Forensic News Roundup: Firings to protect Pompeo and Chao

May 28, 2020 4:18 pm By

Mike Pompeo’s dirty laundry

Two weeks ago, President Trump fired State Dept. Inspector General Steve Linick at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

  • By law, Congress must be notified 30 days in advance before the firing of an IG, giving the watchdog time to wind down his investigations. But Linick has since been told that he is physically barred from returning to the State Department even to collect his belongings, complicating his ability to finish his work. Former White House ethics attorney Walter Shaub calls this “a direct violation of the Inspector General Act.”
  • Pompeo’s new acting inspector general is already creating a conflict of interest… In violation of the above law, Stephen Akard has already taken Linick’s job. Akard is also keeping his previous position as the head of the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions – meaning the new IG is essentially overseeing himself.
  • The White House and the State Department failed Friday to hand over documents to Congress about Linick’s firing… Rep. Engel, chair of House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Sen. Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, launched an investigation last week into Linick’s removal.

Pompeo’s dirty laundry – literally – is being exposed:

  • Pompeo ordered officials to find a way to justify the Saudi arms sale that Linick was probing… Pompeo’s demand meant State Department officials had to reverse engineer the situation to provide the justification for a decision which was made in an aggressive and unconventional manner.
    • In justifying the move to Congress, Pompeo wrote that “Iranian aggression” and “increasing regional volatility” necessitated an urgent delivery of certain weapons to U.S. partners in the Middle East. However, at meetings last year, senior officials agreed that there had been no change in Tehran’s behavior to justify invoking emergency authorities and advised against doing so.
  • Pompeo and his wife have hosted about two dozen elite dinners at the State Department funded by taxpayer dollars since 2018… Linick was investigating Pompeo’s potential misuse of government resources for personal endeavors.
    • State Department officials involved in the dinners said they had raised concerns internally that the events were 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.
  • Linick was reportedly investigating two top aides to Pompeo, two officials in the Office of Protocol, which runs the dinners… Cam Henderson, who leads the department’s Office of Protocol, and a deputy of hers, Mary-Kate Fisher, may have failed to report workplace violence.
  • Pompeo is accused of the misuse of a political appointee to perform personal tasks for him and his wife… including walking the dog, picking up dry-cleaning, and making restaurant reservations
    • Slate reports that when Susan Pompeo visited her mother in Lafayette, Louisiana, security officials were ordered to pick her up at the airport. Last June, they were told to pack up the house in Lafayette and cart away boxes when her mother prepared to move to a retirement home in Overland Park, Kansas.
    • Some officials in the State Department say Mrs. Pompeo, a former bank executive, has played an unusually active role in running meetings and accompanying her husband on official business. “They know that’s not supposed to happen, because she isn’t in their chain of command. But what can they do?”

DOT Inspector General

The same day Linick was fired, Trump replaced the acting-Dept. of Transportation (DOT) IG, Mitch Behm, with Howard “Skip” Elliott, the head of a pipeline safety agency:

Behm was investigating whether Secretary Elaine Chao, wife of Mitch McConnell (R-KY), was giving preferential treatment to projects in Kentucky… Numerous House committees are investigating Chao’s conduct benefiting her husband’s political prospects.

The White House Counsel’s Office reportedly directed Behm’s replacement… Behm was a member of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.

Elliott will retain his previous position leading the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), meaning he will be policing himself… Additionally, McConnell was instrumental in Elliott’s confirmation to that position, worrying ethics officials that he was chosen for passing a loyalty test.


GOP focuses on Biden

The Senate Homeland Security Committee approved a subpoena related to Biden’s son last week… Chairman Ron Johnson’s subpoena targets documents and testimony in the custody of Blue Star Strategies, a lobbying firm that acted on behalf of Burisma.

Sen. Kamala Harris gave an impassioned plea before the vote: “There are literally matters of life and death waiting for our committee’s attention, but instead this committee is doing the president’s personal bidding … I urge you to vote against this political sideshow.” (video)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that Senate Republicans “want to dive into the deepest muck of right-wing conspiracy to invent scapegoats for the president to use in his re-election campaign.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham announced a June 4 vote on a subpoena to an array of senior Obama-era officials, including former FBI Director James Comey… Other targets include former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former CIA Director John Brennan.

  • Graham on his probe’s timeline: “We’ll go through the summer and try to get wrapped up by September, October… I want to do it before the election. I want to get all the information out there”

Senate Republicans are embracing Trump’s agenda… Trump’s campaign “was treated like a hostile foreign power by our own law enforcement,” McConnell said Tuesday, subject to “wild theories of Russian collusion.” Sen. John Thune pointed out that the White House and Republicans in Congress must be united because their “fortunes sort of rise or fall together.”


Flynn, Barr, and unmasking

Almost immediately after special counsel Robert Mueller closed his investigation last year, AG Barr met with the prosecutor now reviewing Russia probe… Barr met at least six times with US Attorney John “Bull” Durham over a 10-week period in spring 2019. Since last summer, Barr and President Donald Trump have used the Durham investigation to sow skepticism about the Mueller investigation.

The DC Appeals Court ordered Judge Sullivan to explain why he is hesitating to dismiss Flynn’s case… The request for an immediate intervention initially appeared to be a long shot since Judge Sullivan has not declined to dismiss the case, but rather is conducting a review before making a decision. However, two of the three appellate judges on the panel have ruled in Trump’s favor previously – including Trump appointee Neomi Rao.

If the appellate panel orders Sullivan to drop the Flynn charge, he still has other options. The lawyer he’s chosen to represent him, Beth Wilkinson, could ask the full appeals court or the Supreme Court to reverse any order shutting down his review.

Marcy Wheeler has written a great analysis… Emmet Sullivan Has Up to Six Pending Decisions, Not One.

Despite Republican efforts to identify an “unmasker,” apparently Flynn’s name was never redacted in the FBI report about his communications with Russian Sergey Kislyak… Unmasking is a routine practice used to identify U.S. individuals who are referred to anonymously in an intelligence document.

  • “When the FBI circulated [the report], they included Flynn’s name from the beginning” because it was essential to understanding its significance, said a former senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive intelligence. “There were therefore no requests for the unmasking of that information.”

Flynn coordinated the Kislyak call with Trump officials at Mar-a-Lago… Not only did Flynn make efforts — by lying — to hide his consultation with Mar-a-Lago when he was interviewed on January 24, but after Kislyak relayed to Flynn that Putin had specifically taken Flynn’s call into account, Flynn took immediate efforts to hide that sanctions had come up by writing McFarland a cover email she could share with others that didn’t mention sanctions.

Outgoing acting-DNI Ric Grenell says he is in the process of declassifying some of the transcripts of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak… Rep. John Ratcliffe was confirmed to the position by the Senate last week.


Open Skies and nuclear ambitions

The US has declared its intention to leave the Open Skies Treaty, which is intended to reduce the risk of war by allowing Russia and western nations to conduct observation flights over each other’s territory. America’s European allies are keen to keep the treaty going. They have benefited from the more than 1,500 overflights carried out under the OST, allowing them to observe Russian military movements. * An American withdrawal from the Open Skies treaty would give Putin more leeway to make forays into areas like eastern Ukraine, where he’d love to keep his actions concealed from western scrutiny.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, noted that the U.S. announcement about its intended withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty came as a surprise to America’s allies. “The United States is sowing discord and uncertainty among its allies… They are ignoring the opinion of NATO and other nations that are party to this agreement,” he said.

The Trump administration has discussed whether to conduct the first U.S. nuclear test explosion since 1992… During the meeting, serious disagreements emerged over the idea, in particular from the National Nuclear Security Administration. “It would be an invitation for other nuclear-armed countries to follow suit.”

Russia is seizing on Trump’s abandonment of treaties and nuclear ambitions… Instead of playing along with Trump’s dangerous brinkmanship, Russia may pull out of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty altogether…State media outlet Vesti surmised that such a move would obliterate all of Washington’s efforts and decades-long investments in the nuclear ban treaty.


What are the courts up to?

Court orders State Department to reconsider intersex passport application… The federal appeals court said the agency provided invalid reasons for denying Dana Zzyym, an intersex Navy veteran, a passport with an “X” gender marker.

A judge has refused to stay a lawsuit alleging the Trumps engaged in an illegal pyramid scheme… This decision makes it likely that the case will play out in the public sphere.

Second Circuit holds that White House visitor logs maintained by the Secret Service aren’t agency records subject to disclosure laws… In April 2017, the White House said it would stop releasing the names of the president’s guests. That prompted a lawsuit.

Justice Department Backs Challenge To Illinois Stay-At-Home Order… The legal maneuver marks the first time the U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in on state level COVID-19 policies that are unrelated to religious matters.

Michigan Judge Pens Partisan Rant Against Gretchen Whitmer’s “Totalitarian” Shutdown… More and more the standard for some jurists, and particularly those who take their cues from a president who doesn’t believe in an independent judiciary, is quite a bit lower: They seem to be asking simply whether, if this whole judging thing doesn’t work out, they might still get a prime-time slot on Fox News.

Florida Supreme Court’s new conservative majority allowed the state to resume executing individuals who may be intellectually disabledshredding a precedent no one asked them to destroy.


Voting rights

A Montana judge temporarily blocked a voter-approved law that restricts the collection of absentee ballots, which limited one person to turning in a maximum six absentee ballots. The ACLU, Native American tribes, and advocacy groups had sued to block the 2018 law, arguing that it disproportionately harms American Indians who live in rural areas and rely on others to collect and convey their ballots to elections offices or post offices.

Republican National Committee sues California to halt vote-by-mail for November general election… Trump later tweeted unfounded claims of voter fraud: “People grab [ballots] from mailboxes, print thousands of forgeries and ‘force’ people to sign. Also, forge names. Some absentee OK, when necessary. Trying to use Covid for this Scam!” he added.

Federal judge says all Texas voters can apply to vote by mail during pandemic… District Judge Fred Biery granted a preliminary injunction that allows all registered voters to apply to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic after finding the state’s existing election rules violate the Equal Protection Clause.

A federal judge has gutted a Florida state law requiring felons to pay all court fines and fees before they can register to voteclearing the way for thousands of Floridians to register in time for the November presidential election.

Republicans Have a New Plan to Thwart the Will of the People… A Missouri initiative would undo voters’ preference for nonpartisan legislative districts — and perhaps shift representation itself.

  • Further reading: Republican legislators’ armlock strangling Missouri progress, and it’s getting tighter

Georgia Republicans cancel election for state Supreme Court, so governor can appoint a Republican… Republicans will control a seat on the state Supreme Court for an extra two years.

Freed by Court Ruling, Republicans Step Up Effort to Patrol Voting… Officials seek to recruit 50,000 poll watchers and spend millions to fight voter fraud. Democrats say the real goal is to stop them from voting.


Miscellaneous

Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort Got to Leave Federal Prison Due to COVID-19. They’re The Exception… Just a small fraction of federal prisoners have been sent home. Many others lack legal help and connections to make their case.

Nearly 500 Miami-Dade jail inmates — a whopping 41 percent of inmates tested — have contracted the novel coronavirus… The rate of infection dwarfs the rate of infection among the public in Miami-Dade, where state statistics show just over 11 percent of those tested for the coronavirus have tested positive.

The gunman who killed three U.S. sailors at a military base in Florida last December communicated with Al Qaeda operatives about planning and tactics in the months leading up to the attack… In other words, al Qaeda infiltrated Saudi military’s exchange program with the US. Trump’s Muslim ban was not focused on the countries at most risk of exporting terrorists.

As Saudi Official Hid Abroad, His Family Became a Target at Home… As a former Saudi intelligence officer, Saad Aljabri knows “where the bodies are buried.” Now Saudi authorities are arresting his relatives to force him to return to the kingdom, his son says.

  • Jailed Saudis Seek Influence in Washington to Counter Crown Prince. Some are hiring lobbyists with links to the Trump administration, looking to build support at a time when the de facto Saudi ruler is beset by economic problems and criticism over human rights violations.

The Trump administration has cleared the United Arab Emirates of wrongdoing and approved a possible sale of thousands of armored vehicles to the Gulf statedespite evidence that the country made unauthorized transfers of American military hardware to armed groups in Yemen.



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