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Gov: Executive Branch

While members of Congress write laws and are your closest representation in government (and your representative will have an office not far from your home), the actions of the president and the executive branch also greatly affect you.

In this section we report significant events regarding them.

Related Issues

Donald Trump Presidency
Mueller's Indictments
Trump's Enrichment

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USDA to fire hundreds of scientists

2019-Aug-14By: Barry Shatzman

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is set to fire hundreds of scientists from two of the agency's primary research departments.

More than half of the 171 employees of the Economic Research Service (ERS) and two-thirds of the 224 employees of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will be let go.

The reason? They refused to relocate from Washington, D.C. to Kansas City, having been given only a month's notice about the move. They were not told which Kansas City - Kansas or Missouri - they would be working in.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the move of the two agencies in mid-June. Approximately 400 employees were given until July 15 to agree to move to the undeclared state by Sept. 30.

Departments among the top government research groups

The ERS studies the effects of government policies on farms. One such study found that, while the wealthiest households would realize the biggest reductions in their taxes from the tax law passed in 2017, taxes on poorest farm households actually would increase.

White House calls scientists' firing "draining the swamp"

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told a crowd at a Republican event that the move is one of the easiest ways to "drain the swamp".

"By simply saying to people, 'You know what, we're going to take you outside the bubble, outside the Beltway, outside this liberal haven of Washington, D.C., and move you out in the real part of the country,' and they quit - what a wonderful way to sort of streamline government, and do what we haven't been able to do for a long time," Mulvaney said.

Trump frees man who defrauded Medicaid out of millions

2019-Jul-29  (Updated: 2019-Aug-26)By: Barry Shatzman

Ted Suhl - convicted in 2016 of defrauding Medicaid out of millions of dollars and of bribing a state official to keep the scheme going - has had his 7-year sentence commuted by President Donald Trump.

Suhl owned a youth mental health facility originally named The Lord's Ranch. The facility had been under investigation since 1990 for physically abusing patients who opted out of bible study.

To steer patients to his facility and to keep it licensed, Suhl bribed then Arkansas deputy Department of Human Services Director Steven Jones, disguising the money as donations to a church. In 2014, Jones pleaded guilty to accepting bribes from Suhl over several years.

The bribes not only steered patients (and therefore Medicaid dollars) to Suhl, they also helped get Suhl appointed to the Child Welfare Agency Review Board - which licensed Suhl's facilities.

Suhl has been a financial supporter of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Huckabee, who has flown on Suhl's plane, had lobbied Trump to commute Suhl's sentence.

Administration members accused of illegal campaign activity

2019-Jun-13  (Updated: 2019-Jun-29)By: Barry Shatzman

The House Oversight and Reform Committee has subpoenaed "Counselor to the President" Kellyanne Conway after she failed to testify about ethics law violations.

She has repeatedly violated the law that prohibits federal employees from participating in political campaigns as part of their official duties, according to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC).

The OSC - the federal agency that investigates violations of the Hatch Act - listed instances in which Conway issued partisan attacks against several Democratic Party presidential candidates. She did so both in White House media interviews and on her Twitter account - even though she serves as a spokesperson for the Trump administration and uses that Twitter account for official activities.

"Each of these actions constitutes a a violation of the Hatch Act's prohibition on the use of official authority to interfere with or affect an election," the OSC report states.

Conway reacts with disdain

The OSC recommended that Conway be fired from the Trump administration - both because of her actions and her disdain for the law itself.

The OSC previously had warned both Conway and the administration about Hatch Act violations regarding her Twitter account and offered assistance, the report states.

"But Ms. Conway did not take any noticeable steps to bring her Twitter account into compliance with the law," it added.

During a press conference, Conway was dismissive of the OSC report, at one point responding "Blah, blah, blah" as a reporter asked her about it.

"Ms. Conway's violations, if left unpunished, sends a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act's restrictions," Special Counsel Henry J. Kemer wrote in the report's cover letter to Trump.

Trump has blocked her from testifying.

Did Trump's son-in-law also violate the Hatch Act?

Reps. Don Beyer and Ted Lieu have asked the OSC also to investigate whether Jared Kushner has been engaging in campaign activity from the White House. That also would violate the Hatch Act.

Transportation Sec. Chao's family conflicts of interest

2019-Jun-02By: Barry Shatzman

In 2017, when Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was planning her first visit to China for the Trump administration, she requested that family members be included in meetings with Chinese officials.

When the request was questioned by the State Department, Chao canceled the trip.

Chao's family runs American shipping company Foremost Group.Though Chao has no formal role in Foremost Group, the company does much of its business with Chinese industry. Chao has used connections to Chinese government officials to help the company.

As Secretary of Transportation, Chao has proposed cuts in programs that would help the U.S. maritime industry. Her family, on the other hand, has provided financial support to China's industry.

That isn't her only family conflict of interest.

Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. They have received millions of dollars from Chao's family - both in gifts and contributions to McConnell's Senate campaigns.

McConnell has been a Republican Party leader in the Senate since 2003. In 2004, his net worth was approximately $3 million. In 2015, it was more than $26 million.

His annual Senate salary is approximately $200,000.

Trump pardons soldier who murdered Iraqi

2019-May-06By: Barry Shatzman

President Donald Trump has pardoned a former soldier who murdered an Iraqi prisoner.

Michael Behenna was convicted of taking the detainee to a secluded area while transporting him back to his village, and then stripping him naked and shooting him. He claimed he was acting in self-defense.

Behenna had served five years in prison, and was on parole at the time of the pardon.

Court overrules Trump on census citizenship question

2019-Jan-15By: (External links)

Judge Orders Trump Administration To Remove 2020 Census Citizenship Question

Trump administration actively interferes with science

2018-Nov-09By: (External links)

Trump's Interference With Science Is Unprecedented

Administration looks to change name of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

2018-Jun-11By: (External links)

Mick Mulvaney changed the CFPB's sign to BCFP

EPA head Pruitt faces multiple ethics investigations

2018-Apr-09By: Rob Dennis

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is under investigation for alleged mishandling of taxpayer money and acceptance of perks, including a bargain condo rental tied to a lobbyist with business before the agency.

During his first months in Washington, D.C., Pruitt rented a condo from the wife of a prominent energy lobbyist for $50 a night, only paying for the nights he stayed there. While Pruitt was renting the condo, the EPA approved a pipeline-expansion plan by one of the lobbyist's clients.

In addition, Pruitt:

o Spent $3 million on security in just a year on the job. Pruitt's 20-member full-time security detail is more than triple the size of that of his predecessor in the Obama administration.

o Flew first class with his security chief, citing "security concerns." Federal employees typically fly coach. So does Pruitt when taxpayers aren't paying.

o Bought a $43,000 soundproof booth to conduct private phone calls.

Under Pruitt's leadership, the EPA used a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act to give massive raises to two of Pruitt's closest aides, political appointees who had previously worked for him in Oklahoma. The provision is intended to be used to hire experts quickly. Pruitt denied all knowledge of the raises, and EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson claimed responsibility for them. The same provision was used to hire a former chemical industry lobbyist to run the EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention.

CFPB top salaries under Mulvaney soar

2018-Apr-05  (Updated: 2018-Apr-21)By: Barry Shatzman

Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), requested in January that the CFBP receive no funding. He said the "reserve fund" the bureau had built up for overruns or emergencies should be used up before asking for more money.

He seems to be trying to speed up that process - hiring deputies and paying them salaries that exceed normal pay for their role. Five deputies he hired are being paid approximately $250,000 annually. Two of Mulvaney's hires were for positions that did not exist under previous director Richard Cordray, according the Associated Press.

That's about the same as the vice president. In Congress, only the House Speaker makes more than $200,000. Cabinet members make approximately $200,000.

Leandra English, who was chief of staff for Cordray, made less than $215,000. Kirsten Mork - English's successor under Mulvaney - makes about $45,000 more than that. English now is the deputy director, but the CFPB refused to disclose her current salary to the Associated Press.

In spite of the boosted payroll, the CFPB is doing much less for American consumers than it did under Cordray.

Trump pardons sailor for nuclear sub photos

2018-Mar-09  (Updated: 2018-Mar-15)By: Rob Dennis

President Donald Trump has pardoned a Navy sailor convicted of illegally retaining photos of a submarine's nuclear propulsion system.

Kristian Saucier, a machinist's mate aboard the USS Alexandria from 2007 to 2012, used his cell-phone camera to take six photos in 2009 while the nuclear submarine was docked at a Connecticut naval base. Saucier said he took the photos as mementos. The photos were deemed confidential, the lowest level of security classification.

After the FBI questioned Saucier about the images on the phone, which had been found in a landfill, he destroyed evidence related to the case.

Saucier, 31, pleaded guilty in May 2016 to unlawful retention of national defense information and obstruction of justice, and served 12 months in prison. His sentence ended in September.

Trump frequently referred to Saucier's case during the 2016 presidential campaign, claiming he had been punished for a lesser offense than Hillary Clinton, who mishandled classified information on a private email server when she was secretary of state.

Saucier's pardon was the second of Trump's presidency. He previously pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, a political ally who was awaiting sentencing for violating a court order.

Dozens of Trump aides lose top-secret clearances

2018-Feb-28By: Rob Dennis

More than 30 White House staffers, including President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, have been stripped of their top-secret clearances.

The staffers had never been approved for permanent clearances. They were provided interim clearances while their applications were being evaluated. They were downgraded to secret on Feb. 23 - when White House Chief of Staff John Kelly instituted a new policy forbidding temporary top-level clearances.

Kelly's policy change came after it emerged that Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who had access to some of the nation's most sensitive secrets, held an interim security clearance for more than a year despite allegations of spousal abuse. Porter resigned earlier in February.

Kushner, whose vast responsibility has included negotiating foreign trade deals and exploring a Middle East peace process, also held an interim clearance for more than a year. His ability to perform in these roles without a top-secret clearance will be impaired - if not rendered impossible.

Kushner's security problems

Kushner's problems obtaining a permanent clearance date to the beginning of the Trump presidency, when he failed to disclose more than 100 foreign contacts on his security clearance application.

Among those contacts were December 2016 meetings with Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak and the head of Russian state-controlled bank Vnesheconombank (VEB), Sergey Gorkov. VEB was placed under U.S. sanctions after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

A Russian spy ring operated out of the bank's Manhattan branch from 2012 to 2014, and a member of that ring met with Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page in 2013. Gorkov, a graduate of the FSB Academy, was appointed head of VEB in 2016 by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who used to chair the bank himself.

Kushner also took part in a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Trump opponent Hillary Clinton.

As a White House staffer, Kushner continued holding undisclosed meetings with foreign officials, the Washington Post reported. Officials in four countries - China, Israel, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates - discussed ways to manipulate Kushner "by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience," the Post reported.

Other clearance problems among Trump staff members

As of November, 100 staffers in the Executive Office of the President still had interim clearances, including Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, CNN reported.

The remaining officials whose clearances were downgraded have not been named. They remain in the White House for now, but their duties requiring a top-secret clearance will be handed off to other staffers.  

Six other White House staffers were fired in February after they failed an FBI background check.  

White House proposes eliminating civil rights agency

2018-Feb-12By: Barry Shatzman

The Trump administration is proposing the elimination of an agency created to ease racial tensions and reduce hate crimes.

The Community Relations Service (CRS) was created by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

It is part of the Department of Justice (DOJ). The administration's proposal would eliminate the agency's $15 million budget (and 54 jobs) and transfer the its functions to the DOJ's Civil Rights Division .

The difference could be more than administrative, however. The Community Relations Service operates as a mediator, whereas the Civil Rights Division is concerned with enforcement.

The White House proposal is only a proposal. Congress would be required to approve the elimination of the agency's budget.

Trump pardons AZ sheriff convicted of ignoring judge

2017-Aug-25By: Barry Shatzman

President Trump has pardoned an Arizona sheriff convicted of ignoring a federal judge's orders.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio had ordered Latinos be detained simply because they could not show legal status. A federal judge ruled that the practice involved racial profiling because it involved only Latinos - who were stopped for traffic violations at a much higher rate than other drivers - and ordered Arpaio to end the practice. Yet Arpaio continued the detentions for the next 1-1/2 years.

Lawsuits regarding brutality against detainees since Arpaio became sheriff in 1993 have cost Arizona taxpayers $140 million.

Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt. He had yet to be sentenced - nor had he used an opportunity to appeal - when Trump issued the pardon.

Trump had asked about rescuing Arpaio - who has been a long-time Trump supporter - from his legal situation even before he was convicted. Had Arpaio wanted to request a pardon, he would have been required to wait five years from the date he completed his sentence.

The two-paragraph statement from Trump did not provide the reason he pardoned Arpaio.

It is likely the Justice Department was not consulted between Arpaio's conviction and the time of the pardon.

COVFEFE Act would make presidential tweets official records

2017-Jun-12By: Barry Shatzman

Rep. Mike Quigley has introduced a bill that would classify social media posts by a president to be considered official presidential records.

President Trump frequently has issued public policy declarations over the social media platform Twitter. At times it is difficult to determine which posts are serious or which merely are Trump using social media as an outlet to vent.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer has said they should be taken as official statements.

Quigley states in a press release for the bill...

"President Trump's frequent, unfiltered use of his personal Twitter account as a means of official communication is unprecedented. If the President is going to take to social media to make sudden public policy proclamations, we must ensure that these statements are documented and preserved for future reference."

The bill is the Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically For Engagement (COVFEFE), named after a seemingly nonsensical word in a Twitter post by Trump.

VA awards contract with no competition - and no price

2017-Jun-05By: Rob Dennis

The Trump administration has picked a firm to modernize veterans' electronic health care records - without putting the contract out for bid or knowing how much it will cost.

Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin announced that the contract will go to Cerner Corp., which already has a $4.3 billion contract to overhaul the Department of Defense's (DoD) health care records system. The VA won't use the same system, but it will use Cerner's software at its core, Shulkin said. Cerner won the DoD contract in a two-year bidding process.  

Federal contracts typically are subject to a competitive bidding process to lower costs and avoid conflicts of interest. However, agencies can waive that process, and Shulkin said he did so "because of the urgency and the critical nature of this decision."

This leaves the government with little leverage over the cost. It could choose to abandon the deal and start over, but that could delay the project more than a bidding process from the start would have.

The VA still must present its justification for awarding the contract without competition.

EPA removes climate change data from website

2017-May-10By: Barry Shatzman

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has removed information related to climate change from its website.

To find the EPA's climate change section on their site, you need to go through the following path... -> Environmental Topics -> Air -> (Air Pollutants) Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions -> Climate Change Home

The section now contains a simple message...

"Thank you for your interest in this topic. We are currently updating our website to reflect EPA's priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt. If you're looking for an archived version of this page, you can find it on the January 19 snapshot."

Selecting the archived version will lead you to the old page (which no longer is being updated).

Comparison of EPA Climate Change web pages past and present

The EPA claims the full site will be available in the archive. However, there had been an accompanying student site with resources used by teachers as well as students. The EPA suggested those pages might not have been archived properly.

Criminal investigations slowed due to Trump security

2017-Apr-06By: Barry Shatzman

The Secret Service is pulling agents off criminal investigations in order to help protect President Trump and his family, the New York Times has reported.

To pay for the protection, the Secret Service has requested an extra $60 million, according to the Washington Post.

Bill would require presidents to disclose visitors

2017-Mar-23By: Barry Shatzman

Rep. Mike Quigley has introduced a bill that would require presidents to disclose the names of visitors to the White House. Presidents also would be required to provide a visitors' log for any other places they regularly conduct official U.S. business.

The only administration to voluntarily provide this information was the Obama administration.

The bill is the Make Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness Act. It forms the acronym MAR-A-LAGO. Mar-a-Lago is the name of the Florida resort owned by President Donald Trump where he has spent a significant amount of time conducting official U.S. business.

First Trump impact - the White House website

2017-Jan-20By: Barry Shatzman

The first change of the Trump administration happened quickly - before the new president even finished his inauguration speech.

The White House website changed over from President Barack Obama to President Trump virtually immediately after Trump's noon eastern time swearing in.

A few things were noticeably missing from the new administration's site - including a report on civil rights, a report on LGBT and transexual issues in the workplace, and the Obama administration's detailed report on climate change.

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