Lost in the Sauce: Admin rushes to execute the most federal prisoners since World War II
Welcome to Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on political and legal news that often gets buried in distractions and theater… or a global health crisis.
NOTE: I’m working on a separate post about the pardons Trump issued.
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Transition sabotage and last-minute regs
Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller allegedly ordered the Pentagon to halt cooperation with the Biden transition for the two holiday weeks, leaving just 20 planning days before Biden’s inauguration. Miller claimed the meeting cancellations were “mutually-agreed upon,” but Biden transition director Abraham contradicted him: “Let me be clear: there was no mutually agreed upon holiday break.”
“There have been many agencies and departments that have facilitated the exchange of info and meetings over the past few weeks,” Abraham said. “There have been pockets of recalcitrance and DoD is one of them.” Biden spokesperson Jen Psaki added that while the career officials at DoD have been “cooperative and helpful,” the team has had “isolated” issues with Trump political appointees.
The transition team has largely been left in the dark about Russia’s massive hacking campaign of the U.S. government. During a speech in Delaware last week, Biden said: “The Defense Department won’t even brief us on many things. So I know of nothing that suggests it’s under control.”
- Lawmakers in Congress have also expressed frustration with the administration’s inability or refusal to share critical information regarding the hack. House Homeland Security and Oversight Committee chairs said in a statement that a classified briefing left them “with more questions than answers.” They added, “Even in the midst of an unprecedented cyberattack with far-reaching implications for our national security, Administration officials were unwilling to share the full scope of the breach and identities of the victims.”
During an Education Department virtual meeting, Secretary Betsy DeVos urged employees to “be the resistance” during the Biden administration. “Let me leave you with this plea: Resist,” DeVos said. “Be the resistance against forces that will derail you from doing what’s right for students. In everything you do, please put students first — always.”
The Trump administration is reportedly considering significant changes in the power structures of government, worrying some that resistance to the incoming administration may lead to more chaos. For instance, Trump has discussed replacing FBI Director Christopher Wray with loyalist Kash Patel, currently acting Defense Secretary Miller’s chief of staff. Patel was formerly a top aide to Rep. Devin Nunes and played a role in the Ukraine scandal. Additionally, Miller has floated separating the National Security Agency from U.S. Cyber Command, allowing Trump to appoint a loyalist to head the NSA.
One of the final rules made by the Trump administration will allow restaurant owners to use tips earned by waiters to pay other employees. An analysis by the Economic Policy Institute found that change could cost workers more than $700 million. The new regulation also allows restaurant owners to require tipped employees to do more nontipped work, like cleaning, thereby saving owners more money. “Why pay cleaning staff the federal minimum wage when tipped employees, who cost a fraction of that, could be asked to do the job instead?”
Another lame-duck regulation being rushed by the administration will likely allow for more discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. The 3-2 GOP majority Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a last-minute change that allows private companies to qualify as “religious employers” under certain conditions; religious employers may deny positions to people who do not subscribe and adhere to their faith.
[A second change] gets rid of the earlier requirement that religious providers of federally funded social services, from food banks to job training, provide referrals to secular alternatives. In the case of “indirect” aid that travels with the beneficiary, like child care and housing vouchers, it eliminates the requirement that there must be a secular option available.
Defamation lawsuits abound
Dominion Voting Systems appears to be preparing lawsuits against the Trump campaign, Trump allies, and conservative media for making “defamatory claims” against the company.
On Tuesday, Dominion sent letters to White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani instructing them to preserve all records related to the voting machine manufacturer. Specifically in the letter to Giuliani, lawyers warned him that “litigation regarding these issues is imminent.” Trump campaign staffers, Sydney Powell, Jenna Ellis, and Lin Wood are mentioned by name.
[The letter demanded] Giuliani stop making “defamatory claims against Dominion” and ensure there is “no confusion about your obligation to preserve and retain all documents relating to Dominion and your smear campaign against the company.” The attorneys told Cipollone their preservation request is vast and includes conversations White House officials had with attorneys like Giuliani or Sidney Powell regarding Dominion.
Similar letters warning of “imminent” legal action were sent to Fox News hosts Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs, and Sean Hannity; Rush Limbaugh; the heads of Newsmax, OAN, Fox News, and the Epoch Times.
Meanwhile, the Director of product strategy and security at Dominion has sued the Trump campaign, Giuliani, Sydney Powell, Newsmax, and One America News Network for defamation that led to death threats and constant harassment. As a result, the plaintiff – Eric Coomer – was forced to leave his home and go into hiding.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said she is considering seeking sanctions against pro-Trump lawyers who filed lawsuits against the state’s election results, pushing unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.
Other voter fraud news
Earlier this year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the Trump administration to revoke millions in federal COVID aid that Harris County budgeted to improve access to mail-in voting during the pandemic. “Without implementing adequate protections against unlawful abuse of mail-in ballots, the Department could be cast in a position of involuntarily facilitating election fraud,” Paxton wrote in a May letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Paxton’s office spent nearly twice the amount of time working voter fraud cases this year, but resolved half as many cases as it did two years ago, all of them minor cases from Harris County in which residents gave false addresses on their voter registration forms.
Pennsylvania officials have finally identified voter fraud in the state: A Republican illegally cast a vote in his deceased mother’s name for Trump in the general election. The man also registered his dead mother-in-law as a voter, but is not accused of actually casting a vote in her name.
Loeffler’s conflicts grow
Despite framing herself as coming from a simple farming family, Sen. Kelly Loefller’s family business is one of the most prosperous in the area. Since 1995, her family’s farms have collected $3.2 million in federal subsidies. Nearly a quarter of that came from money Trump used to compensate farmers for his trade war with China.
Hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin gave $2 million to a Loeffler super PAC on Oct. 9, the day after the WSJ reported that his company made a major buyout that needed to be approved by the NYSE, which Loeffler’s husband owns. Griffin’s $2 million donation was one of his 10 largest contributions ever, and he had already given the Loeffler-centric PAC $1 million about five weeks earlier. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Griffin’s acquisition was approved.
A home purchased in 2009 by Loeffler and her husband for $10.5 million suddenly dropped in value by 60% with no explanation, saving the couple roughly $100,000 in annual taxes. The 15,000-square-foot Atlanta mansion was appraised at the same value for seven years. Then, in 2016, the value dropped when neighboring properties saw an increase. Unfortunately, there is no documentation suggesting a reason for the changes and those responsible no longer hold their Fulton county positions.
“You know something’s wrong there, if there was just a singular discount,” R.J. Morris, a former member of the Fulton County Board of Assessors and a longtime tax activist… Several Georgia-based property-tax and real-estate experts, speaking on background, told The Daily Beast that the decline in Descante’s value was very unusual. One reason is the sheer magnitude of it, often seen only when a property sustains serious damage. “Did they demolish the house?” quipped one Atlanta property tax guru
In May, Loeffler signed a letter to financial regulators in May urging them not to make changes to consumer credit reporting requirements during the pandemic. Just months later, Intercontinental Exchange—the company run by Loeffler’s husband, Jeffrey Sprecher—announced a $10 billion acquisition of home loan data giant Ellie Mae, which had stood to be hurt by the proposal for a credit reporting moratorium.
“We don’t know why she signed this letter,” said Jordan Libowitz of the nonpartisan ethics watchdog group CREW, “but we should not need to wonder whether it could have been an instance of her selling out the interests of constituents who were in economic distress in order to maintain the value of her stock portfolio.”
Federal killing spree
A new investigation by ProPublica has revealed the startling story behind Trump and Barr’s rushed execution binge. The full article is worth reading in full, but here are the main points:
- The government is using its final days to execute the most federal prisoners since World War II.
- The lethal injection drug (pentobarbital) the administration is using is obtained from a secret source; the compound “failed a quality test by an outside lab.” Experts attested in court that pentobarbital would flood prisoners’ lungs with froth and foam, inflicting pain and terror akin to a death by drowning.
- AG Barr, then-deputy attorney general Jeffrey Rosen (set to become the acting attorney general), and aides picked who to execute. The reasons they gave for choosing the individuals turned out the be inaccurate. For instance, Associate Deputy Attorney General Brad Weinsheimer wrongly said (under oath) that Daniel Lee murdered a child. Barr justified the executions on the basis that “we owe it to the victims and their families.” In Lee’s case, the victim’s family members publicly stated they did not want him killed. Nevertheless, Lee was put to death in July 2020.
- The Justice Department outsourced executions to private contractors, paid in cash to keep their identities a secret.
- There are three more federal executions scheduled in January — eight, six, and five days before Biden’s inauguration.
Further reading by CREW: The Trump administration was in such a rush to execute people that it sought to enter into a no-bid contract with the seller of the drug used in the lethal injection. “Rather than let litigation run its full course which could potentially allow some inmates on death row to die of natural causes, DOJ seems to argue that it needed drugs to execute people as quickly as possible.”
“Senators ask Justice Department watchdog to investigate federal executions under Trump.”
Court cases and investigations
The federal investigation into Rudy Giuliani “remains active and may soon be ramping up,” according to NBC News. Prosecutors for the Southern District of New York have been in communication with Justice Department officials in Washington about gaining access to Giuliani’s emails, which would require a search warrant.
Former federal prosecutor Elie Honig: “Generally this suggests to me that the SDNY investigation is active and has developed at least probable cause, which is required for a search warrant.”
The Trump administration is reportedly considering a request to declare Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman immune from a federal lawsuit accusing him of trying to assassinate a former top Saudi intelligence official. Saad Aljabri, a former Saudi counterterrorism leader and longtime U.S. intelligence ally now living in exile in Canada, alleges in a D.C. court that MBS sent the same assassination squad that killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi to target him as well.
Florida data scientist Rebekah Jones sued the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for conducting a raid on her home earlier this month. Lawyers for Jones argue that authorities targeted her in retaliation, to “silence” her online speech and curry favor with Gov. Ron DeSantis.