Nel's New Day

August 9, 2018

Lack of Transparency in Agency Control

Filed under: Congress — trp2011 @ 12:02 AM
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Although the Senate has blocked very few of nominees by Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), some of his appointments don’t require confirmation. Such is the case of actor Steven Seagal, the new special envoy to Russia, an unpaid position with the goal of working with “humanitarian issues” and improving ties between the two countries. Seagal admires Vladimir Putin, calling him “one of the great living world leaders,” and defends Russia from statements that it interfered in U.S. elections. Several women including Portia di Rossi, Julianna Margulies, and Jenny McCarthy have accused Seagal of sexual misconduct. Two other women claimed that Seagal had sexually assaulted them when they were teenagers.

Robert Wilkie, former aide to late GOP Jesse Helms (R-NC), has recently been confirmed as head of Veterans Affairs. In his work for Helms, Wilkie supported the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Confederate flag while belonging to Sons of Confederate Veterans. Wilkie also opposed equal pay for women when he worked for Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) and suggested that women graduate from high school before they receive welfare. As executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party in 1996-1997, the anti-LGBTQ Wilkie played a part in developing DDT’s transgender ban. Wilkie’s confirmation vote of 86-9 was the first time that any VA Secretary had received opposition votes. One of his goals is to privatize health care for veterans.

Wilkie’s confirmation may not run the VA, however, because three DDT friends and Mar-a-Lago members are actually calling the shots in the agency, according to information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Bruce Moskowitz, a Palm Beach doctor who runs “concierge” medical care; Ike Perlmutter, chairman of Marvel Entertainment; and Marc Sherman, lawyer, steer policies at the VA, make personnel decisions, and tell its officials what to do although none of them has served in the U.S. military or government—or been nominated and/or confirmed. The secret Mar-a-Lago Crowd, as they are known, have neither accountability nor oversight but push their pet causes and demand that they run everything. One proposal is to have private health care executive tell the VA what services should be outsourced to the private health care providers. Before David Shulkin, the former VA director, left, he communicated with the triumvirate on his private cellphone and with his private email address, breaking federal records laws as people have constantly told Hillary Clinton. The “Crowd” decided to get rid of Shulkin because of differences in opinion regarding how to improve the VA’s electronic record-keeping software. Wilkie is currently the pet of the threesome, but they can always decide to get rid of him too.

Scott Hutchins, the pesticide executive appointed as the chief scientist for the USDA, could be the third person to switch from Dow Chemical’s pesticide/seed division to make high-level federal decisions. Of the first two, one leads USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service, and the other, a lobbyist for Dow, has been confirmed as undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs. As pesticide promoter, Hutchins would control the USDA’s $2.9 billion research budget. Dow Chemical donated $1 million to DDT’s inaugural committee, leading to a variety of governmental favors for the company. DDT’s last nominee for Hutchins’ position, Sam Clovis, had to withdraw his name after publicity about his involvement in the Russia scandal.

Scott Pruitt’s scandals may no longer be a focus of the EPA, but its new acting secretary, Andrew Wheeler, faces his first lawsuit and call for an ethics probe from repeated concerns about conflicts of interest. The former coal lobbyist had at least three meetings with previous clients during his first month and participated in events including the head of a company that he was prohibited from working with. Wheeler’s next lawsuit may come from DDT’s insistence that he roll back California’s waiver to control greenhouse emissions. Seth Meyers has provided an update on Wheeler’s EPA leadership—rolling back coal industry regulations so that companies can more easily “dispose” of toxic coal ash waste. A member of the EPA board of science advisers, Robert Phalen, thinks that our air is too clean.

In the past four months, DDT has named 69 new appointees, some of them awful and the rest worse. Check here for an overview.

Wilbur Ross, Secretary of the Commerce Department, may have replaced Scott Pruitt as the biggest creature among DDT’s swamp pets. In justifying Ross’ appointment, DDT explained, “In these positions, I just don’t want a poor person.” The conservative publication Forbes has explained why Ross is so wealthy: he’s a “grifter.” A former Ross employee settled a $4 million lawsuit against his old boss two weeks before the trial, in which he alleged that “Ross stole his interests in a private equity fund, transferred them to himself, then tried to cover it up with bogus paperwork.” Other allegations against Ross go from refusal to pay workers to a pattern in which he typically stole a few million from a number of people that totaled up to $120 million. Dan Alexander reported:

“Those who’ve done business with Ross generally tell a consistent story, of a man obsessed with money and untethered to facts. ‘He’ll push the edge of truthfulness and use whatever power he has to grab assets,’ says New York financier Asher Edelman. One of Ross’ former colleagues is more direct: ‘He’s a pathological liar.’”

Ross’ company lost money in a rising stock market and got into trouble by overcharging investors on underperforming funds. A lawsuit claims that he illegally charges management fees from current and former company executives as well as outside clients. He also kept the portion of fees for serving on the boards of his firm’s portfolio companies instead of rebates to investors as required. When he sold part of the company, Ross managed to bolster it up and reap an undeserved price through higher evaluation. Ross also falsified his situation on a sworn document almost nine months, asserting he had divested all the assets as promised but still owned between $10 million and $50 million worth of stock in WL Ross’ parent company, Invesco. He waited to sell his shares to make more than $1.2 million.

Forbes claims that Ross lies about how much money he has, sometimes inflating the sum into the billions. A fair guess could be $700, although he cheats on what should be small amounts to him such as the $73,000 stake in Air Lease. He sold the shares a year after he promised to carry out the transaction. Investors claims that heads of private equity firms always know what they own, but Ross always claims ignorance.

Jake Johnson wrote:

“Wilbur Ross is a cartoon stereotype of a Wall Street fat cat with no interest in anyone but himself. He has shady ties to Russia and China, serious business conflicts, and a history of cheating people out of their homes.”

Ross maintains significant financial conflicts of interest, according to the Forbes investigation, and shorted stock on a Putin-related shipping company before share prices dropped because of an imminent negative story about his personal connection with the company. His investment conflicts also include companies co-owned by the Chinese government and a Cypriot bank in the Mueller investigation and in the industry Ross is investigating. Forbes reported that Ross has a history of lying and dodge questions about assets and holdings by claiming that he has divested when he actually set up trusts and handed assets to his family. Ross’ connection with the Cypriot bank gives him strong ties to Russian oligarchs, including Viktor Vekselberg who gave Michael Cohen’s consulting business over $500,000.

As co-founder of the Bank of Cyprus, a mail drop for moving Russian money to real estate “purchases” in the U.S., Ross may appear in Robert Mueller’s investigations. His partner, Dmitry Rybolovlev gave DDT $100 million for a $40 million property in Florida. Paul Manafort used Ross’ bank for funds funneled from Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska with the pretense of a “loan.”

Firings:

Reagan Hedlund, Melania Trump’s policy aide, has been fired, but no one is explaining why. She was in charge of such programs as the “Be Best” anti-bullying initiative. The departure further shrinks the First Lady’s office of ten staff members.

The Future:

Hope Hicks, ex-girlfriend of and White House defense author for DDT’s fired aide Rob Porter for domestic abuse, left the White House soon after that debacle closed, but she was seen boarding Air Force One to travel with DDT to his Ohio campaign rally. Hicks resigned the day after she told the House Intelligence Committee that she told “white lies” on her job. DDT’s encounter with Hicks might be considered witness tampering because she testified about helping to draft DDT’s original statement on his son’s Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 at a time when DDT is frequently tweeting about the meeting. Hicks said that she is willing to become DDT’s chief of staff although John Kelly said that he is staying until the end of DDT’s four-year term.

It’s the summer doldrums while the Senate tries to put together enough Republicans to push through DDT’s judicial nominees. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) slowed down the process when he left Washington. His temporary departure left the Judiciary Committee at a 10-10 contest between Dems and the GOP. As for moving Brett Kavanaugh toward the Supreme Court, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) requested his records from the National Archives. When it couldn’t meet McConnell’s August 15 deadline, he said “never mind” to getting three years of records on him while he was White House staff secretary. The Dems is trying a different route, filing a Freedom of Information Act, something that has never happened before.

Polling on Kavanaugh becoming a justice doesn’t bode well.

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