Americans may have long taken for granted the reliability of the national mail service and the accuracy of the decennial census. But it seems the Trump administration is doing its best to make sure we won’t do so again.
Last week, we wrote about our recently launched investigation into President Donald Trump’s meddling at the U.S. Postal Service, from his 2018 calls for its privatization to his recent questionable appointments and his aspersions about the agency’s ability to handle widespread absentee voting.
The president’s attacks on the post office have raised serious questions about whether changes to USPS operations are being driven by his re-election efforts. Trump is also not the only one trying to discourage people from voting by mail (well, everyone except Floridians, apparently) by making claims about voter fraud — he has the help of outside activists, not to mention the “voter fraud task forces” that have cropped up in multiple states. Meanwhile, mail is piling up in local post offices, leading to delays in the delivery of medication, workers’ compensation checks, and other items.
The White House’s political interference in the apolitical (and constitutionally mandated) census is also well-known. The efforts began with the attempted inclusion of a citizenship question, under the pretense that such information would help enforce the Voting Rights Act. When troves of documents exposed that as a ruse, with the measure’s primary goal being partisan redistricting considerations, and when the Supreme Court blocked the question, the White House moved on to a new strategy: In late July, Trump issued a memo saying undocumented immigrants would be excluded from the population counts used to determine congressional district reallocation.
This week, the Census Bureau issued a statement that it would end its 2020 counting efforts a month early, on Sept. 30, including door-knocking and response collection over the phone, online, or by mail. “Democrats in Congress and many census advocates have become increasingly concerned that the White House is pressuring the bureau to stop counting soon in order to benefit Republicans when House seats are reapportioned and voting districts are redrawn,” wrote NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang in reporting on the changes. Additionally, Rep. José Serrano said on Wednesday that the Census Bureau had stopped conducting its weekly briefing calls with the House census appropriations subcommittee that Serrano chairs.
Of course, no discussion of Trump’s politically motivated interference in government operations would be complete without also mentioning the Justice Department, which under Attorney General William Barr has launched problematic investigations that could ostensibly help Trump’s reelection bid and has intervened in the criminal cases of Trump associates Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.
On Wednesday, NBC reported that the probe headed by U.S. Attorney John Durham that is examining the origins of the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference could be “nearing a conclusion.” That speculation is compounded by Barr’s testimony before Congress last month that he would not wait until after the presidential election to reveal Durham’s findings.
American Oversight has been investigating all of these alarming efforts to operationalize government institutions for the benefit of the president’s political interests; you can read more about those investigations here. For more on what else has gone on this week, keep reading:
American Oversight Calls on Justice Department to Investigate Senior Official for Misleading Statements: Emails we obtained show top Justice Department lawyer Gene Hamilton — a figure closely involved in many of the administration’s harsh immigration policies — emailing with a lawyer for the presidential transition team on Jan. 1, 2019, about a non-disclosure agreement he had signed for the transition. Why does that matter? Because two days later, during a deposition regarding one of the administration’s controversial immigration decisions, Hamilton testified that he had not spoken with the transition team about the agreement at all. We sent a letter to the department’s inspector general, calling for the office to investigate Hamilton’s statements.
Who Got CARES Act Funding, and Who Is Still Waiting?
On Tuesday, 10 Tampa Bay News reported on how local counties were still waiting on their share of the $400 million Congress designated in the CARES Act for helping states with the added expenses of holding elections in the middle of a deadly pandemic. Meanwhile, the Guardian reported that crisis pregnancy centers — organizations that operate as reproductive health clinics but often provide dubious treatment and push women away from seeking abortions — received at least $4 million in forgivable Payment Protection Program loans.
Who Can Get Coronavirus Tests, and Where Are The Tests? Despite whatever Trump might have been trying to claim in his disastrous interview with Axios reporter Jonathan Swan, the rising death toll from Covid-19 is both frightening and tragic. Especially when put next to the fact that, according to an Associated Press analysis, daily testing for the virus has declined over the past two weeks. Considering Trump’s recent remarks that the pandemic will just “go away like things go away,” the administration’s failings are all the more troubling. Our investigation into the federal government’s response to the pandemic continues to keep track of where federal money is going, as well as what’s behind the administration’s testing failures. Keep up with the latest on our Covid -19 investigations here.
And In Case You Missed It…: The House Foreign Affairs Committee has sent a letter demanding answers about allegations that Todd Chapman, the U.S. ambassador to Brazil, pressured members of President Jair Bolsonaro’s far-right government to lower ethanol tariffs so as to support the president’s reelection efforts. Yes, that should sound familiar.
Part of Investigation: