There are the rules followed by President Donald Trump and those closest to him, and then there are the rules that apply to everyone else.
For instance, there’s the law prohibiting federal employees from engaging in partisan activity while at work, which employees across the government take great pains to obey (and which, in 1997, gave then-Vice President Al Gore a massive scandal when he made campaign calls from the White House). But that’s the same law that Trump aides “scoff at,” that has been brazenly defied by administration officials, and that was openly and repeatedly flouted during this week’s Republican National Convention.
There are the ethics rules that require officials to divest from potential conflicts of interest before they take office. But those are the same rules — not to mention the Constitution’s emoluments clause — that Trump and members of his administration have failed to pay heed to. Look no further than the Trump International Hotel, which sits just a few blocks from the White House, or the president’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, which along with other Trump properties has helped his business (that he refused to financially divest from) rake in hundreds of thousands in taxpayer money.
The list goes on, from lobbying bans and rules about official email practices to laws against the solicitation of foreign election interference. In so many cases, including those exposed by American Oversight and others, the rule of law and the long-accepted guidelines that separate our system from despotism have routinely been transgressed. For more on the recent Hatch Act violations, Louis DeJoy’s missing calendars, Trump’s presidential profiting, and the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, read on:
‘Nobody Outside the Beltway Really Cares’: Or at least, that’s what White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said about the flagrant violations of the Hatch Act, the law mentioned above that prohibits partisan election work while on official duty. But the truth is, plenty of people do — and should — care that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech to the Republican convention while on an official trip to Jerusalem. Or that acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf participated in a televised naturalization ceremony at the White House. Or that multiple other events also took place at the White House. It doesn’t matter whether Meadows “cares” about those violations — the Hatch Act is meant to prevent that sort of politicking from official positions.
The ‘New at This’ Postmaster General’s Calendars: At a House Oversight Committee hearing on Monday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pressed U.S. Postal Service Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to commit to releasing his calendars to the committee. When DeJoy said he would check with his lawyers, Ocasio-Cortez reminded him that those calendars were agency records — DeJoy responded that he was “new at this.” (This is true; prior to his taking office on June 16, DeJoy headed a logistics company that does business with the post office, and he is a major Republican and Trump donor.)
But about those calendars: We also requested them through a Freedom of Information Act request. Earlier this month, USPS rejected our request, saying that the “calendar maintained on a USPS computer” was for his personal use. The public needs to know with whom DeJoy has been meeting, so we appealed the agency’s response. And Ocasio-Cortez suggested that the committee subpoena for the calendars if they were not provided voluntarily.
More Than $900,000 in Taxpayer Money to Trump’s Businesses: The Washington Post reported on Thursday that at least $570,000 of the $900,000 in taxpayer money that has gone to the Trump Organization since the president’s inauguration came from Trump’s travel to his own properties. The story highlights how the U.S. Secret Service’s accompanying him on trips to Mar-a-Lago has been a boon for his Florida club, from excess room rentals to resort fees and a “furniture removal charge.” And despite Eric Trump’s claims that the company only charged taxpayers “like 50 bucks” for rooms, records unearthed by both American Oversight and the Post reveal the rates to be much higher — in fact, often the maximum allowed under federal rules, or more.
This week, the Trump administration has pressured federal agencies to shift positions, change recommendations, and even abandon science.
FDA Walks Back Convalescent Plasma Claims: On Aug. 23, Trump triumphantly announced that the Food and Drug Administration had granted emergency authorization to treat Covid-19 patients with plasma taken from patients who had recovered from the disease. This announcement came on the heels of the president’s tweeted allegation that FDA officials were involved in a “deep state” conspiracy to hold back medicines and hurt his reelection odds. But there was no disagreement at Sunday’s press conference, when FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn echoed Trump’s claims that 35 percent more people would survive the coronavirus if given this treatment. Just two days later, however, Hahn walked back his remarks, which drew criticism from scientists, and apologized for overstating the results of a related study.
Trump’s scientific overreach isn’t unprecedented. Earlier this year, the FDA issued an emergency authorization for the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, another product the president had lauded, only to retract it two weeks later. This back-and-forth threatens the FDA’s reliability and limits its influence, but the president shows no signs of stopping. He’s already moved on to pitching the next miracle cure: oleandrin. The so-called treatment is extracted by a poisonous plant, and backed by a major Trump supporter.
CDC Updates Testing Guidelines: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reportedly bent to the president’s influence, when on Monday it suddenly updated testing guidelines to say that some people without symptoms do not need to be tested, even if they’ve been in close contact with an individual known to have the coronavirus. This shift was met with outrage from the scientific community, who raised concerns about Covid-19’s asymptomatic spread. The revision also came after a discussion among members of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force — which took place in the absence of Dr. Anthony Fauci. The new guidelines are in line with the president’s long-stated desire that the nation perform less testing, and insiders claim that White House pressure led to this policy shift.
Part of Investigation: