With just over a month left in his administration, there is still plenty of time for President Donald Trump to cause lasting damage or throw wrenches into the presidential transition machinery. Or, in the case of the coronavirus pandemic, for him to continue to do little to address the horrifying reality of thousands dying each day.
Instead of urging caution, recommending restrictions, or even simply expressing sadness over a daily death toll that CDC Director Robert Redfield said will exceed that of Sept. 11 for months, Trump has remained fixated on his election loss, with his latest defeat coming last week when the Supreme Court rejected Texas’ farfetched and anti-democratic lawsuit against four battleground states.
According to the Associated Press, Trump is also pushing to have a special counsel appointed to investigate Hunter Biden, reportedly angry with outgoing Attorney General William Barr for not having announced the investigation into the taxes of the president-elect’s son. Barr, who announced his resignation this week, reportedly kept the ongoing investigation from going public during the lead-up to the election. The potentially politicized nature of the investigation was put into stark relief by a recent report from the New York Times that material from Rudy Giuliani spurred a separate inquiry into Hunter Biden earlier this year.
Of course, another Justice Department investigation that has long preoccupied Trump was not kept under wraps during the investigation, and that is U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the Russia probe. According to Fox News reporter Jake Gibson, Durham — whom earlier this month Barr appointed as a special counsel — is adding additional prosecutors to his team. We’ve previously reported that Barr met frequently with Durham in the months after the Russia investigation ended, and this week obtained calendars indicating further contact between the two in 2020. (More on those calendars below.)
Meanwhile, news continues to emerge about the troubling or corrupt actions of members of Trump’s administration, including his cabinet. The six largest veterans service organizations have called on VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to resign following the release of a department inspector general report confirming that he attempted to discredit a congressional aide, veteran Andrea Goldstein, who said she had been sexually assaulted in a VA medical center. Those smear attempts were also linked to Rep. Dan Crenshaw.
It was also reported this week that the inspector general of the Commerce Department has been investigating billionaire Secretary Wilbur Ross’ finances throughout most of his tenure in office. (We have, too.) As reported by Forbes, the watchdog found that Ross failed to avoid the appearance of ethical and legal conflicts.
Then there’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who this week told career employees to “be the resistance” during the Biden administration, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, who have continued to ignore Covid-19 precautions so as to enjoy indoor holiday parties. (Many declined to attend Pompeo’s Tuesday party, and he canceled his final party after having been in contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.) And speaking of Pompeo and department watchdogs, the State Department’s acting inspector general, Matthew Klimow, is leaving his job Friday. His departure, attributed to the Vacancies Reform Act, comes after Pompeo’s office attacked the inspector general for a report about official trips the secretary took with his wife, Susan Pompeo.
As we approach the final month of Trump’s presidency, American Oversight will continue to hold not just the president accountable for his actions, but also those in his administration.
This week, the Justice Department produced calendars and phone logs for Attorney General Barr, which cover May 2019 through April 2020. The records show multiple meetings with some of the president’s most vocal congressional defenders, such as Rep. Matt Gaetz, Rep. Jim Jordan, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, including during the months of the impeachment proceedings. You can read more here about how Barr spent his time.
DeJoy’s Calendars (Or Not)
Here is where we would tell you what we found in Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s calendars, which we received on Tuesday in response to our lawsuit for the records. Except that the calendars, which are also on the radar of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are almost entirely redacted. We’ll be challenging these excessive redactions, so stay tuned.
‘We Want Them Infected’
According to Politico, former HHS science adviser Paul Alexander — the same Trump appointee who attempted to interfere with CDC science reports, and whose email Director Redfield allegedly told staff to delete — urged top health officials to adopt the deadly “herd immunity” strategy toward combating the pandemic, which requires that millions of Americans contract the virus. “We want them infected,” Alexander reportedly wrote. This fall, we reported on records we obtained showing that in May, HHS Assistant Secretary Michael Caputo had listed Alexander as one of a handful of public affairs officers he approved to handle press inquiries.
White House Pandemic Communications with Private Sector
During the early months of the pandemic, as the Jared Kushner-led effort to address medical supply shortages stumbled through the spring, private individuals and companies were granted privileged access to propose solutions. We published a number of emails that add further color to these reports, showing personal connections — including associates of the president — easily able to get their feet in the door without going through more formal channels. Read more here.
Headlines You Might Have Missed
This newly released letter details the criminal referral on Donald Trump over his Ukraine phone call (BuzzFeed News)
Russian hack, undetected since spring, upends government agencies (New York Times)
‘Protect the secretary’: VA chief Robert Wilkie installs political aide at watchdog investigating his inner circle (Project on Government Oversight)How did a Proud Boys leader with a felony record get into the White House? (Salon)
Oleg Deripaska’s Rusal role spurred Europe sanctions warning to U.S. (Bloomberg)
Former Houston police captain accused of violent attempt to prove election conspiracy was hired by GOP activist’s group (Texas Tribune)
Contractors dynamite mountains, bulldoze desert in race to build Trump’s border wall (NPR)
In final years at Liberty, Falwell spent millions on pro-Trump causes (Politico)
Potential family conflicts arise for Joe Biden and aides as his administration drafts new ethics rules (Washington Post)
Trump administration is planting loyalists in Biden transition meetings (New York Times)
The Trump administration has finalized an agreement to send asylum-seekers to El Salvador to seek protection (BuzzFeed News)
U.S. border officials expelled dozens of migrant children in violation of court order (CBS News)
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