On Wednesday, Jan. 21, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th U.S. president, following weeks of turmoil and anxiety about the prospect of more violence and attacks on democracy on the part of former President Donald Trump’s supporters.
The first three weeks of 2021 have been tumultuous. On Jan. 6, a violent mob incited by Trump stormed the Capitol building, intent on overturning the election results. A week after that, Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for the second time. And a week after that, after the U.S. surpassed 400,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic, Trump still hadn’t conceded. In the end, he departed the White House early on Inauguration Day, after a spree of late-night pardons, a revocation of his lobbying ban, and the extension of Secret Service protection to his four adult children and three top officials.
But while millions of Americans might have felt a sense of relief at the end of the most corrupt presidency in modern U.S. history, the anti-democratic forces that brought Trump to office remain a serious threat at all levels of government. Dozens of Republican members of the House and Senate who supported Trump’s efforts to deny the 2020 election results still hold office. Individual law enforcement officers and officials from state and local governments have been exposed for participating in the attack on the Capitol. The U.S. immigration system still contains myriad opportunities for abuse, the coronavirus pandemic rages on, and the myth of widespread voter fraud remains a pernicious threat to voting rights across the country.
American Oversight has been working in each of these areas to expose corruption and threats to democracy, and have been using our expertise in open records requests and litigation to investigate how state and local governments are handling the ongoing pandemic and responding to outside influences, from industry representatives to those seeking to make voting harder.
We’re also following redistricting efforts across the country, as states await data from the U.S. census, which Trump attempted to manipulate for political gain. Here are some related stories to follow:
Biden’s Census Executive Order and Dillingham’s Resignation: Trump’s push to exclude undocumented immigrants from the decennial census count used to determine congressional apportionment ended with his presidency. One of Biden’s first actions was to issue an executive order reversing that policy and rescinding Trump’s order that the Census Bureau produce citizenship data using government records. Earlier this week, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham resigned, following allegations that he and political appointees had pressured career employees to produce this information before Trump’s term ended. Concerns remain that Trump’s efforts may have discouraged participation among immigrant communities.
Arizona’s Redistricting Commission: On Thursday, the two Democrats and two Republicans on the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission selected a chair for the panel. This came after controversy over the political leanings of the other nominees for the powerful position, including two finalists whose selection had been unsuccessfully challenged in court by Democrats. We’ll also be keeping our eyes on the people who will be re-drawing the lines in other states.
Texas GOP Chair’s Support for Gerrymandering: Allen West, the chairman of the Texas Republican Party, said that state legislators should “not concern themselves with ‘fairness’” when turning toward redistricting this year. As Texas Public Radio noted in its report, West has also been a vocal proponent of the stolen-election lie, and he was criticized for an email calling for states to secede following the Supreme Court’s rejection of the lawsuit seeking to overturn the election results in several battleground states.
Georgia County Elections Board Member: A Republican member of the Gwinnett County Board of Registrations and Elections called for new voting restrictions, including an end to no-excuse absentee voting, following the gains made by the state’s Democratic Party in the recent election cycle. In her words: “They don’t have to change all of [the laws], but they’ve got to change the major parts of them so that we at least have a shot at winning.”
Of course, many details about the unprecedented corruption of the Trump administration still need to come to light, and those complicit in the former president’s abuses of office must be held accountable. We will continue to seek answers to our open questions about Trump, members of his administration, and the devastating policies they enacted, from family separation to the tragically bungled pandemic response.
Trump Administration’s Response to Racial Justice Protests vs. the Capitol Attack
Since the disturbing Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol, many have rightly pointed to the stark differences between how the federal government and law enforcement prepared for and responded to the mob and how they responded to last year’s widespread protests. We’ve been investigating last year’s authoritarian response, including the politicized Operation Legend that sent officers to cities across the country to boost Trump’s “law and order” message.
We summarized here some of what we’ve found so far. The records show a significant amount of resources being deployed to respond to protests, from the U.S. Marshals Service’s $1.4 million in related expenditures in Portland, Ore., to the involvement of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Other records bolster reports that the Trump administration frustrated local officials by failing to communicate and coordinate efforts on behalf of Operation Legend.
The Firing of Chris Krebs
In November, Trump fired the nation’s top election security official, Chris Krebs, after Krebs refuted Trump’s false claims of election fraud and defended the security of the 2020 vote. Krebs was the director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. We asked DHS for records of communications with the White House related to the terminations of Krebs or his deputy, Matt Travis, and the agency responded by saying it could locate no such records. The absence of records regarding such a high-level firing raises further questions about Trump’s retaliatory actions.
Tracking Taxpayer Spending at Trump Properties
Trump’s abuses of office also included his failure to financially divest from his business, creating unprecedented opportunities for the former president to profit off of public service. And profit he did. But calculating the full amount that taxpayers spent at his many properties — whether through visiting government officials or Trump’s own frequent trips to his golf clubs — is an unfinished project. We compiled what we’ve uncovered in public records so far, though our number is just a fraction of the public money that went straight to Trump’s pockets.
Pompeo’s Military Housing
Foreign Policy reported this week that Congress will continue to probe former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s controversial military housing arrangement, one of many questionable uses of taxpayer funds that Pompeo and his wife were criticized for during his tenure, from lavish political dinners to frequent flights to his home state of Kansas. Last year, we obtained a memo from the Navy indicating that the Pompeos’ request for military housing raised alarm about logistics and legality.
Recent Trump appointee at National Security Agency placed on leave (CBS)
Biden fires Trump-appointed labor board general counsel who refused to resign (Washington Post)
Records: Trump allies behind rally that ignited Capitol riot (Associated Press)
GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert gave Capitol tour to ‘large’ group before the riots, Democratic lawmaker says (Washington Post)
Controversial head of Voice of America resigns hours after President Biden takes office (Washington Post)
The ‘deep state’ of loyalists Trump is leaving behind for Biden (Politico)
Trump’s 11th-hour assault on the civil service by stripping job protections runs out of time (Washington Post)
Trump team tries to milk the politics of food boxes to its final days (Politico)
Pompeo clings to Trump’s legacy with an eye toward inheriting the MAGA base (Washington Post)
The Coronavirus Pandemic
Part of Investigation: