Trump Is Urged to Fire Kellyanne Conway for Hatch Act Violations

From today’s New York Times:

An independent government agency recommended on Thursday that President Trump fire Kellyanne Conway, his White House counselor, for repeated violations of an ethics law barring partisan politics from the federal workplace.

In a letter accompanying a report to Mr. Trump, the agency called Ms. Conway a “repeat offender” of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in campaign politics at work, saying that her flagrant defiance of the law justified her dismissal from the White House.

“As a highly visible member of the administration, Ms. Conway’s violations, if left unpunished, send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act’s restrictions,” said the letter to the president, signed by Henry J. Kerner, the head of the agency. “Her actions erode the principal foundation of our democratic system — the rule of law.”

The agency, called the Office of Special Counsel, enforces the Hatch Act and is not related to Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel who investigated Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Despite its official mission, the office has no power to force Ms. Conway’s dismissal, and the White House quickly made clear that Mr. Trump would not follow its suggestion.

Read the complete article here.

FACT CHECK: Foreign Interference And ‘Opposition Research’ Are Not The Same

From today’s NPR News Online:

President Trump has conflated an infamous practice in and among political campaigns — “opposition research” — with foreign election interference like that launched by Russia against the United States in 2016.

Are they the same thing? Is foreign interference just a kind of “oppo research,” as Trump said in an interview with ABC?

The short answer: No. Oppo research is part of politics. But the law prohibits American political campaigns from taking “a contribution or donation of money or any other thing of value” from foreigners. The ban isn’t limited to money, as Justice Department investigators wrote.

The long answer: Trump told ABC News that essentially every political candidate is willing to accept information that could be of use against an opponent.

“You go and talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it. They always have. And that’s the way it is. It’s called ‘oppo research,’ ” he said.

What’s the difference?

Opposition research is what campaigns and political operatives use against each other. If one candidate running for office dug up a story about something embarrassing her opponent had done, the first candidate might bundle it together and see that it found its way into the newspaper.

Active measures

In 2016, however, the Russian government also launched a broad wave of “active measures” from outside the U.S. and used sophisticated tools found only in the arsenal of a major government. Its ultimate goal was to help elect Trump.

Trump’s campaign counted on the boost it got from WikiLeaks in 2016, according to the report by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller. Donald Trump Jr. also accepted the offer of a meeting, via intermediaries, to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

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Interior nominee David Bernhardt’s ethics problems aren’t going away

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

President Trump’s pick to the lead the Interior Department heads for a confirmation vote as early as Thursday, with his career as a lobbyist raising ethical and legal concerns and doubts about his independence from the energy and water industry groups he long represented.

Acting Secretary David Bernhardt spent about eight years as a partner in Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, one of the nation’s top-grossing law and lobbying firms, according to public rankings. There he represented energy, mining and Western water interests that deal with the Interior Department, including two California entities, Westlands Water District — the nation’s largest irrigation district — and Cadiz Inc.

Bernhardt’s firm sued the department four times on Westlands’ behalf. He personally argued one appeals case challenging federal endangered species protections for imperiled salmon. He did legal work for Cadiz, which wants to build a water pipeline on a railroad right of way that crosses federal land in the California desert.

When Bernhardt was confirmed as deputy secretary in 2017, he had to sign the administration’s ethics pledge and recuse himself from participating in “particular matters” involving more than two dozen former clients. Some of the recusals were effective for two years, others for one. In the last year, he has helped put policies in place that benefit businesses he once represented as a lobbyist.

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Corruption: Cohen’s Testimony Opens New Phase of Turbulence for Trump

From today’s New York Times:

A small group of Republican strategists opposed to President Trump, branding themselves Defending Democracy Together, quietly conducted polling and focus groups last fall to gauge whether the president was vulnerable to a primary challenge in 2020. Assembling a presentation for sympathetic political donors, they listed points of weakness for Mr. Trump such as “tweeting/temperament” and “criminality/corruption.”

The group concluded that Mr. Trump’s scandals were not yet badly damaging him with Republican-leaning voters: “Even relatively high information voters aren’t paying particularly close attention to day-to-day scandals,” the presentation stated. But it added that there was “room to educate voters” on the subject.

Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, may have begun that education on Wednesday.

With Mr. Cohen’s appearance before a House committee, the public airing of ethical transgressions by Mr. Trump reached a new phase, one that may be harder to ignore for friends and foes alike. The spectacle of Mr. Trump’s onetime enforcer denouncing him in televised proceedings, detailing a catalog of alleged cruelty and crimes, signaled the pressure the president’s already strained coalition could feel in the coming months as Congress scrutinizes him and the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III completes his investigation.

Republicans still find it difficult to imagine that Mr. Trump’s electoral base would ever desert him, though they acknowledge that bond may soon be tested as never before. Mr. Trump’s core supporters — numbering about two in five American voters, polls suggest — have stayed with him through revelations of financial and sexual impropriety, painful electoral setbacks and the longest government shutdown in history.

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CBO estimates shutdown cost $11 billion, $3 billion won’t be recovered

From today’s ABC News Online:

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the longest-running government shutdown in U.S. history came at a price. It cost the economy $11 billion, with $3 billion that will never be recovered, according to a report released Monday.

For the fourth quarter of 2018, the CBO estimated real gross domestic product was reduced by $3 billion compared to what it would have been. The level of real GDP for the first quarter of 2019 is estimated to be $8 billion lower, due to a combination of the partial government shutdown delaying approximately $18 billion in federal spending, suspending services for federal workers and a reduction in demand lowering output in the private sector.

“Risks to the economy were becoming increasingly significant as the shutdown continued,” the report read. “Although their precise effects on economic output are uncertain, the negative effects of such factors would have become increasingly important if the partial shutdown had extended beyond five weeks.”

While CBO anticipates a majority of the lost real GDP will be recovered, about $3 billion will not be. That’s about 0.02 percent of the projected annual GDP in 2019, according to the report.

“Among those who experienced the largest and most direct negative effects are federal workers who faced delayed compensation and private-sector entities that lost business,” the report said. “Some of those private-sector entities will never recoup that lost income.”

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Interactive Map: Government Shutdown Is Affecting Federal Workers in All States

From today’s New York Times:

About 800,000 federal workers are furloughed or working without pay across the country because of the government shutdown, many of them concentrated in the West.

Over all, federal workers account for about 1.5 percent of the country’s labor force, with a fifth of them in the Washington metro area. But the shutdown has hit some agencies — and states — harder than others.

Outside the capital, states with large numbers of workers for the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior are more likely to feel the shutdown’s effects. And nearly the entire staff of the Environmental Protection Agency is furloughed, including hundreds of workers in North Carolina and Illinois.

A budget agreement to end the shutdown remains the subject of a fierce partisan fight in Congress, with federal workers caught in the middle. Some senators who count these workers among their constituents are pushing for an end to the impasse, but federal employment does not appear to have a clear relationship to lawmakers’ positions on the shutdown.

Read the complete article here.

Pence and Cabinet Members Are Due a Raise, as Federal Workers Go Unpaid

From today’s New York Times

Vice President Mike Pence, members of the cabinet and other high-ranking political appointees in the Trump administration are positioned to receive a pay bump of about $10,000 a year even as 800,000 federal employees are entering their third week without paychecks.

The increases are the result of Congress’s failure to renew a longstanding freeze on raises for high-ranking officials and political appointees. An extension of the freeze was included in the spending bills funding multiple government agencies that were not acted on before the expiration of the 115th Congress on Thursday.

That has created an unexpected optics issue for the Trump administration: While correctional officers, Transportation Security Administration agents, and other federal employees work without pay during the government shutdown, Mr. Pence’s annual salary could jump to $243,500 from $230,700. Cabinet secretaries who are paid $199,700 a year could see their annual pay rise to $210,700.

The administration appeared to be aware of the perception problem, and hoped to avoid it. Asked at his news conference on Friday if he would freeze the raises during the shutdown, President Trump said he “might consider that.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, later explained that the administration was “exploring options to prevent this from being implemented while some federal workers are furloughed” and described the situation as “another unnecessary byproduct of the shutdown” that she said could be remedied by Congress.

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“Unqualified” Trump appointee set to take over consumer protection agency

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

If all goes according to Republican plan, this is the week a person with no experience in consumer protection will take over the consumer watchdog agency that the party has been steadily weakening to the point of irrelevancy.

Kathy Kraninger, a White House budget official, received the green light for final approval last week after Republican senators shut down debate on her nomination with a party-line vote of 50 to 49. The only wild card is whether memorial services for former President George H.W. Bush will delay action by a few days.

Kraninger would replace White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, who has been leading the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on an interim basis and fulfilling President Trump’s pledge to make the agency friendlier to the businesses it was intended to crack down on — banks, payday lenders and others.

“If the Senate approves this unqualified acolyte of Mick Mulvaney, who has no consumer protection or financial regulation experience, expect her to simply follow his playbook,” said Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of the federal consumer program for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

That means Kraninger will “leave service members and their families at the mercy of predatory lenders, work with payday lenders to eliminate the payday lending rule even Congress was afraid to vote to repeal, and reduce enforcement penalties, if any, to parking tickets, not punishments,” he said.

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Trump’s Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Faces Increased Ethics Scrutiny

From today’s New York Times:

Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the Interior Department and a key figure in President Trump’s push to roll back environmental regulations and ramp up oil drilling, is facing increased scrutiny amid federal investigations into allegations that he abused travel spending and maintained close ties with industries he oversees.

The criticism escalated sharply after reports this week that the Interior Department’s inspector general had referred one of the inquiries to the Justice Department, a potential prelude to a criminal investigation.

T​he​​ investigations have raised questions about Mr. Zinke’s oversight of the Interior Department, where he is essentially the largest land manager in the United States. He has authority over the nation’s 300 million acres of public lands as well as vast waters off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr. Zinke faces at least a half-dozen ethics investigations. At least nine other inquiries into alleged ethics violations have been closed, in some cases because Mr. Zinke was cleared, in others because of a lack of cooperation with investigators.

While it is not known which ​inquiry​ has been referred to the Justice Department, a person familiar with the matter, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said it was most likely one examining a Montana land deal that involved an organization run by Mr. Zinke’s wife​ and a development group backed by the chairman of Halliburton, which is one of the nation’s largest companies involved in drilling for oil and gas on public lands.

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Now for Rent: Email and Phone Numbers of Millions of Trump Supporters

From today’s New York Times:

Early in his presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump dismissed political data as an “overrated” tool. But after he won the Republican nomination, his team began building a database that offers a pipeline into the heart of the party’s base, a comprehensive list including the email addresses and cellphone numbers of as many as 20 million supporters.

Now, consultants close to the Trump campaign are ramping up efforts to put that database — by far the most sought-after in Republican politics — to use, offering it for rent to candidates, conservative groups and even businesses.

It is an arrangement that has the potential to help the Republican Party in key midterm races, while providing a source of revenue for President Trump’s campaign and the consultants involved.

It has also set off concerns about diluting the power of one of Mr. Trump’s most potent political assets, while raising questions about whether his team is facilitating the sort of political profiteering that he disparaged during his campaign.

It is not unusual for candidates to rent supporter data to — or from — other campaigns. The new effort by Mr. Trump’s team, however, appears to be the first time the campaign of a sitting president facing re-election has opted to market its list.

Federal election law allows campaigns and political action committees to sell or rent their lists, provided that the payments received are fair market value.

In recent weeks, Mr. Trump’s campaign, which is not known for its adherence to political norms, quietly signed a contract with a newly formed Virginia-based company called Excelsior Strategies to market the emails and cellphone numbers — what is known in the political industry as first-party data.

Read the complete article here.