refused to resign. What do Comey, Yates, and Bharara have in common? “They all were investigating Trump when they got fired, and there’s a Russia thread in each of their cases,” observes Shannon Vavra of Axios.

 

“You’re fired!” This is how Tinpot Trump deals with those who seek to hold him to account. We can’t say we weren’t warned. He has, after all, never hidden his authoritarian inclinations, his brazen disregard for political, legal, and social norms.

Trump, the property tycoon, slammed Mikhail Gorbachev for not responding to anti-Soviet protesters with a “firm enough hand,” while gazing in awe at the Chinese show of “strength” against the Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989.

Trump, the presidential candidate, lavished praise on Vladimir Putin as a president who “has been a leader far more than our president [Obama] has been” and who had “great control over his country.”

Trump, the president, in his very first speech to the nation, did his best impression of super-villain Bane from “The Dark Knight,” delivering a dystopian address on “American carnage” while vowing to “make America strong again.” On Twitter, he has referred to the media as an “enemy of the American people” and denounced a “so-called judge” who dared to rule against his “Muslim ban.”

Is it any wonder that experts on authoritarianism and fascism have been sounding the alarm bell for many months now? Listen to Ruth Ben Ghiat, the New York University history professor who has written a book on the rise of Mussolini in pre-war Italy. Trump “is an authoritarian,” she told me on my Al Jazeera English show in February, “who has the ability to stretch the boundaries of democracy to something unrecognizable.”

Is it any surprise that commentators have been invoking President Richard Nixon’s infamous “Saturday Night Massacre,” in which he fired Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox? Listen to John Dean, former White House counsel to Nixon, who believes Trump is much worse than Nixon and told The Atlantic in January: “The American presidency has never been at the whims of an authoritarian personality like Donald Trump.”

With Nixon, the checks and balances worked. He was stopped. Eventually. Who will stop Tinpot Trump? The congressional Republicans? You’re kidding, right? They have marched in partisan lockstep with their Dear Leader since he won their party’s presidential nomination last summer.

Consider their treatment this week of Yates, who testified in front of the Senate on Monday. Sen. Ted Cruz, whose wife Trump mocked as ugly and whose father he accused of colluding in the assassination of JFK, decided to attack Yates on behalf of the president over her refusal to defend Trump’s “Muslim ban” in court.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, who Trump has called “incompetent” and an “embarrassment,” decided to echo a key Trump talking point by asking Yates about who leaked classified information about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia, rather than about the substance of those ties.

These are the elected representatives in whose hands rests the fate of the U.S. Republic? Seriously?

Who will stop Tinpot Trump? The Democrats? They will line up to appear on MSNBC and loudly demand a special prosecutor; they may even become bold enough to talk impeachment. But they are the minority party in both chambers. They don’t have the votes to demand anything. Nor do they have much credibility in the eyes of the public — a recent poll revealed the Democrats to be less popular than the Republicans, Vice President Mike Pence, and Trump himself.

Who will stop Tinpot Trump? The courts? Here and there, maybe, but over one and possibly even two terms? And as the president’s patronage powers kick in? I doubt it. Remember: The Trump effect on the U.S. judiciary will go far beyond the appointment of ultra-conservative Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Trump has inherited more than 100 court vacancies from Obama, which is more than double the number of vacancies Obama inherited from Bush in 2009.

Who will stop Tinpot Trump? The U.S. media? Give me a break! So much of the so-called fourth estate has embarrassed itself with fawning and deferential coverage of the president; cable news sees Trump less as a threat to democracy and more as a cash cow and ratings boon. In recent weeks, CBS Sunday morning anchor John Dickerson was escorted out of the Oval Office after he asked Trump a question the latter didn’t like, while CNN’s Van Jones and Fareed Zakaria fell over one another to declare Trump “presidential” because he gave a good speech and launched a few missiles at Syria.

American checks and balances are out of whack. The firing of the FBI director is only the beginning. There will be more sackings; more political corruption; more abuses of power. And, again, we can’t say we weren’t warned. Tinpot Trump, cautioned John Dean back in January, “is going to test our democracy as it has never been tested.” Whether American democracy is up to that test is another matter.

https://theintercept.com/2017/05/10/after-james-comeys-firing-who-will-stop-trumps-tinpot-dictatorship/

Don’t cross me or you’re fired, oh ya, you’re fired anyway!

After President Trump’s bombshell announcement Tuesday afternoon that he had fired FBI director James B. Comey, a decision he connected to the agency’s ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential campaign, the nation is at a crossroads. Either the Senate can insist on replacing Comey with a credible new leader who will continue its investigation and follow the evidence wherever it leads, or it can tacitly accept the president’s blatant effort to derail the inquiry.

That path is almost too ominous to contemplate. Presidents bending law enforcement to their will is the hallmark of undemocratic regimes.

Since last summer, Comey’s agency has been investigating a matter of grave national concern: whether Russian intelligence agencies colluded with members of the Trump campaign to boost his candidacy last year. Evidence of close contacts has mounted: Not only did Trump’s advisers include men with financial ties to Russia, but figures like former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the campaign.

It was none other than Sessions who on Tuesday recommended firing Comey. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, also supported axing Comey. Rosenstein based his recommendation on the way Comey treated Hillary Clinton last year.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2017/05/09/will-congress-step-after-comey-firing/B6Ef44ANOp0YGrLK2aoIuJ/story.html

with all eyes on Trump’s Russian corruption you might have missed this other corruption

It’s been previously reported that HHS Secretary Tom Price has made some questionable stock trades that appear to be based on inside information he had as a congressman. But Robert Faturechi reports that there’s more:

On the same day the stockbroker for then-Georgia Congressman Tom Price bought him up to $90,000 of stock in six pharmaceutical companies last year, Price arranged to call a top U.S. health official, seeking to scuttle a controversial rule that could have hurt the firms’ profits and driven down their share prices, records obtained by ProPublica show.

….On March 17, 2016, Price’s broker purchased shares worth between $1,000 and $15,000 each in Eli Lilly, Amgen, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, McKesson, Pfizer and Biogen….The same day as the stock trade, Price’s legislative aide, Carla DiBlasio, emailed health officials to follow up on a request she had made to set up a call with Patrick Conway, the agency’s chief medical officer. In her earlier emails, DiBlasio said the call would focus on payments for joint replacement procedures. But that day, she mentioned a new issue.

“Chairman Price may briefly bring up … his concerns about the new Part B drug demo, as well,” she wrote. “Congressman Price really appreciates the opportunity to have an open conversation with Dr. Conway, so we really appreciate you keeping the lines of communication open.”

The “Part B drug demo” refers to a proposed Obama rule that removed the incentive for doctors to prescribe expensive drugs that don’t seem to improve patient outcomes. As it happens, there were plenty of folks in Congress from both parties who opposed this rule, so Price’s opposition wasn’t unusual. The difference is that all the others didn’t buy lots of pharmaceutical stock at the same time they were lobbying to stop a rule that might have eaten into pharmaceutical profits.

So far, the Price affair hasn’t attracted all that much attention. There are too many other Trump administration scandals to worry about. But this one has a decent chance of blowing up one of these days.

http://m.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2017/04/price-affair-dark-horse-corruption-scandal-just-waiting-erupt