Opinion
August 28, 2020

The Republican National Convention had a whole bunch of federal employees participating in the proceedings. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, and dozens of other lower-level workers all took part in the celebration of Donald Trump's nomination for re-election. Trump's speech on Thursday took place on the South Lawn of the White House — the first time the building had been used for such a purpose. To cap it all off, there was a fireworks show on the National Mall (which is public land), displaying Trump campaign slogans.

This is a straightforward violation of the Hatch Act, which limits how federal employees (not including the president and vice president) can participate in partisan election campaigns. They cannot use their "official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election," or "engage in political activity" while on duty, on federal property, wearing a federal uniform, and so on.

Now, one can argue with some justice that the Hatch Act is somewhat ridiculous, at least for top-level Cabinet officials, because they are inherently political. But it is the law, and as Charlie Savage writes at The New York Times, previous administrations have always tried to at least follow the letter of the law. The Trump administration is doing no such thing — instead it is flagrantly disobeying it in full view of everyone, and scoffing at critics. "Nobody outside of the Beltway really cares," White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Politico about the law. (Naturally, when the president was a Democrat, Meadows espoused the exact opposite opinion.) Even if a Cabinet official is inherently political, the point of the Hatch Act is to prevent the president from leveraging his power over the federal bureaucracy to entrench himself in power. That is plainly what Trump is trying to do. Ryan Cooper

11:07 a.m.

The White House is abuzz, and not just with political gossip.

In a recent call with President Biden's senior adviser Cedric Richmond, former Trump adviser Jared Kushner offered not only job advice, but also his condolences regarding the White House fly problem, sources told Politico.

"Yeah man, they're like bats," Kushner said to Richmond in what Politico called a rare "point of agreement" between the two officials. "Good luck," Kushner added.

The White House's bug issue is reportedly ongoing, extending back through the Trump presidency to at least the Obama administration, per Politico. Former National Security spokesman under President Barack Obama Tommy Vietor said, "We had bug zappers going 24/7." Brigid Kennedy

10:22 a.m.

It's very important to Martha Stewart that the world doesn't get the wrong impression about how many "glorious" peacocks she has.

Stewart took to Twitter to slam the New York Post for running a "fake news" story that said she has 16 peacocks on her farm. She'll have you know, in fact, that her peacock game is far stronger than that.

"I actually have 21 of these glorious birds whose house is impeccable," Stewart declared.

Stewart has apparently been absolutely thriving during the COVID-19 pandemic, previously saying she has "zero complaints" about quarantining on her 153-acre farm. While she was at it, she clarified on Twitter for anyone wondering that her peacocks "do not smell" and are "so clean," their "voices are loud but such fun to hear," and they're "so friendly."

So there you have it! In the Post's defense, People notes Stewart did write a blog post on "my peacocks and peahens" back in July 2020 in which she said, "I have 16 living in a coop surrounded by a large, fully-enclosed yard." But the Post has added a correction to its story, bumping up Stewart's number of peacock friends by five and possibly avoiding the libel case of the century. Brendan Morrow

10:17 a.m.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday the State Department requested "additional details" from Israel regarding "the justification" of its air strike on a tower in Gaza that housed offices for several media outlets, including The Associated Press and Al Jazeera. Blinken said he has "not seen any information provided," though that doesn't necessarily mean there was no communication between the U.S and Israel. Israel, which warned occupants to evacuate the building before the strike, has said Hamas was also using the tower for military purposes, making it a legitimate target.

In a column for HotAir.com, Ed Morrissey attempts to read between the lines of Blinken's remarks, arguing it would have made little sense for Israel to target the tower if it wasn't a Hamas facility. If the Israeli Defense Forces "just decided to indiscriminately take down buildings in Gaza ... they wouldn't have left the surrounding buildings intact and they'd be dropping much heavier ordinance," he writes, adding that it appears Israel "wanted to take out this building in particular with no loss of life and carefully set up the mission to accomplish it."

As for Blinken, Morrisey suggests he simply may have been out of the loop as information passed between Mossad and the CIA (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday the evidence would have been shared through intelligence channels), or "it might be that everyone already knew Hamas had a command center in the building," which would render a formal briefing unnecessary. In that case, Israel would put together a comprehensive "after-action report," and Blinken "might be signaling to Netanyahu to accelerate that process." Read more at The Associated Press and HotAir.com. Tim O'Donnell

9:01 a.m.

Make way for WarnerDiscovery.

AT&T on Monday announced it has reached a deal to spin off WarnerMedia and combine it with Discovery, creating a new standalone company, CNN reports. Discovery CEO David Zaslav will lead the new company, which The New York Times writes would be a "media juggernaut" that would be bigger than both Netflix and NBCUniversal, though not quite as big as Disney.

The $43 billion deal, CNN writes, would "combine two treasure troves of content," including the streaming services HBO Max and Discovery+. WarnerMedia owns HBO, CNN, TNT, TBS, and Warner Bros. among other assets, while Discovery's brands include HGTV, Food Network, and Animal Planet.

The combined company "would be a formidable competitor to" Netflix and Disney as the streaming wars continue to heat up, Bloomberg writes. The company is planning to spend about $20 billion on content, more than Netflix, Axios reports.

This announcement was also a "significant about-face" on the part of AT&T, which acquired Time Warner for over $85 billion in 2018, the Times writes.

AT&T CEO John Stankey said Monday the move "positions the new company to be one of the leading global direct-to-consumer streaming platforms." The deal is subject to regulatory approval, but the companies say they expect it to close in the middle of 2022. Brendan Morrow

8:56 a.m.

The Pentagon was mired in chaos between former President Donald Trump's defeat Nov. 3 and his departure from office Jan. 20, Jonathan Swan reports at Axios, in a long look at Trump's final "war with his generals." After his loss, Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and named Christopher Miller as acting secretary, and his personnel director Johnny McEntee continued the purge of Pentagon leadership, installing loyalists to "steamroll the generals and extract America from its foreign engagements."

On Nov. 9, the same day Trump appointed Miller, McEntee offered controversial retired Col. Douglas Macgregor a job as Miller's senior adviser, handing him a list of goals for Trump's final weeks in office, Swan reports: "1. Get us out of Afghanistan. 2. Get us out of Iraq and Syria. 3. Complete the withdrawal from Germany. 4. Get us out of Africa." Macgregor said if Trump really wanted that, he had to sign an order to that effect. When Miller got a signed memo two days later, saying all U.S. forces had to be out of Somalia by Dec. 31 and out of Afghanistan by Jan. 15, his reaction, Swan reports, was "What the f--k is this?"

Miller and Trump's national security team pushed back, painting a scenario like helicopters leaving Saigon in a chaotic retreat, and "Trump folded on total withdrawal for the last time as president," Swan reports. Still, "the situation inside the senior levels of the Trump administration was also growing more fraught. The tension between the civilian leadership of the Pentagon and the generals was as bad as it had been in living memory."

In early December, top Trump administration officials decided from National Security Agency intercepts that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark Milley was undercutting the Pentagon's civilian leadership, "a serious, likely fireable issue," Swan reports. But nobody wanted to bring the intel to Trump, "because you didn't want to get sucked into some weird scandal and be testifying," a source familiar with the discussions told Axios.

Miller, Swan reports, told associated he had his own "three goals for the final weeks of the Trump administration: No. 1: No major war. No. 2: No military coup. No. 3: No troops fighting citizens on the streets." He mostly succeeded. Read more at Axios. Peter Weber

6:54 a.m.

Rev. Franklin Graham, head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and one of former President Trump's earliest and most influential evangelical Christian backers, told Axios on HBO it would "be a very tough thing" for Trump to seek a second term in 2024. "I think for him, everything will depend on his health at that time," said Graham, 68. "If he still has energy and strength like he does. I don't." Trump, 74, "does not eat well, you know, and it's amazing the energy that he has," Graham added. "He's lost weight, 15 pounds, maybe. So he might be in good health and in good shape. I don't know."

Graham may be a Trump supporter, but he told Axios he would "absolutely" work with President Biden's administration, if asked, to encourage people to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

White evangelical Christians are one of the groups most hesitant to get vaccinated, according to multiple surveys. Graham was public about getting vaccinated himself, drawing jeers from many of his supporters, but he was clear with Axios that he sees encouraging people to get vaccinated right up there with saving souls. "I want people to know that COVID-19 can kill you, so we have a vaccine out there that could possibly save your life," he said. "And if you wait, it could be too late." Peter Weber

6:06 a.m.

GlaxoSmithKline said Monday that a Phase 2 trial of its COVID-19 vaccine, developed with French partner Sanofi, showed a "strong neutralizing antibody response" in adult participates of all age groups and raised no safety issues. "We believe that this vaccine candidate can make a significant contribution to the ongoing fight against COVID-19 and will move to Phase 3 as soon as possible to meet our goal of making it available before the end of the year," said Roger Connor, president of GSK's vaccines program.

The Phase 3 trial, expected to start in the next few weeks, is slated to involve 35,000 adults from a number of countries. The vaccine is based on Sanofi's seasonal flu vaccine, combined with a immunity-boosting adjuvant from GSK. The companies had hoped to seek regulatory approval in the first half of 2021, but pushed back those plans after disappointing results in December. The favorable new findings will help GSK CEO Emma Walmsley stave off pressure from activist investor Elliott Management, which took a large stake in GSK in April, The Guardian reports. Peter Weber

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