We’re in a pretty dramatically different situation in the Democratic primaries than we were a week ago. Everything could change on Tuesday. But for now it looks much more likely that Bernie Sanders will be the nominee than it did a week ago or certainly a month or two ago. With that in mind, I wanted to flag a set of facts that tie back to what I discussed earlier this afternoon about Trump’s even more blatant post-impeachment abuses of power.
Most of these facts have been rattling around my head for the last six months but a reader from the Bernie world flagged an article to mention this evening which renewed my attention.
Back in 2016 and then again into 2017 a series of press reports raised questions about Sanders’ wife Jane Sanders and her time as President of Burlington College. The college underwent a dramatic expansion under Sanders’ leadership and then closed in 2016 under a mountain of debt. Press reports and political critics suggested that Jane Sanders and Senator Sanders’ Senate office had pressured People’s United Bank to make a $6.7 million loan to the bank which underwrote the expansion.
That’s the accusation.
Sanders denies the claims about his office, calling it “nonsense,” and no one has ever been formally accused of any wrongdoing. But let’s set the accusation and its merits aside for the moment and look at where those criticisms and press reports came from. They start with a guy named Brady Toensing who sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney in Vermont asking him to probe whether Jane Sanders’ committed fraud with respect to that loan.
Toensing’s efforts did trigger a federal investigation of Jane Sanders, a probe which was finally closed with no charges filed in November 2018, according to Sanders spokesman Jeff Weaver.
Now, who is Brady Toensing? Depending on who you ask he is either a “prominent muckraker” or a garden variety GOP hit man. But more directly relevant for our purposes he was the Vermont campaign chairman for Donald Trump in 2016 and Vice Chair of the Vermont State Republican party.
Even more noteworthy is that he is the son of the right-wing legal power couple Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova, who are at the heart of the Ukraine pressure campaign on behalf of President Trump. They are regulars on Fox News as Trump defenders and in the mix with Rudy Giuliani in the effort to manufacture dirt on Joe Biden in Ukraine. They’re signed up to work for Dmitry Firtash, that Ukrainian oligarch who’s fighting extradition to the U.S. to face bribery charges. The deal explained in various press reports in recent months was pretty straightforward: Firtash gets former prosecutor Shokin to make accusations against Biden and Giuliani, Toensing and DiGenova get Bill Barr to get Firtash off the hook for criminal charges in the U.S. (Meanwhile, Toensing and DiGenova also represent Joe Solomon and had Lev Parnas working for them as part of their defense of Firtash.)
We discussed it all in this infographic.
So what happened to Brady Toensing? Well, he’s moving up in the Trump era. Last year he was installed as Senior Counsel in the DOJ’s Office of Legal policy, the shop that handles major policy initiatives and I believe judicial nominations.
So is Brady Toensing going to help or goad to get Jane Sanders put in jail? It’s hard really to see that as a question since he literally already has. When you add to that that he’s a new nepotism hire under Bill Barr, courtesy of his right-wing power couple parents who were at the center of the Ukraine scandal to manufacture evidence against the Bidens, what’s probably coming down the pike really speaks for itself.
In another political moment this might simply be a matter of the Toensing’s dishing stories to Drudge or hiring a Breitbart hatchet man to write an Inside the Sanders Corruption Crime Family book. But remember: Bill Barr has made it pretty clear he sees the law as an adjunct of President Trump’s personal and political interests. This is crystal clear. What we’ve seen from Trump in the last 48 hours shows a President who has tossed off whatever minimal restraints have contained him in the last three years. Indeed, when Sen. Lamar Alexander issues his anemic criticisms of the President’s Ukraine scheme and claimed Trump has learned a lesson he said this. “What [the] President should have done is, if he was upset about what Joe Biden and his son, what they were doing in Ukraine, he should have called the Attorney General and told him that.”
To put it mildly, that is not what the President should do. The President should not enlist a foreign head of state to target his political rivals. He should also not ask his Attorney General to target his political rivals. But based on Sen. Alexander’s plain words another gross abuse of power is now being presented as presidential best practices.
If Sander’s momentum towards the nomination grows this political targeting will happen as surely as night follows day. So it’s important to start preparing for it now.