New IG reports: Elaine Chao violated laws, Trump officials blocked hurricane aide to PR, and Portland crackdown cost taxpayers $12 million.
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Former Trump appointee Kash Patel is under federal investigation for improper disclosure of classified information, possibly related to his belief that Trump was being persecuted by the “deep state.” Patel took a leading role in Trump’s battle with the intelligence community, proving himself to be one of the most loyal appointees in the administration. He started out as Rep. Devin Nunes’ aide, writing a memo that alleged FBI bias against Trump and attempted to discredit the investigation into Russian election interference. He was on Trump’s National Security Council, was reportedly part of Giuliani’s backchannel to Ukraine, and was later appointed to Defense Department Chief of Staff.
- The same WaPo report also revealed that Patel botched a 2020 hostage rescue mission in Nigeria: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were angry that, in their view, Patel had prematurely said the operation was fully cleared…One senior Pentagon official said he was ‘incensed’ at Patel. A second senior Pentagon official described Patel’s actions as potentially ‘dangerous’ for the SEALs.”
A new report released by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General revealed that Trump’s deployment of law enforcement to Portland, OR, last summer cost $12.3 million. The IG notes (PDF) that the estimated damage caused to Hatfield Courthouse, which DHS and FPS were guarding, only cost $1.6 million. Additionally, few of the officers had been trained in riot and crowd control, even though that was their primary mission:
The inspector general’s office examined one day, Aug. 7, and found that of 222 officers deployed to Portland, 36 didn’t appear on a training roster showing they had received a legal briefing on their authority or the criminal laws they could enforce on federal property. Fourteen of those 36 officers used less-lethal munitions against people in Portland, increasing the department’s liability, the report said… In a review of 63 officers, only seven had received riot or crowd control training, according to the inspector general’s office.
The same IG, Joseph Cuffari, blocked career officials’ plan to investigate the role of the Secret Service in clearing protestors from Lafayette Square last June. Cuffari served as a policy advisor for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey before being nominated and confirmed as DHS IG in 2019. The Lafayette incident was widely criticized as the protesters were peaceful and were violently cleared for Trump to stage a photo op. The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) obtained documents that revealed Cuffari’s role:
Cuffari’s decision to avoid delving into such sensitive issues in the run-up to a presidential election inevitably raises questions about his role as an independent and non-partisan watchdog overseeing one of the largest and most consequential Cabinet departments… Unlike most other Trump appointees, but typical for inspectors general, Cuffari remains in his role during the Biden administration.
Cuffari also blocked an investigation into the Secret Service’s coronavirus protocols – which appeared to be regularly disregarded. “At one point, more than 130 agents, or about 10% of the agency’s core security personnel, were ordered to isolate or quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19,” POGO states.
Recently acquired documents have provided evidence that the Trump administration used “covert surveillance” to monitor and “infiltrate” racial justice protests last summer. Nonprofit watchdog CREW obtained internal DOJ emails in which Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officials assigned undercover agents to “identify protest leaders” within Philadelphia’s protests and instructed those in the field to download a “communications app” to carry out their “surveillance operation”. Separately, The Intercept revealed emails indicating that the U.S. Marshals Service flew unmanned drones over Washington, D.C., on June 5 and 7 to surveil Black Lives Matter rallies:
[The email] states that a redacted entity “responded to Washington DC” and “conducted one flight,” the same day Mayor Muriel Browser asked Donald Trump to “withdraw all extraordinary law enforcement and military presence from Washington, DC.”
- Related: “D.C. Guard misused helicopters in low-flying confrontation with George Floyd protesters, Army concludes,” WaPo
- Related: “Police Say an Antifa Activist Likely Shot at Officers. His Gun Suggests Otherwise,” NYT. “Police radio problems led to chaotic scene when officers killed Portland activist,” OPB.
The Housing and Urban Development Dept. Inspector General concluded that Trump officials intentionally blocked $20 billion in hurricane relief to Puerto Rico. IG Rae Oliver Davis said the aid was “unnecessarily delayed by bureaucratic obstacles,” like a new and unexplained review requirement imposed by the Office of Management and Budget (led by Trump loyalist Mick Mulvaney, at the time). Davis also reported (PDF) that the administration delayed and obstructed her investigation; top HUD officials – including Secretary Ben Carson – refused to be interviewed by investigators.
Former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao repeatedly used her position and agency staff to support her family’s shipping business, leading the Inspector General to refer the case to the DOJ for possible criminal investigation. Chao, the wife of Senator Mitch McConnell, involved family members in her planned official trip to China – where her family’s shipping company, Foremost Group, does significant business (note: the trip was canceled after media attention led to criticism). She provided Transportation Dept. public affairs support to her father and used staff for personal tasks:
A review of DOT emails and interviews with staff revealed that OST staffers provided various media and public affairs support to the Secretary’s father in 2017 and 2018. In addition to the planned book signing in China, there were several additional instances where OST staff were directed to help promote Dr. Chao’s biography, Fearless Against the Wind. (PDF)
The IG referred the case to the DOJ on Dec. 16, 2020, for potential criminal charges. The Department – led by then-Attorney General Bill Barr – declined to take it up, saying “there may be ethical and/or administrative issues to address but there is not predication to open a criminal investigation.”
- Reminder: The IG leading the investigation into Chao, Mitch Behm, was abruptly demoted by Trump in May 2020, leaving an acting official in the position. The day after the IG’s office referred the case to the DOJ for prosecution, McConnell brought Trump’s nominee for permanent IG to the floor for a vote. Days later, Eric Soskin was confirmed to the position (and is still there).
House Democrats have opened an investigation into Emergent BioSolutions, the company that botched millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses, and its close relationship with a Trump official. House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney and Coronavirus panel Chair James Clyburn sent a letter to the top executives last week seeking information on the $628 million federal contract Emergent was given in June 2020:
“Specifically, we are investigating reports that Emergent received multi-million-dollar contracts to manufacture coronavirus vaccines despite a long, documented history of inadequately trained staff and quality control issues… Dr. Robert Kadlec, who served as Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response under President Trump and previously worked as a consultant for Emergent, appears to have pushed for this award despite indications that Emergent did not have the ability to reliably fulfill the contract.”
Clyburn called upon Emergent’s President and CEO, Robert Kramer, and Emergent’s Executive Chairman, Fuad El-Hibri, to testify at a hearing on May 19, 2021.
New information: CEO Kramer sold more than $10 million worth of his stock in the company in January and early February – just weeks before the stock price tumbled from $125/share to $62/share. In other words, he would have lost $5.5 million had he not sold before the plant’s failure was publicly disclosed.
- 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine that were manufactured at Emergent’s plant were thrown out; no doses made there have gone to the public. The New York Times reported that problems at the plant were known during the Trump administration: “A series of confidential audits last year, obtained by The Times, warned about risks of viral and bacterial contamination and a lack of proper sanitation at the Baltimore plant.”
- Whistleblower Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, filed a complaint around the time of the Emergent award warning that Kadlec and other officials were awarding lucrative contracts to former business acquaintances and friends, instead of focusing on projects with scientific merit.
Nearly a full year ago, the Trump administration awarded $1.3 billion to a company that promised to make vaccine syringes, yet none have been delivered to date. The Defense Department and Health and Human Services first contracted with ApiJect Systems in May 2020 to produce inexpensive prefilled plastic syringes; in November 2020, the company received a $590 million loan to build a “gigafactory” for the product that would create 650 jobs. So far, the syringes have not been FDA approved and the construction of the factory has not begun.
- Contrary to the conservative “Made in America” nationalism, nearly every step in researching, developing, manufacturing, and distributing the coronavirus vaccine has been a global effort. For instance, most of Pfizer’s vaccine production is done in Belgium, using supply chains that stretch from Egypt to China. The U.S. imports syringes from China, Mexico, Germany, and Israel, among other countries. A network of shipping companies from Lufthansa to DHL transports the vaccine doses across the globe.