Lost in the Sauce: Tracking Trump appointees after office

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.


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Impeachment timeline: Feb 2: Trump answer to article/House pre-trial brief; Feb 8: House reply to Trump answer/Trump pre-trial brief; Feb 9: House pre-trial rebuttal/Trial resumes

Donald Trump’s entire impeachment legal team disbanded – with just a week to go until trial – after the former president demanded his lawyers argue that the 2020 election was stolen from him. His team had included experienced South Carolina lawyers Butch Bowers and Deborah Barbier, who reportedly disagreed with Trump’s approach, preferring instead to focus on the legality of convicting a president after his term ended.

But the former president repeatedly said he wanted to litigate the voter fraud allegations and the 2020 race — and was seeking a more public defense of his actions. Bowers told Trump he couldn’t mount the defense that Trump wanted, the person said.

The new line-up is led by Alabama attorney David Schoen and Pennsylvania’s Bruce L. Castor, Jr. Schoen represented Trump associate Roger Stone in a sentencing appeal last year and met with Epstein in the days before he died.

  • Monday night, Schoen appeared on Fox News’ Hannity show to publicly defend Trump and bash the Democratic senators. In a stark departure from how Bowers operated, Schoen told Hannity the Democrats should be called as witnesses “because of the awful biases and prejudgement they’ve shown.” Schoen continued, arguing that videos of the insurrection should not be shown at the trial because “this was nothing to do with President Trump” and added that the impeachment is “tearing this country apart.”

Meanwhile, Castor has come under firing for declining to prosecute Bill Cosby on sexual assault charges in 2005 when he served as the D.C. of Montgomery County, PA. Castor then spent years fight prosecution of Cosby, arguing that his decision not to prosecute somehow prevented future prosecutions.

Castor explained that he made the decision so that Cosby couldn’t plead the Fifth Amendment in a civil case brought by the woman, Andrea Constand, which was ultimately settled in 2006. Cosby’s team used the supposed agreement in failed attempts to get the later criminal case dismissed and to argue that Cosby’s deposition in that civil case couldn’t be used at trial…The judge ultimately rejected Castor’s claims and found him to not be a credible witness.

The House impeachment managers plan to use video evidence and witness testimony of the Capitol attack during the Senate trial, aiming to make a vote to acquit as uncomfortable and damaging as possible. According to the Washington Post:

House Democrats are assuming they will be permitted to play a compilation of footage from Jan. 6, including newly released cellphone recordings of protesters attending Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally that morning…The compilation will also likely feature footage from inside the Capitol after protesters breached it.

However, the exact details are up in the air as Democrats are divided on whether there should be witness testimony.

in interviews Monday, several Democrats said this time is different because senators themselves are first-hand witnesses and don’t need to hear from others; they also argued that the Senate shouldn’t be bogged down with a trial when there’s urgent work to be done on the coronavirus pandemic, among other matters.

Witness testimony would extend a trial that some already believe has a predetermined outcome…

Last week, 44 Republicans joined with Sen. Rand Paul to declare the trial unconstitutional because Trump has already left office. Only Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Ben Sasse (Neb.), and Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) joined with the 50 Democrats to allow the trial to proceed. Based on these numbers, it seems unlikely that 67 senators will vote to convict Trump after trial.

Democrats in the Senate are therefore considering other options to hold Trump accountable after the impeachment trial, including a possible censure resolution. Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are working on a censure resolution that would contain elements of the 14th Amendment to disqualify Trump from holding office in the future. Under this thinking, the main goal of the trial would be creating a record of the events of Jan. 6 and hoping more Republicans would be behind censuring the former president.

Further reading: “Meet the impeachment managers who will argue Democrats’ case against Trump,” CBS News, “Man who wore horns at riot willing to speak at Trump’s trial,” AP.

Congress tidbits

A group of ten Senate Republicans met with Biden last night to discuss coronavirus relief legislation, their separate proposals over a trillion dollars apart. The GOP contingent was made up of Sens. Collins (ME), Cassidy (LA), Tillis (NC), Rounds (SD), Romney (UT), Capito (WV), Murkowski (AK), Portman (OH), Young (IN), and Moran (KS). Collins told reporters after the meeting, “I wouldn’t say we came together on a package tonight.”

Despite the meeting, Democrats began the process of budget reconciliation, which will allow them to pass Biden’s relief package without Republican votes if necessary.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer: “We cannot do the mistake of 2009 where they whittled down the program so that the amount of relief was so small that the recession lasted 4 or 5 years. And then on the ACA, when they spent a year, a year and a half negotiating and then didn’t come to any agreement.”

The Republican plan is a total of only $618 billion compared to Biden’s $1.9 trillion. For direct relief, the GOP plan offers $1,000 checks that begin phasing out at $40k a year with a $50k cap for single filers. Biden’s, in contrast, contains $1,400 checks that begin phasing out at $75,999 with a $115k cap. Additionally, the Republican proposal does not provide funding for state and local governments and does not contain language to begin the process of increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour.

Biden’s nominee for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, is finally getting a confirmation vote today after numerous delays. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) led the Republicans in holding up the nomination last week, demanding Mayorkas have a second hearing before the Judiciary Committee – which has never handled DHS nominations before. Previous DHS heads called the move dangerous and unconscionable:

Janet Napolitano, who ran the department under Democrat Barack Obama, also rejected Cornyn’s argument for a Judiciary hearing. “If a committee having overlapping jurisdiction is the reason given for having another hearing before Senate Judiciary, Ali would spend the next year having hearings,” she said.

Both Obama and Trump had Senate-confirmed Homeland Security chiefs on their first day. The delay is particularly irresponsible when the nation faces numerous serious security threats, including the unprecedented Russia hack and the ongoing threat of right-wing extremism.

  • Five Republicans joined with Democrats to defeat Cornyn’s filibuster: Capito, Murkowski, Portman, Romney, and Sullivan.

Biden’s Attorney General, one of the most important officials in the U.S., has not even had a hearing scheduled due to Republican obstruction and delays in the Senate. Sen. Dick Durbin is set to chair the Judiciary Committee as soon as the power-sharing agreement between Schumer and McConnell is finalized. Until then, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is still committee chair. Durbin requested.pdf) a hearing for Garland on Feb. 8, before the impeachment trial, but Graham refused, saying there’s not enough time.

House Republicans appointed QAnon conspiracist Marjorie Taylor Greene to two powerful committees, sparking a conflict with House Democrats. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer delivered Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy an ultimatum: remove Greene from the House Education and Labor Committee and the Budget Committee or the House will vote on it. The Rules Committee is set to meet on Wednesday to begin that process.

Cleaning out loyalists

The Biden administration has blocked the installation of several Trump loyalists to Defense Department advisory boards. One of the committees affected is responsible for renaming military bases that honor Confederate leaders. In the final days of the Trump administration, then-acting Secretary Chris Miller appointed three former White House aides to the board. Loyalists like Trump’s 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and deputy campaign manager David Bossie, who were appointed to the Defense Business Board, are also prevented from serving while under review.

The new acting Chief of USAGM, parent agency of Voice of America, approved visa applications for foreign journalists – reversing the policies of former CEO Michael Pack. Foreign nationals struggled to get their visa applications approved under Pack due to his unfounded belief that the process was susceptible to outside intelligence operations: “It’s a great place to put a foreign spy,” he said.

“VOA uses this type of visa to recruit journalists with in-depth knowledge of foreign media markets and highly specialized language skills that cannot be found in the U.S.,” a spokesperson for the network said.

Career Education Dept. staffers are recommending that an accreditation agency backed by former Secretary Betsy DeVos be stripped of federal recognition. The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS) was dropped by the Obama administration in 2016 following the collapse of Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute, which were backed by ACICS. DeVos reinstated the council over department objections in 2018.

The Obama administration pointed to ACICS’s “pervasive compliance problems,” while advocates decried the agency’s lax oversight of several failed and deeply flawed for-profits, including Corinthian Colleges and FastTrain College. Ted Mitchell, then under secretary of education, cited “such wide and deep failure that they simply cannot be entrusted with making the determinations we, you and the public count on.”

…ACICS continued to come under scrutiny after it was accused last year of accrediting Reagan National University in South Dakota, which, according to a USA Today report, has no faculty, staff or classrooms.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ) sent a letter to President Biden last week calling for the firing of the U.S. Postal Services board of governors and Postmaster Louis DeJoy. The board oversees the Postal Service and appoints the postmaster general. A new board could replace DeJoy. Currently, the board is chaired by Robert Duncan, a former chair of the Republican National Committee and a board member of the GOP-aligned Senate Leadership Fund

“After several years of unprecedented sabotage, the United States Postal Service is teetering on the brink of collapse. Through the devastating arson of the Trump regime, the USPS Board of Governors sat silent. Their dereliction cannot now be forgotten. Therefore, I urge you to fire the entire Board of Governors and nominate a new slate of leaders to begin the hard work of rebuilding our Postal Service for the next century,” Pascrell wrote.

Moving forward

President Biden signed an executive order to phase out the federal government’s use of private prisons. The order directs the Attorney General not to renew DOJ contracts with privately operated detention facilities, stating that “we must reduce profit-based incentives to incarcerate” and “ensure that time in prison prepares individuals for the next chapter of their lives.”

  • Crucially, the order does not apply to immigration detention facilities, which are contracted by the Dept. of Homeland Security. More than 80% of detained immigrants are held in private, for-profit prisons. David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project told NPR Biden’s order is “a first step” and “only directly affects the approximately 10% of all US prisoners who are held in federal custody.”

Biden has begun setting up a commission to study reforms to the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary. There are expected to be between nine and 15 members total. So far, three have been names: Co-chair Bob Bauer, Biden’s campaign lawyer; Co-chair Christina Rodríguez, Yale Law School professor and former Obama DOJ official; Caroline Fredrickson, former president of the American Constitution Society; and Jack Goldsmith, Harvard Law School professor and former Bush DOJ official.

  • Fredrickson has made statements interpreted as supportive of expanding the size of the Supreme Court while Bauer has come out in favor of term limits for federal judges. Goldsmith, on the other hand, may not support changes to the courts as he advocated for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.

The Biden administration is also looking to reshape the federal judiciary by nominating more civil rights lawyers and public defenders to the bench. Numerous legal experts and commentators have called this the right move, citing the stunning lack of diversity in the federal courts. For instance, only one percent of serving circuit court judges were once public defenders. The vast majority of federal judges served as prosecutors and, thus, may “disproportionately reflect the viewpoints of the most powerful institutions and individuals in our country.”

The State Department has paused two major arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates made in the final days of the Trump administration. A bipartisan group of senators conducted a failed attempt to block the $23 billion sale of F-35 fighter jets, Reaper drones, and other military equipment to the UAE in December. Last week, the Democratic chairs of multiple House Committees urged Biden to block the sale of $500 million of bombs to the Saudis as well, citing humanitarian concerns in both countries.

The new administration is reviewing the sales but has not made any determination about whether they will actually go through, the State Department said. It called the pause “a routine administrative action” that most incoming administrations take with large-scale arms sales.

The Department of Agriculture is expanding pandemic food assistance programs to include infants and young children following Biden’s executive order to assist struggling families during the pandemic. The new guidance both increases funding and the scope of who is eligible while also allowing states to be more flexible.

Further reading: “Biden confronts a budget office broken by Trump: Before Biden can tackle the pandemic, he must first rebuild the federal agency that is the nerve center of the White House,” Politico. “Biden reverses Trump last-minute attempt to freeze $27.4 billion in programs,” The Hill.

Tracking former Trump officials

Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty (TN) has hired 13 former Trump administration officials, including ex-deputy White House press secretary John Deere.

“Senator Hagerty ran on and told the people of Tennessee to send him to Washington to build on the successes of President Trump, and there is no better way to do that than by hiring the best from the outgoing administration,” Deere said in a statement

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is joining a conservative think tank called the Hudson Institute.

Former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao (wife of Mitch McConnell) is also joining the Hudson Institute as a distinguished fellow, focusing on labor and transportation policy.

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows reportedly had such a tough time finding a job after the administration that he considered a position at the Trump Organization. It seems he finally found an opening as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute, launched in 2017 by Former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint (R) to promote conservatives in Congress.

Three of Trump’s top DHS officials – Chad Wolf, Ken Cuccinelli, and Mark Morgan – joined an influential conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, as fellows.

Former Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought is taking a slightly different path, starting his own think tank dedicated to advancing Trump’s agenda. He is bringing along his former chief of staff at the OMB.

Trump’s Department of Energy sent “a small number” of loyalists to international positions for temporary two-to-three-year terms.

Efforts to send loyalists abroad raised eyebrows among career staff, the sources said, because it appears similar to “burrowing” — the practice of political appointees trying to stick around after a power transfer.

But this issue is harder to track because the temporary deployments do not have to be reported to the Office of Personnel Management.

Some Trump alumni are pursuing their own political careers – former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders has already launched a bid for Arkansas governor and former Navy secretary Kenneth Braithwaite may run for Sen. Toomey’s open seat in 2022.