Your tax dollars at work
February 19, 2020

He could have congratulated the state for its strong economy, or even remarked on its gorgeous weather, but instead, White House aide Joe Grogan decided on Tuesday to refer to California as "occupied territory."

Grogan is director of the Domestic Policy Council, and he accompanied Trump on his trip to the West Coast. While in California, Trump will attend fundraisers in Beverly Hills and Rancho Mirage, but instead of focusing on that, Grogan decided to insult nearly 40 million people. "Just landed in California," he tweeted. "POTUS power swing through occupied territory."

His words were quickly condemned, not just by California taxpayers who pay his salary, but also Trump fans like Fox News host Laura Ingraham. "Actually, it's America," she tweeted in response. "And he's president of all the people — even the ones who didn't vote for him." In California, that's a lot of people — voters in the Golden State overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, with Clinton receiving 4,269,978 more votes than Trump. Catherine Garcia

May 15, 2019

Instead of having the Taliban dip into its own coffers to pay for travel expenses incurred while attending peace talks, the Trump administration asked Congress earlier this year to reimburse the insurgent group.

Kevin Spicer, spokesman for House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chair Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), told Roll Call that the request "would implicate provisions of law concerning material support to terrorists, the Taliban's ongoing offensive operations against U.S. service members, and their continuing lack of acknowledgement of the government of Afghanistan or the rights of women in Afghan society."

The Department of Defense asked for money to cover the Taliban's transportation, food, supplies, and lodging, Spicer said. On Wednesday, the panel instead approved a $690.2 billion defense spending bill for the 2020 fiscal year that prohibits reimbursing the Taliban for any expenses incurred while attending a meeting "that does not include the participation of members of the government of Afghanistan or that restricts the participation of women." It's estimated that the Taliban makes at least $800 million every year from opium trafficking. Catherine Garcia

May 31, 2018

Energy Secretary Rick Perry, following in the first-class footsteps of fellow Cabinet member EPA head Scott Pruitt, took 12 premium-class flights during his first seven months in office, ABC News reports.

ABC News obtained travel logs showing Perry's trips, although the documents did not include the dates or destinations. The records show that coach fares were available for the 12 flights, but because Perry cited safety concerns, business or first class fares were approved. Those upgrades cost a total of $51,000, not including the base fare.

Federal officials are supposed to use the cheapest travel option, but under "exceptional security circumstances" or trips that take more than 14 hours, business or first class tickets can be approved. On two of Perry's trips, he was joined by his wife, Anita, whose tickets cost $20,000; an agency spokeswoman told ABC News the department has been reimbursed for her travel. The documents also included information on trips former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz took during the last three months of 2016; he too was upgraded due to security concerns, at a cost of more than $42,500. Catherine Garcia

February 8, 2018

The taxpayers of Utah paid for hotel rooms allegedly used by a Republican state lawmaker last year for trysts with a prostitute, The Associated Press reports.

Earlier this week, state Rep. John Stanard from St. George abruptly resigned from office, citing "personal and family concerns"; he told AP Wednesday that his father has terminal cancer and he wants to spend more time with him. On Thursday, Britain's Daily Mail published an interview with a prostitute named Brie Taylor who claimed Stanard, a married Mormon father who last year voted to make state prostitution laws stricter, paid her for sex on two occasions.

Taylor shared text messages she said Stanard sent her from his state-issued cellphone, which set up encounters at two hotels in Salt Lake City. Utah House Chief of Staff Greg Hartley told AP that Stanard was reimbursed for hotel stays in Salt Lake City in June and August 2017, when he was in town for legislative meetings; the dates and hotel names correspond with the text messages published by the Daily Mail.

Republican House Speaker Greg Hughes said an ethics investigation can't be launched, since Stanard is no longer a lawmaker, and he's not sure if text messages can be recovered from Stanard's state-issued phone, which he gave back wiped clean. "If there has been an abuse of public funds or if public funds were used in a way that's inappropriate," the House will ask Stanard to return the money he received, Hughes told AP. Stanard's attorney declined to comment. Catherine Garcia

November 13, 2017

In a letter sent to the House Judiciary Committee on Monday, a senior Justice Department official announced that prosecutors are looking into whether they should appoint a special counsel to investigate the Clinton Foundation and former President Barack Obama letting Russia's nuclear power agency purchase a controlling stake in the Uranium One company.

The move comes 10 days after President Trump told reporters he is "really not involved with the Justice Department," but he thinks they "should be looking at the Democrats" because "a lot of people are disappointed in the Justice Department, including me." In his letter, Stephen Boyd, an assistant attorney general, said the prosecutors will "report directly to the attorney general and the deputy attorney general, as appropriate, and will make recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit a special counsel."

Trump has been mad at Attorney General Jeff Sessions ever since he recused himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, setting up the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. People close to the White House told The New York Times that Sessions thinks if a special counsel is appointed to investigate the Uranium One deal, a talking point among some conservatives that is considered a non-scandal by those who have fact-checked it, he'll be back in Trump's good graces. During his confirmation hearing in January, Sessions said if there was ever any investigation into the Clinton Foundation, he would recuse himself. Catherine Garcia

February 4, 2017

A business trip to Uruguay taken in January by Eric Trump, the third child of President Donald Trump, cost taxpayers $97,830 in hotel bills for the Secret Service agents and State Department staff who accompanied him.

Eric was visiting the South American country in his capacity as an executive of the Trump Organization, which the president's adult sons are managing in their father's stead. He was accompanied by Secret Service agents whose hotel bill totaled $88,320, as well as staff from the U.S. Embassy in Uruguay's capital city of Montevideo, who spent $9,510 on hotels so they could "support" the Secret Service. Those hotel bills may have been for as few as two nights.

The trip's expense and potential appearance of ethical compromise came under fire after The Washington Post published a story about the cost to taxpayers Friday night. "There is a public benefit to providing Secret Service protection," Kathleen Clark, a law professor and ethics expert at Washington University in St. Louis, told the Post. "But what was the public benefit from State Department personnel participating in this private business trip to the coastal town? It raises the specter of the use of public resources for private gain." Bonnie Kristian

November 30, 2016

The federal government spent $200,000 to study how 800-year-old fish bones influenced Tanzanian social status. It also spent $2 million on a research effort that revealed, among other things, that children prefer to be rich rather than poor and like to eat food that no one has sneezed on. Oh, and $495,000 went to creating a museum exhibit where visitors will experience the sights, sounds, and even smells of the Middle Ages, which is surely one detail we would prefer to leave in the past.

All these and 97 more frustrating, confusing, and often comical examples of wasteful federal spending are detailed in a new report from Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), his second annual catalogue of "Federal Fumbles: 100 ways the government dropped the ball," which together amount to $247 billion in mismanaged or unnecessary federal spending. The national debt sits at about $19 trillion.

Lankford's argument isn't that these studies should not be done but simply that Washington need not foot the bill. He highlights, for example, the fact that the mission of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the agency that funded the fish bone study, ostensibly is "to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare" — and that emphasis is Lankford's. "It is difficult to determine, and NSF does not explain, how studying the remains of food consumed 800 years ago in a city on the other side of the planet accomplishes that objective," the report dryly comments. Bonnie Kristian

October 6, 2016

The United States has spent some $60 billion over the last 14 years to train and equip Afghan troops, bringing 2,200 of them to learn at military bases in America since 2007. But in the last two years, Reuters reports, 44 of those Afghan soldiers have simply disappeared after arriving in the U.S. Eight have gone missing since the beginning of September alone, presumably seizing their chance to start a new life in America.

"The Defense Department is assessing ways to strengthen eligibility criteria for training in ways that will reduce the likelihood of an individual Afghan willingly absconding from training in the U.S. and going AWOL (absent without leave)," said Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump of the disappearances, which an unnamed Defense Department official labeled "out of the ordinary" and a cause for worry.

It is unclear how many of the missing troops have been located. Reuters notes one was caught trying to enter Canada, but that the Pentagon has been mum on the others' fate. Defections are likely motivated by low morale in the Afghan army, substantial Taliban gains after more than a decade of fighting, and a shot at greater economic opportunity. Bonnie Kristian

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