Last week, I wrote about the political implications of SCOTUS Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, and essentially, how liberal apathy put us in the position of Donald Trump being able to jam Supreme Court Justices through a collaborationist Senate.
At the time, it seemed clear that was due to a combination of his age (he’s 81) and Trump convincing Kennedy he’d be able to get a nomination confirmed before the November midterm and the possible loss of the Senate to Democrats.
But what a difference a few days makes.
A conspiracy theory has grown out of the relationship between Trump and Anthony Kennedy’s son Justin, formerly a high-level official at Deutsche Bank – which happens to be one of Donald Trump’s most prolific lenders for the purposes of purchasing real estate.
In fact, as global head of the real-estate capital markets division, Justin Kennedy oversaw loans of over $1 billion to Trump and the Trump Organization for the purchase and renovation of skyscrapers in New York and Chicago – at a time when most banks wouldn’t touch Trump due to his history of bankruptcies.
Beyond that, Deutsche Bank has been fined for its links to Russian money laundering. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the bank in connection for money still owed to it by Trump. Kennedy’s retirement was fairly sudden, and he’d gone as far as to hire clerks for the upcoming SCOTUS term.
So did Trump force Kennedy out? Did Kennedy retire to protect his son? What the hell is going on here?
Like many other conspiracy theories, a real nugget of information was seized on by those who thought it was just one part of something much bigger.
While the Kennedy/Trump connection made a lot of noise in the media, it’s not clear why it’s significant, or what it has to do with Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. Or even if it has any connection at all.
But given the tonnage of legal jeopardy and financial chicanery Donald Trump has been involved in, it’s only natural to look at these connections and see them as tendrils of a conspiracy that either eliminated the potential swing vote against Trump should any legal or impeachment matters reach SCOTUS, or gave Trump another justice to nominate in exchange for Justin Kennedy keeping quiet about the money he loaned Trump.
Even the infamous #QAnon conspiracy theory got in on it, with the mysterious Q positing that Kennedy’s retirement may not have been by choice.
But that’s not all that’s going on here. Not by a long shot.
For one thing, the role that Justin Kennedy played in loaning money to Donald Trump is far from clear. Trump was a client of the private banking wing of Deutsche, not commercial real estate where Justin worked. Beyond that, Justin left DB in 2009, long before the money laundering took place, and before Trump borrowed the money that Robert Mueller is investigating.
There’s also no indication that Anthony Kennedy was forced out, and Politico reported back in April 2017 that Justin was serving as a kind of backchannel between his father and the president – one where Trump was trying to get a sense of what Anthony was thinking as far as retirement.
So did Kennedy retire because Trump or the FBI had leverage on his son? Did he do it to protect Trump in the event of impeachment?
And was Justin Kennedy involved in any of the business dealings of Trump that are now under the microscope by the Special Counsel?
We honestly don’t know yet. The connections are worthy of study – but we have to be prepared that they amount to nothing other than the connections that any two people in positions of wealth and power have to each other.
But what is clear is that Anthony Kennedy isn’t the first SCOTUS justice to be pulled into desperate conspiracy theories trying to put some kind of nefarious spin on a natural occurrence.
In fact, it happened just a few years ago with the death of Antonin Scalia, who passed away on February 12th, 2016 while on a hunting trip in Texas. His sudden death immediately gave rise to a conspiracy theory that either Obama or the deep state had him murdered.
No less than Donald Trump said in the days after Scalia’s death “They say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow.”
Scalia took no security with him, despite the US Marshalls being available, and no autopsy was performed.
Finally, there’s the seeming admission by Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, who said in a hacked email from Wikileaks that he “didn’t think wet works meant pool parties at the Vineyard.”
“Wet works” is a nickname for targeted killing. And that email? Sent four days before Scalia’s death.
But just like the obtuse connection between Justin Kennedy and Donald Trump, the conspiracy theory that Scalia was murdered isolates a few elements of the incident, while ignoring the totality of it.
For one thing, Scalia was in extremely poor health. He had coronary artery disease, obesity, diabetes, degenerative joint disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and high blood pressure. He was also a heavy smoker. Indeed, he was deemed too weak to undergo minor surgery weeks before his trip.
There was no autopsy because his family insisted on it – likely because they knew there was no point to it.
And the pillow over his face? It turns out he had part of a pillowcase over his eyes, and the “pillow over the face” quote was an out of context snippet from the ranch owner.
Nothing about his death is unusual given the context of his health and age. Nor is there anything unusual about Anthony Kennedy’s retirement, given his age, and the political situation facing Republicans.
But still, Supreme Court seats don’t open up very often. So when they do, it’s human nature to invent massive conspiracies to explain them, rather go with than the vagaries of old age and politics.
Where’s the intrigue in that?