Most members of President Trump's Cabinet do not have senior leadership teams or top deputies in place amid historically slow nominating and hiring of White House appointees, "but they do have an influential coterie of senior aides installed by the White House who are charged — above all — with monitoring the secretaries' loyalty," The Washington Post reported Sunday, citing "eight officials in and outside the administration." The Post called the arrangement "unusual," and some of those political liaisons, called White House senior advisers, have apparently overstayed their welcome.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, Don Benton — a former Washington state senator who ran Trump's campaign in the state — offered his unsolicited opinion on policy matters so frequently that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has reportedly disinvited him from meetings, in a situation one official described to The Post as out of an episode of Veep. Pentagon officials privately call Brett Byers, charged with keeping an eye on Defense Secretary James Mattis, "the commissar," The Post reports, helpfully explaining that the nickname is "a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal."
Most of these political overseers, placed near the Cabinet secretary's office in every department, have little expertise in the subject matter handled at their assigned agencies — Frank Wuco at Homeland Security, for example, plays a fictional jihadist on YouTube to illustrate his blogged contention that Islam is the root of the terrorist threat — and some observers expect their influence to wane once the departments get staffed up. Also, some Cabinet secretaries have been more welcoming of their White House liaisons.
Trump allies argue that the arrangement is necessary for a new president from a different party — though none of Trump's three predecessors employed a similar system. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who still advises Trump, describes the political monitors as part of Trump's pledge to root out corruption in Washington — in this case, the "swamp" would be career bureaucrats and not, say, lobbyists. "If you drain the swamp, you better have someone who watches over the alligators," he said. "These people are actively trying to undermine the new government." You can read more, including what some experts see as the likely outcome of this system, at The Washington Post. Peter Weber
In 2015, after a sexually explicit, mainly online relationship with a woman ended, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) threatened to report the woman to the Capital police, according to a recording obtained by The Washington Post. Barton had reportedly sent the woman sexually explicit photos, videos, and messages over the course of their relationship, which began on Facebook in 2011.
The woman, who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity, recorded the 2015 conversation in which Barton confronted her about communications she had with other women connected to Barton. "I am ready if I have to, I don't want to, but I should take all this crap to the Capitol Hill Police and have them launch an investigation," he said, according to the recording.
On Wednesday, Barton apologized to his constituents after naked photos of him circulated on social media. In a statement, Barton, who is the longest-serving member of Congress from Texas, said he had sexual relationships "with other mature adult women" while separated from his second wife, before their divorce in 2015. "I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days," he said. But Barton, who has reportedly hired a crisis communications firm, also said that he had suffered a potential crime over the released lewd photos. In Texas, it is a misdemeanor to intentionally publicize images or videos of someone's genitals or sexual activity without consent. Barton said the Capitol Police may be launching an investigation. Lauren Hansen
In their quest to cut taxes while not running up huge deficits, Senate Republicans have had to find creative ways to save money in their forthcoming tax reform bill. Although some estimates say that the Republican tax bill would add $1.8 trillion to the federal debt over 10 years, you can rest assured that the Republican Party is committed to cutting irresponsible spending: In an effort to save money, the new plan will prevent your employer from being able to write off lunches purchased for workers or workplace entertainment, HuffPost reported Wednesday.
The move would save $23 billion over 10 years, HuffPost reported — or just 1.3 percent of the total expected deficit increase. Under the current tax code, employers who give the majority of their workers free lunches can deduct 50 percent of the cost. The House version of the bill does not touch free workplace lunch, but it would eliminate tax breaks for employer-paid day care assistance programs, as well as employee-sponsored moving expenses and achievement awards, all for the sake of saving $12 billion.
But the Senate tax bill isn't all bad news! The exemption for the estate tax will be doubled, so if you happen to inherit less than $10 million from a dead relative, you won't have to pay any taxes on the money — which should definitely help you pay for lunch if your employer won't give it to you. Kelly O'Meara Morales
The Roy Moore campaign lashed out at The Washington Post on Wednesday, dubbing the paper "a worthless piece of crap" after it pressed the campaign to provide documentation it claimed to have that discredited one of the several women who have come forth to accuse the Alabama Senate candidate of sexual misconduct.
A spokesperson for the Moore campaign told supporters Tuesday that it was in possession of documents which supposedly showed that Leigh Corfman — who accused Moore of sexually assaulting her when she was 14 years old — lied about her address in the Post's story about Moore's sexual misconduct. The Post followed up with the campaign Tuesday, asking for proof of the documents, but while the campaign initially said it would comply, strategist Brett Doster struck a very different tune in an email Wednesday: "There is no need for anyone at The Washington Post to ever reach out to the Roy Moore campaign again because we will not respond to anyone from the Post now or in the future," Doster wrote. "Happy Thanksgiving."
For good measure, Doster added: "The Washington Post is a worthless piece of crap that has gone out of its way to railroad Roy Moore." Post reporter Michael Scherer said that a longtime Moore aide presented the paper with evidence that "did not contradict what Corman has told the Post."
The campaign has vehemently denied allegations of the candidate's sexual misconduct and has tried to call into question proof given by his accusers. On Tuesday, President Trump told White House reporters that Moore had "totally denied" the allegations of sexual misconduct, which he added took place over 40 years ago, "so, you know." Kelly O'Meara Morales
In 2015, a public commenting period led to Obama-era guidelines protecting net neutrality. But bots intent on dismantling net neutrality took over this round, Vanity Fair reported, borrowing real Americans' addresses to leave hundreds of thousands of comments under fake identities advocating against the rules. And with FCC chairman Ajit Pai's Monday confirmation that net neutrality rules are coming down, it looks like they're getting their wish.
In an open letter to Pai, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman revealed that he's been investigating these questionable comments for months. But the FCC hasn't cooperated:
Over the last 6 mos, my office has investigated a massive scheme to corrupt the @FCC's comment process on #NetNeutrality by impersonating 100,000s of real Americans.
The FCC has been unwilling to provide information that is critical to the investigation: https://t.co/xxFjSg6Pxf
— Eric Schneiderman (@AGSchneiderman) November 22, 2017
Schneiderman said the situation likely violated state laws, as it used New Yorkers' identities to leave fake comments. Yet despite multiple requests, the FCC has refused to aid Schneiderman's investigation — meaning "the door is open for (this) to happen again and again," he wrote. Kathryn Krawczyk
The Trump Organization is walking away from its struggling hotel in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood, The New York Times reports. It is the second hotel the organization has removed its name from this year, after a similar situation developed in Toronto.
The SoHo building, which also has condominiums, closed its main restaurant earlier this year due to a decline in business "since the election," in the words of one of its lawyers. The owner of the building, the CIM Group, reportedly reached a deal to buy out the Trump Organization from the property; the Trump company manages daily operations at the building. "The Board and CIM have been first class in every regard," said the CEO of Trump Hotels, Eric Danziger, in a statement. "We have truly enjoyed our relationship and look forward to exploring new opportunities in the future."
Ahh, Thanksgiving. That special time of year when you set out your most over-the-top centerpiece, strap on your eating pants, and gather around the table to talk tax policy with relatives you only see once a year.
That's what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) imagines happens, anyway. On Monday, Schumer tweeted a chart made by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, instructing his followers to bring it to "Thanksgiving dinner" to whip out when "that family member who always talks politics tells you the Republican tax bill helps the middle class," the Washington Examiner reports.
Bring this chart to Thanksgiving dinner. It’ll come in handy when that family member who always talks politics tells you the Republican tax bill helps the middle class. pic.twitter.com/2EpZ5PxcDY
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) November 19, 2017
But Schumer wasn't done delivering graphics for you to surprise your unsuspecting relative with at some point between the turkey carving and the pumpkin pie:
Oh, don’t forget to show your Uncle this as well! pic.twitter.com/YHRGTvvwAo
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) November 19, 2017
Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Chuck! Jeva Lange
Rep. John Conyers' legacy was upended Monday when a BuzzFeed News report detailed sexual harassment allegations made against the Michigan Democrat. Now, the editorial board of the Detroit Free Press, his slightly left-leaning hometown paper, is calling for him to step down.
The longtime congressman is known as a civil rights icon and a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus, facts the Free Press acknowledged in its scathing editorial published Tuesday. But he's also been accused of making sexual advances toward an employee — and having her fired when she refused.
That's enough to spark an inquiry into Conyers, the Free Press said. But his misconduct runs deeper: If the victim dropped her formal complaint against Conyers, his office said it would "re-hire" her and pay her as a temporary employee. The woman eventually agreed to those terms, receiving more than $27,000 over the course of three months. It's similar to a time Conyers kept paying his former chief of staff even after she was fired — payments the Free Press said look like "hush money."
While the editorial board did suggest reforming the Congressional Office of Compliance so these payoffs don't keep happening, that is "not the point with Conyers." "It's a betrayal that breaches the most fundamental trust that exists between a public servant and the people that person represents," the Free Press wrote.