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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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NY Attorney General Says Investigation of Trump Business Found “Significant Evidence” of Fraud

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The state attorney general’s office accused the former president and his family business of falsely inflating the value of assets and personal worth to lenders, the IRS, and insurance brokers.


New York Attorney General’s Filing

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced late Tuesday she had “significant evidence” that former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization “falsely and fraudulently” misrepresented the value of assets “to financial institutions for economic benefit.”

The allegations mark the first time James has made specific accusations against Trump and his business. They come as part of a nearly 160-page filing asking a judge to order the former president — along with Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — to comply with subpoenas for the investigation after the family sued James to block her from questioning them.

The filing claims that Trump and the company inflated the value of six properties, including several golf courses and Trump’s own penthouse in Trump Tower, on financial statements to obtain favorable loans, tax deductions, and insurance coverage. 

The document adds that many of the financial statements were “generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared.”

James outlined several specific examples, such as a financial statement where the value of Trump’s Seven Springs estate in Westchester was boosted because it listed seven mansions on the property worth $61 million that did not actually exist.

That resulted in Trump receiving millions of dollars in tax deductions on that property, as well as another in Los Angeles.

In another notable instance, the attorney general’s office said that the $327 million value of Trump’s penthouse in Trump Tower was calculated off a financial statement that falsely reported his home was nearly triple its actual size.

While the statement claimed the apartment was 30,000 square feet, Trump had signed documents stating it was actually 10,996 square feet.

Alleged Direct Involvement

The allegation regarding the apartment is especially significant because it directly ties Trump himself to the accusations of financial wrongdoing. It is also not the only instance where Trump was implicated.

The filing additionally asserts that Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg — who was indicted last summer on multiple criminal charges relating to the business’ tax dealings — implied the former president was involved in finalizing the false valuations. 

According to the documents, Weisselberg “testified that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump discussed valuations with him and that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump reviewed the Statement of Financial Condition for a particular year before it was finalized.” 

Another top Trump Organization executive also testified that he was under the impression Trump reviewed the statements before they were finalized.

While the filing provides less direct links to Trump’s children, it does detail their involvement. Specifically, it alleges that Ivanka Trump rented an apartment at Trump Park Avenue and was given an option to buy it for $8.5 million, despite the fact that the property was valued at $25 million.

It also connected Donald Trump Jr. to some of the properties flagged by claiming investigators found evidence he “was consulted” on the Statements of Financial Condition.

Response

Citing these connections, James argued in a series of tweets Tuesday that it is necessary for her inquiry to question Trump and his two children on their alleged involvement.

“We are taking legal action to force Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to comply with our investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial dealings,” she wrote. “No one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them.”

The former president has not yet addressed the matter, but a Trump Organization attorney representing Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump responded by arguing the subpoenas violate the constitutional rights of the family and that the filing “never addresses the fundamental contentions of our motion to quash or stay the subpoenas.”

In a statement Wednesday, the Trump Organization denied James’ allegations as “baseless” and accused her of trying to “mislead the public yet again.”

As far as what happens next, James’ office has said it “has not yet reached a final decision regarding whether this evidence merits legal action.”

Because James’s investigation is civil, she can sue Trump, his company, and his children, but she cannot file criminal charges. However, her probe is running parallel to a criminal investigation into the same conduct led by the Manhattan district attorney, who does have that power.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win

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The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.


New Maps Upheld

A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.

Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.

The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.

The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.

In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”

The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”

Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.

Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution. 

The Path Ahead

While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.

There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.

A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected. 

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Biden Administration Says Private Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Tests a Month

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The policy will apply to all the nearly 150 million Americans who have private insurance.


New At-Home Testing Policy

The Biden administration announced Monday that private health insurers will now be required to pay for up to eight at-home rapid tests per plan member each month.

Under the new policy, starting Saturday, private insurance holders will be able to purchase any at-home test approved by the FDA at a pharmacy or online. They will either not be asked to pay any upfront costs or be reimbursed for their purchase through their provider.

The move is expected to significantly expand access to rapid tests that other countries have been distributing to their citizens free of charge for months. 

According to reports, nearly 150 million Americans — about 45% of the population — have private insurance. 

Each dependent enrolled on the primary insurance holder’s account is counted as a member. That means a family of four enrolled on a single plan would be eligible for 32 free at-home rapid tests a month.

Potential Exemptions

All tests may not be fully covered depending on where they are purchased. 

In order to help offset costs, the Biden administration is incentivizing insurance providers to establish a network of “preferred” pharmacies and stores where people in the plan can get tests without paying out of pocket.

As a result, health plans that do create those networks will only be required to reimburse up to $12 per test if they are purchased out of that network, meaning people could be on the hook for the rest of the cost.

If an insurer does not set up a preferred network, they will have to cover all at-home tests in full regardless of the place of purchase.

During a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tests should be “out the door in the coming weeks.”

“The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week,” she added.

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

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