Originally Published: 3/17/2018
Trump Cabinet: Rebekah Entralgo, writing at Think Progress, and Joanna Walters, writing at the Guardian, detailed the extravagant spending by Trump’s “champagne cabinet.” While we’ve heard the stories over the past few weeks, to see the whole cadre of elitist spending laid out like this is still eye-popping. Here’s the list.
Scott Pruitt: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator spent $43,000 on a “secure phone booth” in his office. He also spent $6,500 to hire a private media firm with strong Republican ties to help produce a report promoting his accomplishments. And, of course, he has also drawn ire for his use of first-class travel because, he says, he has received threats from the public.
Ryan Zinke: The Interior Secretary spent $139,000 on a door. He has also commissioned commemorative coins with his name on them - just like Cesar - and has begun a tradition of flying a special secretarial flag whenever he is in his headquarters - just like the queen. Zinke also has a liking for military and chartered flights. One flight from Las Vegas to his home in Kalispell Montana cost taxpayers $12,375. He took 3 trips on government-funded helicopters for a total cost of $53,000 and took a chartered flight to the Virgin Islands and has been rebuked for failing to keep proper travel records. He cannot show who paid for his wife’s travel with him. “In an ironic twist, Zinke has supported Trump’s budget cuts for the Interior Department and has proposed slashing the agency’s workforce by 4,000.”
Ben Carson: The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) ordered a dining set for “a little-used formal space in his office” at a cost of $31,000. While Carson denied any knowledge of the purchase, “newly released emails first reported by CNN show that the Carsons actually selected the furniture themselves.” Carson also inquired about the legality of using HUD funds to commission a $25,000 portrait of himself. (There are no portraits of Carson’s predecessors in the HUD office.) Carson also agreed to spend $165,000 on “lounge furniture” for his Washington headquarters. By the way, HUD is slashing spending on affordable housing programs.
Steven Mnuchin: From March 2017 to October 2017 the Treasury Secretary chartered 7 military aircraft flights at a cost of more than $800,000. His wife, Louise Linton, was also in on the travel. “In August she posted a now-deleted photo on Instagram disembarking on a military jet emblazoned with official government markings. In the past she added hashtags to denote the expensive designer labels she was wearing.”
David Shulkin: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, who joined the department under President Obama, is “wobbling” under charges of ethical violations stemming from his trip last July to Denmark and Britain that mixed business with pleasure, including a trip to Wimbledon and a cruise down the Thames. It’s also reported that he asked a member of his security detail to accompany him to the Home Depot where he required the person to carry his furniture purchases into his home.
Tom Price: The former Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary resigned after exposure of his excessive use of private and military aircraft which cost taxpayers nearly $1 million.
House Investigation: The House Intelligence Committee has completed its year-long investigation into Russia and a draft report claims it “found no evidence” that Trump or “anyone affiliated with him colluded with Russian officials to affect the outcome of the 2016 elections.” The committee “also determined that while the Russian government did pursue ‘active measures’ to interfere in the 2016 election, they did not do so with the intention of helping Trump’s campaign, contradicting the findings of the intelligence community.” However, these results contradict the preliminary findings of the Democrats on the committee. Rep. Adam Schiff (D, CA) told reporters there was “ample evidence” of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.” (Washington Post) I get the feeling this will never be resolved.
Mueller Investigation: Special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization “to turn over documents, including some related to Russia.” According to the NY Times, the subpoena is “the first known instance” of Mueller demanding records directly related to Trump’s businesses, “bringing the investigation closer to the president.”
Rex Tillerson: Trump announced that he “ousted” Secretary of State Tillerson “and will replace him with Mike Pompeo, now the CIA director.” According to the NY Times, “Mr. Tillerson learned he had been fired on Tuesday morning when a top aide showed him a tweet from Mr. Trump announcing the change.”
Steve Goldstein: He was the under secretary of public affairs at the State Department. He said that Tillerson found out about his firing on Tuesday morning after reading Trump’s tweet. But the White House claimed that John Kelly had already told Tillerson he was being replaced. So, the White House fired Goldstein for his statement. (Think Progress)
Mike Pompeo: Think Progress pointed out that our new Secretary of State, before becoming CIA director, had for 6 years been the GOP House member from Kansas and was “the #1 all time recipient of #KOCH Industries $$$.” John Nichols, writing at The Nation, remarked that the Koch brothers now have their very own secretary of state, that Pompeo is nothing more than their own personal errand boy.
H.R. McMaster: Trump has removed him as his National Security Adviser. He hasn’t named a replacement yet. (Washington Post)
John McEntee: He has served as Trump’s personal assistant since Trump won the election. This week he was “forced out of his position and escorted from the White House” after his security clearance was revoked. However, McEntee “will remain in the president’s orbit.” He’s been named Senior Adviser for Campaign Operations, “putting him in a position to remain as a close aide during the next several years.” (NY Times) Apparently McEntee has a gambling problem. (Washington Post)
Andrew McCabe: A former FBI director, McCabe was fired after the Justice Department rejected his appeal that would have let him retire as planned this Sunday. He is accused in a not-yet-released internal report of failing to be forthcoming about a conversation he purportedly authorized between FBI officials and a journalist. McCabe claims that his firing is intended to “discredit him as a witness” in the special counsel’s investigation. “Mr. McCabe was among the first at the FBI to scrutinize possible Trump campaign ties to Russia. And he is a potential witness to the question of whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct justice.” (NY Times)
James Schwab: The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson resigned “saying he couldn’t continue to do his job after Trump administration officials made false public statements about a key aspect of the operation.” He said he was frustrated by “repeated statements by officials, including U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that roughly 800 undocumented immigrants escaped arrest because of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s Feb. 24 warning to the public about the 4-day operation.” (See San Francisco Chronicle) Schwab said the real number was “far lower” and wanted to correct the statement. He was, instead, told to “deflect.” He resigned. (San Francisco Chronicle)
Gina Haspel: As the CIA’s deputy director, Trump has promoted her to director with the appointment of Pompeo as Secretary of State. Haspel is the first woman to be named to this position. She’s a “career spymaster who once ran a CIA prison in Thailand where terror suspects were waterboarded.” (CBS)
Larry Kudlow: Trump has named him to head the White House’s National Economic Council to replace Gary Cohn. He’s a media-monger just like Trump. (Washington Post)
Heather Nauert: The former Fox and Friends co-host will replace Rex Tillerson’s top aide at the State Department, Steve Goldstein. (Think Progress)
International Weapons Trade: The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that the global transfer of major weapons systems between 2013 and 2017 rose by 10% “compared with the 5-year period before that, in a continuation of an upward trend that began 2 decades ago.” The United States is the world’s biggest exporter. Almost half of U.S. arms exports go to the Middle East, “with Saudi Arabia consolidating its place as the world’s second biggest importer.” Last year the U.S. increased its sales by 25%, supplying arms to as many as 98 states worldwide, “accounting for more than a third of global exports.” (Guardian)
Britain: Prime Minister Theresa May ordered the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats “believed to be involved in espionage, in the first reprisals against Moscow for a chemical attack against a former double agent.” (Washington Post)
Israel: Parliament passed a law “that allows the minister of interior to revoke the residency rights of any Palestinian in Jerusalem on grounds of a ‘breach of loyalty’ to Israel. Residency can also be revoked in cases where the status was obtained with false information or where a resident committed a criminal act “in the view of the interior ministry.” Aryeh Deri, minister of interior, is the “leader of the ultra-Orthodox political party Shas” and will now “be able to strip the residency documents of any Palestinian whom he deems a threat.” (Al Jazeera)
Russia: The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on “a series of Russian organizations and individuals in retaliation for interference in the 2016 presidential elections and other ‘malicious cyberattacks.’ It is the most significant action taken against Moscow since President Trump took office.” (NY Times) The sanctions were also the first Trump has taken under the legislation passed last summer. (TWW, Russia, 2/3/18) “But the steps taken Thursday fell well short of the full penalties Congress authorized and focused on a narrow list of targets rather than the broader range of individuals and entities believed to have played a role in Russia’ efforts to interfere in the election.” (Washington Post) Russia is also being accused of “engineering a series of cyberattacks that targeted American and European nuclear power plants and water and electrical systems, and could have sabotaged or shut power plants off at will.” (NY Times) Question: By doing this hasn’t Trump just validated Mueller’s investigation? And doesn’t that mean he no longer considers it a witch hunt?
California: Its war against the Trump administration is in full swing. “It is a deeply personal battle in the nation's most populous and economically powerful state, where 27% of the 39 million residents are foreign-born.” Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed suit against the state (TWW, Immigration Suit, 3/10/18), San Francisco’s Mayor, Mark Farrell (D), called him a “moron” and “has proposed expanding the budget for public defenders.” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg (D) told public radio he would “proudly resist.” And Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf (D), “who outraged the White House by warning her city about an impending immigration roundup last month, says she has no regrets.” (See San Francisco Chronicle) (Washington Post)
Idaho: Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS), rejected the state’s proposal to sell state-based health insurance plans that lack Affordable Care Act (ACA) provisions. However, in a separate letter to Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter (R) she suggested that “the state could make a few modifications to legally offer short-term insurance plans.” (Rewire)
Oregon: The state supreme court issued a 3-year suspension to Vance Day, a state judge who refused to marry same-sex couples. “The high court found that Day, first appointed in 2011 to the bench in Marion County Circuit Court, committed ‘willful misconduct’ and made ‘willful misstatements’ to investigators to cover up the truth.” He not only refused to marry same-sex couples, “he instructed his staff to employ a scheme to avoid ‘public detection’ of his plan.” (Oregonian)
Pennsylvania: Democratic candidate Conor Lamb upset Republican Rick Saccone in a special election for the House seat in Pennsylvania's 18th district - a district that Trump won by 20 points. (NY Times)
Tariffs: The European Union is fighting back. They’ve released a 10-page list of “potential targets” for retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products if Trump “refuses to exempt the allied bloc from his new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.” Clearly they are targeting pet products of politicos. Examples: bourbon, “a specialty of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky;” cranberries, “which grow in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s native Wisconsin;” orange juice from Florida and tobacco from North Carolina, “2 political swing states that are rich in electoral votes.” (Washington Post)
NRA Under Pressure: Thousands of students walked out of school to demand more be done to prevent gun violence. (Washington Post) The activities of these students is already having an impact. Support for gun policy reform is at its highest levels in over 25 years. Nearly 2 in 3 Americans now believe that gun control should be more strict. (Washington Post) If you’re curious, the NY Times lists how to buy a gun in 15 countries.
Bump Stocks: The Justice Department has begun the process of banning bump stocks through regulation. It submitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) “a notice of a proposed regulation to clarify that the National Firearms and Gun Control Act defines ‘machinegun’ to include bump stock type devices.” This would make it illegal to possess, sell, or manufacture such devices. (The Hill)
Democratic Party: Democratic National Committee (DNC) members voted last week to “revise the role and reduce the perceived influence” of superdelegates.” According to Eric Bradner at CNN, “What that actually means, though, is a question the party is unlikely to resolve until this summer.”
Bottled Water: The World Health Organization (WHO) is reviewing the potential risks of plastic in drinking water “after a new analysis of some of the world’s most popular bottled water brands found that more than 90% contained tiny pieces of plastic.” The analysis looked at 259 bottles of water from 11 different brands in 19 locations in 9 countries “and found an average of 325 plastic particles for every litre of water being sold.” In one bottle of Nestlé Pure Life, “concentrations were as high as 10,000 plastic pieces per litre of water. Of the 259 bottles tested, only 17 were free of plastics.” (Guardian)
Warnings: Last November the journal Bioscience published a report warning about the fate of humanity titled World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice. At the time the journal received the largest-ever formal support by scientists for a journal article with roughly 15,000 signatories from 184 countries. Since its release more scientists have signed on and there are now about 20,000 supporting the paper. (EcoWatch) By the way, the “first warning” was published in 25 years ago by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Dodd-Frank: The Senate passed the rollback of Dodd-Frank (TWW, Bank Deregulation, 3/10/18) 67 to 31. It’s different from the one passed by the House, which makes even deeper cuts to banking rules. However, Republicans are confident they can resolve the two and Trump has promised to sign it. (Washington Post)
Family Budget: The Economic Policy Institute released an update to its Family Budget Calculator. This shows what’s required for families to attain an adequate, but modest, standard of living in communities throughout the the country. Go try it.
Broadcom: The Trump administration blocked Broadcom’s $117 billion bid for Qualcomm, citing national security concerns. Apparently this would have put one of America’s biggest mobile chipmakers in the hands of a company based in Singapore. (NY Times)
Equifax: Jun Ying, former chief information officer of a U.S. business unit of Equifax, is facing both civil and criminal charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia. He’s being charged with insider trading “alleging that he profited from confidential information about the massive data breach at the company that compromised sensitive data of 148 million people.” (TWW, Equifax, 10/7/17; Equifax, 9/16/17; Equifax, 9/9/17) Ying is not the only executive to have profited from insider trading. He’s just the latest. (Washington Post)