Update on Trump’s war on the inspectors general


First, an update to Unaccountable: fourth Inspector General fired in a retaliatory discharge, re: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Wow, this scandal has been building fast since the “Friday night massacre.” Since I can’t possibly keep up with all of the crimes and corruption of the Trump Swamp, Steve Benen has a good summary to bring this scandal up to date. Facing difficult questions, Pompeo’s scandal defense unravels:

Last week, Donald Trump fired State Department Inspector General Steve Linick — late on a Friday night — because Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked him to. [Also, Trump said, because Linick was appointed by Obama.] It wasn’t long before this turned into a legitimate scandal: Pompeo was under investigation by the same official he told the president to fire.

By way of a defense, the Republican cabinet secretary and his team have come up with three main talking points. The first is that Linick wasn’t a team player and failed to follow Pompeo’s lead. Since the inspector general is an independent watchdog, this argument is effectively self-defeating.

The second argument is that there were some kind of leaks from within the State Department last year, but since there’s no evidence Linick had anything to do with them, this too is a dud.

But perhaps most important was Pompeo’s central defense: it’s “simply not possible for this to be an act of retaliation,” he told the Washington Post, because he didn’t know he was under investigation.

Yeah, about that

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined an interview request for the State Department inspector general’s inquiry into whether the Trump administration acted illegally in declaring an “emergency” to bypass a congressional freeze on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, according to three people with knowledge of his actions.

According to the New York Timesreport, the cabinet secretary chose to “answer written questions from investigators working for the inspector general,” which “indicates that the secretary of state was aware of Mr. Linick’s investigation and the specific lines of questioning.”

In case this weren’t quite enough, NBC News published a striking report overnight on Pompeo hosting a series of elaborate and unpublicized “Madison Dinners” at the State Department, with elite guest lists featuring “billionaire CEOs, Supreme Court justices, political heavyweights and ambassadors.”

The soirees — paid for by taxpayers and held in a public building — led State Department officials to ring the alarm, and for good reason. The NBC News report added that these officials saw these gatherings as “essentially using federal resources to cultivate a donor and supporter base for Pompeo’s political ambitions — complete with extensive contact information that gets sent back to Susan Pompeo’s personal email address.”

It’s tempting to include a “but her emails” joke here, but I’m above such things.

NBC News’ report went on to note that these dinners have sparked inquiries on Capitol Hill, but the White House may not have fully been aware of what Pompeo has been up to.

In the opinion of a senior Trump administration official who requested anonymity out of concern for retribution, “if the president knew about any of this, he would have fired Pompeo months ago.”

Yeah, sure he would. He would probably demand a piece of the action. “Where’s my cut?

In a normal political environment, today would be the day Mike Pompeo wrote a brief, polite letter expressing his desire to spend more time with his family.

Next, an update to a post I did some time ago. This one sort of disappeared down the memory hole, but it is back today.  To ‘drain the swamp,’ start with the Washington swamp’s power couple, re: Senate Majority Leader “Moscow Mitch” McConnell and his wife, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

The Washington Post reports, Democrats open investigation into Trump’s replacement of acting Transportation Department inspector general:

Three leading House Democrats said Tuesday that they plan to open an investigation into the replacement of the Transportation Department’s acting inspector general, concerned that the move was tied to an ongoing investigation of Secretary Elaine Chao’s dealings with the state of Kentucky.

Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and has faced questions about whether her department has given preferential treatment to projects in the state.

On Friday, President Trump named Howard “Skip” Elliott, the head of a pipeline safety agency, as acting DOT inspector general. Mitch Behm, the department’s deputy, had been filling that role.

In a letter to Chao and Elliott, leaders of the House Oversight and Transportation committees tied Elliott’s appointment to what they called a broad assault by the Trump administration on inspectors general, who serve as internal government watchdogs.

The lawmakers requested information about Chao and her team’s communications with the White House about the decision to replace Behm. They asked Elliott to disclose whether the scope of any of the office’s investigations have changed since his appointment.

“We are concerned that Mr. Behm’s removal could be an effort to undermine the progress of his investigation, which we understand is ongoing,” the lawmakers wrote to Chao. “Any attempt by you or your office to interfere with the Office of Inspector General’s investigation of yourself is illegal and will be thoroughly examined by our Committees.”

In a statement, Chao’s office did not respond to the concerns about the Kentucky investigation but said that the president was within his legal authority to name Elliott acting inspector general.

* * *

One of the three lawmakers, Transportation Committee Chairman Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), asked the inspector general twice last year to examine whether Chao was giving preferential treatment to Kentucky.

In October 2019, DeFazio said he first requested the inspector general’s office look into Chao’s influence on a discretionary grant program called Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA). In a December letter to the inspector general, DeFazio amplified his concerns.

“New information has emerged that points to a troubling pattern of potential favoritism by the Secretary and her inner circle of staff at the Department of Transportation (DOT) and has heightened my concern about these issues,” he wrote then.

DeFazio cited news accounts from Politico that he said revealed “that Secretary Chao’s office has degraded the ability of career staff at DOT to objectively assess the merits of grant applications.”

DeFazio also raised questions about Chao’s family’s shipping business and whether she followed her ethics agreement to divest stock in Vulcan Materials, both of which the House Oversight Committee is also investigating.

In Tuesday’s letters, DeFazio along with Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), leaders on the oversight panel, urged Chao to advise the White House to reinstate Behm, whom they called a veteran public servant. Behm took on the role of acting inspector general when the office’s former leader retired in January.

In the letter to Elliott, the lawmakers said they viewed his appointment as part of a broader attack by Trump on inspectors general across the government.

“This assault on the integrity and independence of Inspectors General appears to be an intentional campaign to undermine their ability to expose corruption and protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse,” the letter said.

The same day he named Elliott to the job at the Transportation Department, Trump removed State Department inspector general Steve Linick.

Sooo, political favors for his henchmen who do his dirty work. Yes, this is illegal.

Elliot had a 40-year career in the railroad industry, serving as an executive at freight company CSX Transportation before joining the Trump administration. The lawmakers questioned what in his professional background qualified him to serve as inspector general.

Elliott is also set to continue as the head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration while serving as acting inspector general. The lawmakers wrote that the dual roles would stretch him too thin and presented significant conflicts of interest. The inspector general’s office has at least one open audit that touches on Elliott’s leadership at the pipeline agency, they wrote.

As head of the pipeline agency Elliott reports to Chao, but as inspector general he ought to be independent of the department’s leadership, they said.

“Your dual roles threaten both the safety of our transportation system and the integrity of the DOT Office of Inspector General,” the lawmakers wrote, saying Elliott should resign from one job or the other.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), the top Democrat a senate subcommittee that oversees pipeline safety, said she was also concerned about the potential for conflicts of interest in combining the two jobs.

“Acting Inspector General Skip Elliott being charged with auditing and investigating the actions of PHMSA Administrator Skip Elliott makes a mockery of the entire system of Inspectors General,” Duckworth said in a statement.

“Trump’s haphazard approach to firing and hiring Inspector Generals is detrimental to the stability, operations and oversight of the federal government, the Department of Transportation and — most troubling — the entire concept of an accountable, transparent government.”

In the statement, Chao’s office said Elliott would be expected to recuse himself from audits or investigations connected to things that fall under his responsibilities at the pipeline agency.

* * *

On Friday, Trump nominated Eric J. Soskin, a Justice Department attorney, to serve as the permanent inspector general. As the office’s deputy, Guzzetti said Behm was the obvious choice to be its leader until the confirmation of a permanent replacement.

We can’t have any do-gooder gumshoes sniffing around our operations, boys. They’ll snitch on us to the cops. Eighty-six ’em.” At least they’re not swimming with the fishes in cement shoes – yet.

“I can’t for the life of me figure out why he was unceremoniously removed like that, so suddenly,” Guzzetti said, adding that the move to sideline him was a shock.

Guzzetti said that the pipeline safety administration itself has numerous challenges, and the inspector general “is a full-time job.”

“It’s a big agency with a lot on their plate,” he said. “It’s very odd to me. It sounds wrong.”

We are going to need to build a new federal prison just to hold all of the corrupt criminals Trump brought with him to Washington, and all of the corrupt Republicans who were already in Washington who have aided and abetted his numerous crimes.

As I have said before, the Party of Trump is a criminal enterprise led by a third-rate mafia “Don” Trump. They are all accomplices, co-conspirators and accessories who aid and abet his criminality and corruption. There is not a patriot among them. They put fealty to their “Dear Leader” above all else, including loyalty to their country and our national security, and their oaths of office to defend the Constitution. They reject the rule of law and are amoral. It is a betrayal of the faith of the American people in our constitutional government. They must all be held accountable.

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