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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

Trump's Enrichment
Donald Trump Presidency
Mueller's Indictments

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Trump parting gift - Secret Service protection to family, friends

2021-Sep-17By: Barry Shatzman

Shortly before former president Donald Trump left office, he issued an order granting six months of Secret Service protection to his adult children and three former officials in his administration, costing taxpayers $1.7 million, the Washington Post reported.

Several of the expenses involved payments to Trump's own company.

Secret Service protection normally is provided to former presidents and their spouses, as well as to their children until they turn 16. Trump's children afforded the extra protection range from their late-20s to mid-40s.

Trump's order was not published, and provided no explanation. It extended protection for:

o Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner
o Donald Trump, Jr.
o Eric Trump and his wife
o Tiffany Trump
o Former chief of staff Mark Meadows
o Former treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin
o Former national security adviser Robert C. O'Brien

Kushner and Mnuchin each made use of the protection while traveling to the Middle East conducting business for their private companies.

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Biden fires Trump's Social Security head

2021-Jul-10  (Updated: 2021-Aug-10)By: Barry Shatzman

President Joe Biden has fired the head of the Social Security Administration.

Andrew Saul was appointed to the position by then president Donald Trump in 2019.

Saul is a former women's apparel executive and prominent Republican donor. He also had been a trustee at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative think tank that has advocated cuts to Social Security benefits. While running the agency, he was accused of causing stimulus checks to be delayed for millions of disabled Americans. He also made it more cumbersome for disabled Americans to maintain their benefits.

Saul, who fought against federal employee unions and had ended the agency's telework policy, said he would challenge the legality of his firing and would continue to work from his home in New York.

The Biden administration defended the legality of the firing. A letter from Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) cited two recent Supreme Court decisions supporting a president firing the heads of federal agencies.

On July 12, the agency revoked Saul's access to its computer system.

Saul is one of several Trump appointees that Biden has fired.

Replacement has extensive Social Security experience

Biden appointed Kilolo Kijakazi as acting commissioner until a permanent replacement is nominated. Kijakazi is a former program analyst for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and has held leadership positions at the Urban Institute and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), where she specialized in Social Security and has worked to build economic security for working families.

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Supreme Court: President can fire agency heads

2021-Jun-23By: Barry Shatzman

A president can fire just about any agency head they want, according to two recent Supreme Court rulings. Even if the law says otherwise.

Several federal agencies were created by laws stating that the agency's head can be removed only for cause. The intent was to protect the agency from becoming a political tool of a president. The court ruled in both cases, however, that such a restriction violates Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution - which gives the president executive power.

In 2020, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion in Seila Law v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that, "Aside from the sole exception of the Presidency, that [Constitution] scrupulously avoids concentrating power in the hands of any single individual."

Yet because some agency directors have terms longer than a president's term, some presidents may not have any opportunity to shape an agency's leadership or influence its activities. That would give the director more power than the president - which the Constitution does not allow, Roberts wrote.

The case came about when Seila Law was being investigated by the CFPB. The company sued - claiming the CFPB was an unconstitutional agency because its director could not be fired by the president. The court ruled that the agency still was constitutional, just that the president has the power to fire the director.

In a similar case in 2021, investors in mortgage-backing organizations Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac claimed in a lawsuit that the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) - which oversees the organizations - was unconstitutional because its director could not be fired without cause.

In that case - Collins v. Yellen, the court expanded a president's power to fire agency heads to agencies less powerful than the CFPB.

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From day 1 Biden lessens Trump influence

2021-Jan-20  (Updated: 2021-Feb-28)By: Barry Shatzman

President Joe Biden has leveraged a Supreme Court decision allowing a president to fire agency heads to remove controversial appointees of former President Donald Trump.

Several of the firings (or requested resignations) took place on Biden's first day as president. Others followed soon after.

One thing they had in common - they worked in deliberate opposition to the missions of the agencies they ran.

At CFPB, Kathleen Kraninger worked to reduce consumer protections

On his first day in office, Biden fired Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) director Kathleen Kraninger.

At the time Trump nominated her in 2018 to replace Mick Mulvaney as head of the CFPB, she had no prior experience in consumer protection.

During the Trump administration, fines collected from lenders for cheating consumers fell dramatically - from $12 billion under the Obama administration to less than $1 billion.

Under Kraninger, the CFPB ended a regulation protecting consumers from becoming perpetually indebted to payday lenders.

Michael Pack used Voice of America to promote Trump

Also on his first day in office, Biden fired Michael Pack, who was appointed to lead the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) in June 2020. Pack had been accused of using the agency's news outlets as pro-Trump platforms.

He had faced numerous ethics complaints - to the point that a federal judge issued an injunction preventing him from making personnel decisions or conducting internal investigations.

Labor Relations Board's Peter Robb undermined unions

Also on his first day in office, Biden fired Peter Robb, who Trump had appointed in 2017 to to lead the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

As general council of the NLRB, Robb was the key government official tasked to support worker and union rights. In key NLRB cases however, he usually sided with employers - including in pandemic-related cases.

He worked to weaken the NLRB's union for the agency's own employees.

In the Ronald Reagan administration, Robb had helped Reagan defeat the air traffic controllers union.

Administrative Conference of the United States

In February 2021, Biden fired four Trump appointees to the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS). The firing included Roger Severino - who had led Trump's campaign to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination in health care.

Though the ACUS has no direct power, it provides official recommendations on the federal regulatory process. Under Trump's appointees, the agency took actions such as encouraging other agencies to limit their own abilities to enact new regulations. It encouraged cost-benefit analyses of regulations that might have intangible benefits - such as barring discrimination or limiting pollution.

Sharon Gustafson fought against LGBT rights at EEOC

In March 2021, Biden fired Sharon Gustafson from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Besides focusing on the rights of some religious groups over others, she fought litigation against LGBT and race discrimination.

FHFA's Mark Calabria wanted to end mortgage guarantee oversight

Mark Calabria was appointed by Trump in 2019 to serve as director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which oversees mortgage backing companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

The agencies were placed in conservatorship of the FHFA after the 2008 economic collapse. As part of the arrangement, the organizations received billions of federal dollars so they could keep backing mortgages. In exchange, they were required to return virtually all of their profits to the government.

Calabria had been working to end the conservatorship in the three years he had remaining in his term, which would have allowed the companies' profits to be returned to investors instead. But impatient investors sued the agency anyway, claiming that the FHFA was unconstitutional because the director could not be fired by the president.

The Supreme Court agreed with the impatient investors. But rather than eliminate the agency, the court ruled that the president can fire the director. Which Biden did just hours later.

Biden named Sandra L. Thompson as acting director. Thompson oversaw consumer protection efforts at multiple federal agencies.

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Joe Biden wins presidency

2020-Nov-07By: Barry Shatzman

Joe Biden has been declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election, defeating incumbent President Donald Trump.

The last day to vote was Nov. 3, though some states accepted mail-in ballots that were postmarked by then but arrived later. A large number of mail-in ballots resulted in the delay of declaring a winner.

Though news networks were unanimous in declaring Biden the winner, Trump has refused to concede. He says he plans to file lawsuits in several states won by Biden - claiming fraud. He has yet to offer any evidence for those claims.

Some close states are expected to have recounts. They have until Dec. 8 to certify their results and electors for the electoral college.

Chosen electors will meet in their state capitals on Dec. 14 to cast votes for their state's winning candidate, at which time the election results become official.

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Trump pardons longtime friend Roger Stone

2020-Jul-10By: Barry Shatzman

President Trump has commuted the sentence of longtime friend Roger Stone.

In 2019, Stone was convicted of lying to Congress and other charges related to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. He was sentenced to 40 months in prison.

The statement by the White House Press Secretary described the charges against Stone as "process-based" - leveled "in an attempt to manufacture the false impression of criminality lurking below the surface."

It also questioned the impartiality of the jury that convicted him of the charges.

In a letter published in the Washington Post, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller responded to the commutation, saying that Stone was convicted "because he committed federal crimes."

Mueller wrote...

"Stone became a central figure in our investigation for two key reasons: He communicated in 2016 with individuals known to us to be Russian intelligence officers, and he claimed advance knowledge of WikiLeaks' release of emails stolen by those Russian intelligence officers...

A jury later determined he lied repeatedly to members of Congress. He lied about the identity of his intermediary to WikiLeaks. He lied about the existence of written communications with his intermediary. He lied by denying he had communicated with the Trump campaign about the timing of WikiLeaks' releases. He in fact updated senior campaign officials repeatedly about WikiLeaks. And he tampered with a witness, imploring him to stonewall Congress."

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Court: President can't ignore subpoenas

2020-Jul-09  (Updated: 2020-Jul-18)By: Rob Dennis

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected President Donald Trump's sweeping claims of absolute immunity in two cases.

Attorneys for Trump had argued that the president would be immune from prosecution even if he were to shoot someone in public.

President not immune from a state subpoena

In Trump v. Vance, the court ruled that a New York state prosecutor can obtain Trump's financial records as part of a criminal investigation.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance subpoenaed financial data from Trump's businesses in connection with possible financial crimes committed by Trump's organization spanning 10 years. The investigation also included potentially illegal payments made by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said Trump's argument that he cannot be subpoenaed in a criminal case "runs up against the 200 years of precedent establishing that Presidents, and their official communications, are subject to judicial process."

The ruling does not necessarily make the records available to the New York investigation. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the district court, where Trump may make further arguments about the subpoena.

Even if the records are made available, the public is unlikely to see them due to grand jury secrecy rules.

Congressional subpoenas of president threaten balance of powers

Trump v. Mazars concerned Congress's ability to subpoena a president's personal records.

The House Oversight, Financial Services, and Intelligence committees had subpoenaed Trump's financial records from Mazars USA - his accounting firm - and Deutsche Bank. The House says the records are needed to determine the need for tougher laws on ethics and financial crimes.

The court ruled that lower courts must take into account separation of powers concerns in such cases.

In his majority opinion, Roberts set out a balancing test for courts weighing congressional subpoenas for the president's personal information:

o That courts consider whether other sources could provide Congress with the information.

o That the subpoenas be "no broader than reasonably necessary."

o That Congress adequately identify its aims and explain why the president's information would advance possible legislation.

o That the courts assess the burdens imposed on the president by the subpoena.

The case again was remanded for further proceedings.

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Trump pardons 11 - most convicted of corruption

2020-Feb-15  (Updated: 2020-Feb-28)By: Barry Shatzman

President Donald Trump has pardoned 11 people - most of whom were convicted of some form of corruption and all of whom have a connection to Trump or his associates.

Pardons included...

o Rod Blagojevich: Corruption
o Paul Pogue:Tax Fraud
o Judith Negron: Defrauded Medicare out of $205 million.
o Michael Milken: Racketeering and fraud.
o David Safavian: Obstruction of justice related to Jack Abramoff's scam.
o Bernard Kerik: Tax fraud and lying to government officials
o Edward DeBartolo, Jr.: Bribed a governor to obtain a gambling license
o Ariel Friedler: Conspiracy for trying to break into competitors' computers
o Angela Stanton: Convicted for her role in a stolen vehicle ring.

Additional pardons where granted to Crystal Munoz and Tynice Hall - both convicted of drug charges.

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GAO: Trump broke law by withholding Ukraine aid

2020-Jan-16By: Barry Shatzman

When the Trump administration withheld military aid from Ukraine it violated the law, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The 1974 Impoundment Control Act (ICA) requires presidents to spend money consistent with how Congress allocates it. While a president may delay or withhold an appropriation, it must be done in coordination with Congress as specified by the law.

In this case, Congress was not notified of the reason that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) held up the money. In fact, the Department of Defense (DoD) previously had set a schedule to provide the aid.

"Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law. In fact, Congress was concerned about exactly these types of withholdings when it enacted and later amended the ICA," the ruling states.

The decision has no practical impact. The only remedy for violations of the ICA is for Congress to sue the administration to release the funds. By the time of the GAO ruling, the aid had been restored.

The administrations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all were determined to have violated the ICA during their administrations.

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Inspector General - Russia investigation not political

2019-Dec-10  (Updated: 2019-Dec-12)By: Rob Dennis

The Justice Department has found that the FBI was justified in launching an investigation into the Donald Trump campaign's ties to Russia

The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) examined more than a million documents and interviewed more than 100 witnesses to compile the 476-page report into the investigation named Crossfire Hurricane.

The report did reveal "numerous serious errors" in the FBI's applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to obtain warrants to conduct surveillance on Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

It also noted that the FBI was unable to confirm the most serious allegations in the dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele - and found two of them were not true.

It concluded, however, that there was no political bias in the investigation.

No politically motivated witch hunt

The report states...

"(The investigation) was opened for an authorized investigative purpose and with sufficient factual predication. We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions to open the four individual investigations [into Trump aides Page, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and George Papadopoulos]."

Trump continually has criticized FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, claiming leaked texts showed they were hostile to Trump's campaign, and that this proved political bias led to the investigation.

According to the report, however, Strzok "was not the sole, or even the highest-level, decision maker" involved. Page played no role in the decision to launch the investigation.

Other conspiracy theories debunked by the report

The "Steele dossier" played no role in launching the FBI investigation.
Instead, the FBI launched the investigation at the end of July 2016 after receiving information about Trump campaign aide Papadopoulos from an Australian diplomat.

This had been widely reported for the past two years, and was confirmed by the Mueller report.

Mysterious professor was not an FBI agent.
Joseph Mifsud, the Kremlin-connected professor who told Papadopoulos that Russia had "dirt" on Trump's opponent Hillary Clinton, was not an FBI agent - as Papadopoulos and others have claimed without evidence.

The FBI never planted spies in Trump's campaign.
The FBI sent four confidential human sources (CHSs) and a few undercover employees (UCEs) to speak to Page, Papadopoulos and a high-level Trump campaign official who was not a subject of the investigation. But it never embedded spies in the Trump campaign

Obama never had Trump's "wires tapped".
In March 2017, Trump claimed President Barack Obama "had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower." Trump never offered any evidence for his wiretapping allegation, and the report mentions no such surveillance.

The report says FBI investigators initially considered applying for a FISA warrant to conduct surveillance of Papadopoulos , but ultimately did not. They also decided not to seek FISA surveillance of Manafort or Flynn

Only one member of the Trump campaign ever was placed under electronic surveillance - Carter Page, who was the subject of an existing counterintelligence investigation because of previous contacts with Russian intelligence, "as well as Page's financial, political, and business ties to the Russian government," the report says.

The FBI did not seek this FISA warrant until October 2016 - after Page already had left the Trump campaign amid allegations that he had communicated with top Russian officials.

Several problems in obtaining Carter Page FISA warrants

In obtaining FISA warrants to investigate Carter Page, the FBI's application contained "numerous serious factual errors and omissions."

Among other things, the warrant application selectively included statements made by Page to an FBI confidential source - including those that bolstered the theory that Page was an agent of Russia while omitting others that were inconsistent with that theory.

It also omitted information that Page had been approved as an "operational contact" for another government agency from 2008 to 2013, and that he "had provided information to the other agency concerning his prior contacts with certain Russian intelligence officers."

Though the "Steele dossier" did not play a role in starting the investigation into Trump's ties with Russia, it played a key role in obtaining warrants against Page. The report documented several problems with Steele's information, including inaccuracies, omissions, and information that could not be corroborated.

The report concluded that, despite the mistakes made, there was no evidence that the FISA warrants were politically influenced.

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Trump pardons 3 for war crimes

2019-Nov-15  (Updated: 2019-Dec-05)By: Barry Shatzman

President Donald Trump has pardoned three people accused or convicted of war crimes.

Clint Lorance gave illegal order to kill

First Lt. Clint Lorance was convicted of ordering his troops in Afghanistan to shoot and kill Afghan men on motorcycles. The shooting violated the military's rules of engagement, and Lorance tried to cover up the action.

Matthew Golsteyn was pardoned before he could be tried

Maj. Matthew Golsteyn was charged with premeditated murder for ambushing an Afghan man who had been released from custody in 2010. His pardon comes before the case was tried.

Edward Gallagher attorneys had close Trump connections

Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher had been charged with stabbing to death a teenage prisoner of war in Iraq. He was acquitted for the murder, but convicted of posing with the corpse. He was demoted. Trump's pardon restored his higher rank.

Trump previously had ordered the military to revoke commendations awarded to the case's prosecutors.

Task & Purpose had reported In May that three members of Gallagher's defense team have close ties to Trump, including Trump personal attorney Marc Mukasey.

At one point during Gallagher's hearing, Mukasey - who was present over the phone - dropped from the hearing to attend court proceedings regarding Trump's banking records.

Other longtime Trump associates making up part of Gallagher's defense team were Bernard Kerik and Tim Parlatore.

Parlatore previously had represented Fox News commentator Pete Hegseth, who had been lobbying Trump to pardon Gallagher. Parlatore has acknowledged discussing the case with Hegseth.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Court overrules Trump on census citizenship question

2019-Jan-15By: (External links)

Judge Orders Trump Administration To Remove 2020 Census Citizenship Question

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Trump administration actively interferes with science

2018-Nov-09By: (External links)

Trump's Interference With Science Is Unprecedented

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Administration looks to change name of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

2018-Jun-11By: (External links)

Mick Mulvaney changed the CFPB's sign to BCFP

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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