This past Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows made the startling assertion on CNN that the United States was “not going to control” the coronavirus pandemic, and instead going to rely on treatments and (yet to be approved) vaccines.
Meadows’ comments came as the numbers of confirmed cases have hit devastating new records across the country. And while some reports indicate that privately, President Donald Trump is pushing for a “herd immunity” strategy that would mean hundreds of thousands more dying (a “strategy” also reportedly pushed by adviser Scott Atlas), it does appear that the administration is less focused on containing the pandemic than it is on violating longstanding ethics and legal requirements.
Over the past week, the Trump administration has taken to new levels its disdain for the Hatch Act, the federal law that prohibits government employees from engaging in campaign activities in their official capacities. Members of Trump’s cabinet have made multiple trips to various swing states to attend events that seemingly ignore any distinction between politics and policy. “The Trump administration has completely obliterated that line,” American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers told the Associated Press.
On Thursday, American Oversight requested that the Office of Special Counsel investigate whether top Department of Homeland Security officials violated the Hatch Act or ordered any department employees to do so by holding multiple press events in swing states. That evening, OSC confirmed that it will open a case file to look into the matter. Here are some recent instances:
There are more examples cited in our letter. And there are more examples outside of DHS of top officials acting as campaign surrogates:
Earlier this month, we filed a similar complaint with OSC regarding Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s potential Hatch Act violations. OSC responded that they were opening a case file to look into the matter. Which brings us to…
Pompeo hasn’t just blurred the line, repeatedly, between politics and policy. He’s also blurred the line between official and personal business — including allowing his family access to government resources.
NBC News reported on Thursday on emails showing Susan Pompeo frequently instructing State Department officials to handle personal matters such as dinner reservations and travel arrangements, and even hooking up a dryer in the military housing that the family rents (a questionable arrangement that our documents show set off legal alarm bells). “We view this as a family endeavor,” wrote their son, Nick Pompeo, in one email, before asking whether the company he worked for could be involved in an upcoming event. CBS also recently reported that Susan Pompeo would be accompanying the secretary on an official trip to the Maldives, which, at least, is not a swing state.
Allegations about Pompeo’s misconduct and speculation about his future political ambitions have been the subjects of multiple American Oversight investigations of his tenure as secretary. But even with all we’ve uncovered, there are still multiple questions the public deserves to have answered — not just about Pompeo, but about other top officials and about the actions the administration has taken over the past four years, from family separation to the politicization of the Justice Department. We’ve compiled lists of what we’ve found along with our open questions, which you can find here and here.
The flip side of the White House’s attempts to purge the government of people suspected of being insufficiently loyal to the president is the practice of “burrowing in” political appointees, by converting their jobs to permanent career positions. American Oversight has investigations into these issues, both of which made headlines this week.
On Monday, the National Treasury Employees Union filed a lawsuit seeking to strike down a new executive order that would reclassify some workers that would make it easier for agencies to fire them quickly, “without adverse action rights.” Axios has also reported on “Trump’s post-election execution list.” But as the Washington Post reported, Trump’s “war on the civil servants” goes back further than this year.
In an unusually political and unprofessional Twitter message, an Interior Department spokesperson — using his official account — attacked a former agency official for criticizing as propaganda the political video praising Trump that Secretary Bernhardt had tweeted. The spokesperson claimed that the agency had hired new staff as part of its commitment to ethics.
We’re a little skeptical of how seriously they’re taking that commitment. When he took office, Bernhardt, a former industry lobbyist, had so many conflicts of interest, he had to carry a list of them around. Just four days after his confirmation, the department’s inspector general opened an investigation into multiple complaints of ethics violations. Over on Twitter, we list some of the previously unreported areas of concern we’ve uncovered regarding Bernhardt’s potential ethics issues.
Who Anon: “Anonymous,” the so-named author of the 2018 New York Times op-ed meant to reassure Americans that there were “adults in the room,” has been revealed to be Miles Taylor, the DHS official who recently resigned and became a vocal critic of the president. Records we’ve uncovered reveal an April 2018 email in which Taylor asked for examples in which family separation “has to happen,” to give to then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. We also found a record showing Taylor having had a $1,600 dinner (on the taxpayers’ dime) with foreign officials at the president’s hotel in Washington, DC.
Bank Shot: On March 10, Trump told Americans to “just stay calm,” and that the coronavirus “will go away.” The next day, Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and Jared Kushner met with 12 top bankers to discuss the response to the pandemic.
Unmasked Marshals Service: During the nationwide racial justice protests this summer, federal agents, often unmasked, were in close proximity with protesters. We asked the U.S. Marshals Service, one of the agencies deployed to protests, for records reflecting any screenings of those who had been dispatched. We received nothing but a single, short email in reply.
Coming Soon: This week, a federal judge ordered the CDC to turn over emails by Friday in our lawsuit for communications of top officials that contain key terms related to Covid-19. The judge wrote, “Expedited production of these records is warranted and in the public interest with the election looming.” Keep an eye on our website and Twitter on Friday — we’ll post the records as soon as we receive them.
How Trump maneuvered his way out of trouble in Chicago (New York Times)
Top FEC official’s undisclosed ties to Trump raise concerns over agency neutrality (ProPublica)
Large corporate landlords have filed 10,000 eviction actions in five states since September (NBC News)
Ballrooms, candles and luxury cottages: During Trump’s term, millions of government and GOP dollars have flowed to his properties (Washington Post)
U.S. agency targets its own journalists’ independence (NPR)
DeSantis pledged to investigate Florida’s unemployment system. Did he keep his word? (Palm Beach Post)
The politicization of the State Department is almost complete (Atlantic)
Hundreds of U.S. ‘pregnancy centers’ are now offering unproven ‘abortion reversal’ method (Vice)
Turkish bank case showed Erdogan’s influence with Trump (New York Times)
Contributing to Barr’s Effort to Undermine Impeachment, US Attorney John Durham Violated DOJ Guidelines (Washington Spectator)
Part of Investigation: