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House Committee Investigating Sec. of State Pompeo for Possible Hatch Act Violations in RNC Speech

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Source: Politico

  • On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo broke long-standing precedent by issuing his support for a presidential candidate during President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign at the Republican National Convention
  • Even before his speech, a House committee announced it was launching an investigation over concerns Pompeo violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits executive branch employees from political activities while on-duty.
  • The White House has argued that Pompeo was off duty and not on government grounds when he gave the speech, though Pompeo may have still violated his own State Department guidance. 
  • Tuesday night’s RNC events also included another possible Hatch Act violation, according to critics. This occurred when Trump hosted a naturalization ceremony for five immigrants, with federal employees also in attendance.

House Committee Probe

Night two of the Republican National Convention featured major controversial moments that critics and legal experts say could have violated federal law. 

The most notable was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision to speak at the RNC while on a diplomatic trip in Jerusalem. In fact, the move is now the subject of a House committee investigation.

That probe, launched by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is investigating whether or not Pompeo violated the Hatch Act by appearing at the RNC. According to the Office of the Special Counsel, which promotes compliance with the law, it limits “certain political activities of federal employees, as well as some state, D.C., and local government employees who work in connection with federally funded programs.”

Specifically to this situation, the law bars executive branch employees from using their positions to influence a presidential election. While those employees can still participate in political activities, the Hatch Act prevents them from doing so while in government buildings or while wearing an official uniform or insignia.

“It is highly unusual, and likely unprecedented, for a sitting Secretary of State to speak at a partisan convention for either of the political parties,” Representative Joaquin Castro said in a letter Stephen Biegun, deputy secretary of state. “It appears that it may also be illegal.”

Castro continued by asking Beigun to provide a host of details about Pompeo’s current trip to Jerusalem, including:

  • Any potential involvement in the speech by State Department employees and their responsibilities.
  • Information about whether or not the State Department will be paying for all of the travel costs of this trip or if part of it will be reimbursed by the RNC or the Trump campaign.
  • The date the State Department was first made aware of Pompeo’s decision to make this address from Jerusalem while on a trip abroad.

Despite the House inquiry, the State Department has argued that Pompeo didn’t use his official title and only spoke on a “personal capacity,” A spokesperson with the department also said Pompeo didn’t use any departmental resources or staff to deliver his speech.

“The State Department will not bear any costs in conjunction with this appearance,” the spokesperson added.

Reportedly, lawyers for Pompeo, the State Department, the RNC, and the White House all reviewed Pompeo’s speech to ensure that it would not violate the Hatch Act.

In his letter, Castro addresses the State Department’s explanation, saying Pompeo “has not made any of this supposed legal analysis public. Instead, the legal analysis that has come to light shows precisely the opposite.”

Other critics have also cited departmental guidance approved by Pompeo himself last month, which states that “the Department’s longstanding policy is that U.S. citizen employees and family members may not engage in partisan political activity while posted or on [temporary duty travel] abroad, even on personal time.”

Therefore, it is also possible that Pompeo broke his own guidance by giving his address; however, that would not constitute a violation of federal law, unlike the Hatch Act.

Pompeo Praises Trump’s Foreign Policy

When it came time for Pompeo’s pre-recorded speech to finally air, he praised many of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy decisions; however, Pompeo was careful to never actually reference his position as Secretary of State.

“He’s pulled back the curtain on the predatory aggression of the Chinese Communist Party,” said. “The president has held China accountable for covering up the China virus and allowing it to spread death and economic destruction in America and around the world, and he will not rest until justice is done.” 

Like Trump’s repeated use of the phrase, Pompeo’s explicit choice to use the “China virus” has been condemned by many as racist. While China has been accused by U.S. intelligence of covering up COVID-19 cases, as of Wednesday, John Hopkins University reported just under 90,000 cases in the country of over 1.4 billion. By comparison, the U.S. has nearly 5.78 million cases but only has a population of 328 million.

Additionally, as The New York Times points out, “Trump has taken no specific action to punish China for its virus response.”

Continuing to praise Trump for his response to China, Pompeo toured Trump’s trade war with China, saying that China “punched a hole in our economy” and that “jobs are coming back home.”

Pompeo then shifted gears to Trump’s historic talks with North Korea and later, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, where he said that NATO is stronger today because of Trump. 

Over the past four years, Trump has repeatedly bashed NATO and mischaracterized its funding. Many western officials reportedly worry about its future. 

In his address, Pompeo also praised the Trump administration for the killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in January. That move was highly controversial in nature, and some claimed that it violated international law because the U.S. justification was not strong enough. Others criticized it for sharply escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

“The president exited the US from the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran and squeezed the ayatollah, Hezbollah, and Hamas,” Pompeo said, praising other controversial Trump decisions. “The president, too, moved the US embassy to this very city of God, Jerusalem, the rightful capital of the Jewish homeland.”

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal wasn’t popular at all with US allies. In fact, it was even opposed by his advisers.

Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem broke decades of U.S. policy and came at a tumultuous time for Israel. 

Trump Naturalization Ceremony

Tuesday night also featured a pre-recorded naturalization ceremony hosted by Trump. In that ceremony, acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf administers the Oath of Allegiance to five immigrants..

Notably, because this event was recorded in the White House, critics argued that Wolf was violating the Hatch Act. 

In addition to Wolf, two uniformed Marines took part in the ceremony, which could also be at odds with the Hatch Act, according to a long-standing policy from the Department of Defense. The basis of that would likely depend on whether those Marines knew the ceremony was being recorded for the RNC.

According to an anonymous White House official who spoke with The Washington Post, the ceremony  was part of the president’s official schedule that was publicized on a public website

“The campaign decided to use the publicly available content for campaign purposes,” that official told The Post. “There was no violation of law.” 

But as The Post reported, the White House press corps was never informed about the ceremony and that ceremony was not listed on the president’s public schedule.

The Trump administration has a history of violating the Hatch Act. In 2018, six White House staffers were found to have violated the act, but no official punishments were even enforced. They were simply sent warnings.

In 2019, the Office of the Special Counsel recommended that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway be removed from her position for multiple violations of the Hatch Act.

See what others are saying: (Axios) (Politico) (Business Insider)

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Supreme Court Rules High School Football Coach Can Pray on Field

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All of our rights are “hanging in the balance,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a dissenting opinion.


Court’s Conservatives Break With 60 Years of History

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled in favor of a former high school football coach who lost his job after he refused to stop praying on the field at the end of games.

Joseph Kennedy, who was hired at Bremerton High School in Washington State in 2008, kneeled at the 50-yard line after games for years and prayed. He was often joined by some of his players, as well as others from the opposing team.

In 2015, the school asked him not to pray if it interfered with his duties or involved students.

Shortly after, Kennedy was placed on paid administrative leave, and after a school official recommended that his contract not be renewed for the 2016 season he did not reapply for the position.

Kennedy sued the school, eventually appealing the case to the Supreme Court.

The justices voted 6 to 3, with the liberal justices dissenting.

“Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse republic — whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion.

“Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance,” he added.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a dissenting opinion.

“Today’s decision is particularly misguided because it elevates the religious rights of a school official, who voluntarily accepted public employment and the limits that public employment entails, over those of his students, who are required to attend school and who this court has long recognized are particularly vulnerable and deserving of protection,” she said.

“In doing so, the court sets us further down a perilous path in forcing states to entangle themselves with religion, with all of our rights hanging in the balance.”

The defense in the case argued that the public nature of Kennedy’s prayers put pressure on students to join him, and that he was acting in his capacity as a public employee, not a private citizen.

Kennedy’s lawyers contended that such an all-encompassing definition of his job duties denied him his right to self-expression on school grounds.

“This is just so awesome,” Kennedy said in a statement following the decision. “All I’ve ever wanted was to be back on the field with my guys … I thank God for answering our prayers and sustaining my family through this long battle.”

Religious Liberty or Separation of Church and State?

Sixty years ago, the Supreme Court decided that the government cannot organize or promote prayer in public schools, and it has since generally abided by that jurisprudence.

But the court led by Chief Justice John Roberts has been increasingly protective of religious expression, especially after the confirmation of three conservative Trump-appointed judges.

Reactions to the ruling were mostly split between liberals who saw the separation of church and state being dissolved and conservatives who hailed it as a victory for religious liberty.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which represented the Bremerton school district, said in a statement that the ruling “gutted decades of established law that protected students’ religious freedom.”

“If Coach Kennedy were named Coach Akbar and he had brought a prayer blanket to the 50 yard line to pray after a game,” one Twitter user said, “I’ve got a 401(k) that says this illegitimate, Christofascist SCOTUS rules 6-3 against him.”

“The people defending former Coach Kennedy’s right to kneel on the field after the game to pray – are the ones condemning Colin Kaepernick’s right to kneel on the field to protest police brutality against Black Americans,” another user wrote.

Others, like Republican Congressmember Ronny Jackson and former Secretary of State for the Trump administration Mike Pompeo, celebrated the ruling for protecting religious freedom and upholding what they called the right to pray.

“I am excited to build on this victory and continue securing our inalienable right to religious freedom,” Pompeo wrote.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Fox News)

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Rep. Schiff Urges DOJ to Investigate Trump for Election Crimes: “There’s Enough Evidence”

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“When the Justice Department finds evidence of criminal potential criminal wrongdoing, they need to investigate,” the congressman said.


Schiff Says DOJ Should Launch Inquiry

Rep. Adam Schiff (R-Ca.) told Rogue Rocket that he believes there is “certainly […] enough evidence for the Justice Department to open an investigation” into possible election crimes committed by former President Donald Trump.

Schiff, who took the lead in questioning witnesses testifying before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection on Tuesday, said that it will be up to the DOJ to determine whether “they have proof beyond a reasonable doubt” of criminal activity, but added that an investigation must first be launched.

“Donald Trump should be treated like any other citizen,” the congressman said, noting that a federal judge in California has already ruled that Trump and his allies “likely” engaged in multiple federal criminal acts. “When the Justice Department finds evidence of criminal potential criminal wrongdoing, they need to investigate.”

“One of the concerns I have is it’s a year and a half since these events. And while […] there’s an investigation going on in Fulton County by the district attorney, I don’t see a federal grand jury convened in Atlanta looking into this, and I think it’s fair to ask why,” Schiff continued, referencing the ongoing inquiry into Trump’s attempts to overturn the election in Georgia.

“Normally, the Justice Department doesn’t wait for Congress to go first. They pursue evidence and they have the subpoena power. They’re often much more agile than the Congress. And I think it’s important that it not just be the lower-level people who broke into the Capitol that day and committed those acts of violence who are under the microscope,” he continued. “I think anyone who engaged in criminal activity trying to overturn the election where there’s evidence that they may have engaged in criminal acts should be investigated.”

Schiff Takes Aim at DOJ’s Handling of Committee Subpoenas

Schiff also expressed frustration with how the DOJ has handled referrals the committee has made for former Trump officials who have refused to comply with subpoenas to testify before the panel.

“We have referred four people for criminal prosecution who have obstructed our investigation. The Justice Department has only moved forward with two of them,” he stated. “That’s not as powerful an incentive as we would like. The law requires the Justice Department to present these cases to the grand jury when we refer them, and by only referring half of them, it sends a very mixed message about whether congressional subpoenas need to be complied with.”

As far as why the congressman thought the DOJ has chosen to operate in this manner in regards to the Jan. 6 panel’s investigation, he said he believes “the leadership of the department is being very cautious.” 

“I think that they want to make sure that the department avoids controversy if possible, doesn’t do anything that could even be perceived as being political,” Schiff continued. “And while I appreciate that sentiment […] at the same time, the rule of law has to be applied equally to everyone. If you’re so averse, […] it means that you’re giving effectively a pass or immunity to people who may have broken the law. That, too, is a political decision, and I think it’s the wrong decision.”

On the Note of Democracy

Schiff emphasized the importance of the American people working together to protect democracy in the fallout of the insurrection.

“I really think it’s going to require a national movement of people to step up to preserve our democracy. This is not something that I think Congress can do alone. We’re going to try to protect those institutions, but Republicans are fighting this tooth and nail,” he asserted. “It’s difficult to get through a Senate where Mitch McConnell can filibuster things.”

“We don’t have the luxury of despair when it comes to what we’re seeing around us. We have the obligation to do what generations did before us, and that is defend our democracy,” the congressman continued. “We had to go to war in World War II to defend our democracy from the threat of fascism. You know, we’re not called upon to make those kinds of sacrifices. We see the bravery of people in Ukraine putting their lives on the line to defend their country, their sovereignty, their democracy. Thank God we’re not asked to do that.”

“So what we have to do is, by comparison, so much easier. But it does require us to step up, to be involved, to rally around local elections officials who are doing their jobs, who are facing death threats, and to protect them and to push back against efforts around the country to pass laws to make it easier for big liars to overturn future elections.” 

“We are not passengers in all of this, unable to affect the course of our country. We can, you know, grab the rudder and steer this country in the direction that we want.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)

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Senate Passes Bill to Help Veterans Suffering From Burn Pit Exposure

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For Biden, who believes his son Beau may have died from brain cancer caused by burn pits, the issue is personal.


Veterans to Get Better Healthcare

The Senate voted 84-14 Thursday to pass a bill that would widely expand healthcare resources and benefits to veterans who were exposed to burn pits while deployed overseas.

Until about 2010, the Defense Department used burn pits to dispose of trash from military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations, dumping things like plastics, rubber, chemical mixtures, and medical waste into pits and burning them with jet fuel.

Numerous studies and reports have demonstrated a link between exposure to the toxic fumes emitted by the pits and health problems such as respiratory ailments and rare cancers. The DoD has estimated that nearly 3.5 million veterans may have inhaled enough smoke to suffer from related health problems.

For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs resisted calls to recognize the link between exposure and illness, arguing it had not been scientifically proven and depriving many veterans of disability benefits and medical reimbursements.

Over the past year, however, the VA relented, awarding presumptive benefit status to veterans exposed to burn pits, but it only applied to those who were diagnosed with asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis within 10 years of their service.

The latest bill would add 23 conditions to the list of what the VA covers, including hypertension. It also calls for investments in VA health care facilities, claims processing, and the VA workforce, while strengthening federal research on toxic exposure.

The bill will travel to the House of Representatives next, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged to push it through quickly. Then it will arrive at the White House for final approval.

An Emotional Cause for Many

Ahead of a House vote on an earlier version of the bill in March, comedian John Stewart publically slammed Congress for taking so long to act.

“They’re all going to say the same thing. ‘We want to do it. We want to support the veterans. But we want to do it the right way. We want to be responsible,’” he said. “You know what would have been nice? If they had been responsible 20 years ago and hadn’t spent trillions of dollars on overseas adventures.”

“They could have been responsible in the seventies when they banned this kind of thing in the United States,” he continued. “You want to do it here? Let’s dig a giant fucking pit, 10 acres long, and burn everything in Washington with jet fuel. And then let me know how long they want to wait before they think it’s going to cause some health problems.”

For President Biden, the issue is personal. He has said he believes burn pits may have caused the brain cancer that killed his son Beau in 2015.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer applauded the fact the long-awaited benefits could soon arrive for those impacted.

“The callousness of forcing veterans who got sick as they were fighting for us because of exposure to these toxins to have to fight for years in the VA to get the benefits they deserved — Well, that will soon be over. Praise God,” he said during a speech on Thursday.

A 2020 member survey by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 86% of respondents were exposed to burn pits or other toxins.

Although burn pits have largely been scaled down, the DoD has not officially banned them, and at least nine were still in operation in April 2019.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Military Times) (Politico)

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