Saturday, May 16, 2020

L'état profond, c'est moi

Drawing by Signe Wilkinson, November 2019.

Well, it's Saturday, so we're asking for the third time in the past six weeks which inspector general Trump fired last night. Today it's the state department, whose inspector general, Steve Linick, "no longer" enjoys Trump's "fullest confidence" and will be replaced, Politico said, with an "ally of Vice President Pence", because that's what we naturally want in an inspector general, somebody who's already beholden to a White House patron.

Or putting it another way,
A State Department spokesperson said that Amb. Stephen Akard, a former career Foreign Service officer, "will now lead the Office of the Inspector General at the State Department" in an acting capacity.
He won't actually be the inspector general, he'll just play one in the news, and "lead the office" while the inspector general doesn't exist. This would make such a great plot for a Gogol story if Gogol hadn't used the title for a different idea.

But why?

According to a Democratic congressional aide, just before his abrupt dismissal Linick had opened an investigation into allegations that Pompeo had been using a political appointee at the state department to run personal errands for him and his wife, Susan.
But as Aaron Blake reminds us, Linick also

The documents in question were the big brown envelope of Giuliani-related fabrications that the White House had sent Pompeo, in folders taken from the stationery Trump International gives its hotel guests, and Linick apparently brought it over to House Judiciary in October 2019 after Pompeo announced his refusal to obey a House subpoena for them, which never did become a big part of the impeachment inquiry even after we learned about Pompeo's central role in enabling Giuliani's rogue operation to slime the vice president.

The mistreatment of staff was alleged against assistant secretary for international affair Kevin Moley and his then senior adviser Mari Stull:
Both Stull and Moley, it said, “frequently berated employees, raised their voices, and generally engaged in unprofessional behavior toward staff,” and reportedly moved to retaliate against those who had held their jobs under the previous administration.
Stull, it said, referred to some employees as “Obama holdovers,” “traitors,” or “disloyal,” and accused some of being part of the “Deep State” and the “swamp” — terms that President Trump has used to refer to federal employees. All of those so accused, the report said, were career staffers and not political appointees.
Any way you slice it looks like retaliation, which would be illegal if committed by a boss who isn't above the law, and is certainly impeachable, given that the purpose is clearly to intimidate all inspectors general into not doing their jobs. A 2020 Inspector General Independence Act introduced in early April by Senators Murphy and Cooper looks like it might have some legs in the House, but ultimately I don't see how it or any other legislation is supposed to evade Trump's determination to avoid it.

Previous victims in the ongoing inspector general purge are Christi Grimm of Health and Human services, who
Issued an April report finding “severe shortages” of coronavirus testing kits, delays in results and “widespread shortages” of equipment like masks.
fired late Friday, 1 May, and Michael Atkinson, of the intelligence community, fired late Friday, 3 April, who decided to send Congress the whistleblower report on Trump's call to Ukraine president Zelensky ordering him to announce investigations of Biden and other people implicated in the Giuliani fabrications. (This retaliation may have been entirely illegal, according to Lawfare.)

And there was the acting Defense Department inspector general Glenn Fine, demoted back to his previous position as deputy on a Tuesday, 7 April, who hadn't done anything to incur Trump's wrath but who had been appointed at the end of March to head the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee charged among other things with overseeing the provisions of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package
prohibiting companies like the Trump Organization from receiving loans or investments from Treasury Department programs. 
Businesses controlled by Vice President Mike Pence, members of Congress and Cabinet chiefs are also barred from benefiting from federal funds, according to Schumer's office. The prohibition extends to children, spouses and in-laws of the government officials.
The committee now has no head and may never get one. The special inspector general appointed to oversee the stimulus according to the legislation, Brian Miller, has announced he will be independent of the White House but
In a signing statement released hours after Mr. Trump signed the stimulus law in a televised ceremony in the Oval Office, the president suggested that he had the power to decide what information a newly created inspector general intended to monitor the funds could share with Congress.

So Trump may be able to carry out his original intention: "I'll be the oversight." L'état profond, c'est moi.

Meanwhile, I hope we get more detail on Secretary and Mrs. Pompeo commandering themselves servants out of State Department staff, which kind of reminds me of stuff for which his friends Prime Minister and Mrs. Netanyahu have gotten busted for in the past (though what Sara was actually convicted for was kind of the opposite, having $50,000 worth of catered meals delivered to the residence and paid by the state while the official cook, also paid by the state, had nothing to do). And EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, whose departure was occasioned by similar habits:
Democratic lawmakers accused Pruitt of using staff to get him a Trump tower mattress, to try to get his wife a position managing a Chick-fil-A franchise, and to find his family a new apartment in a posh DC neighborhood.
And who could forget the dry cleaning and the hand lotion, not Trump-branded (It was from the Ritz-Carlton)?

Pompeo used to do similar stuff at his previous job, too, where Mrs. Pompeo served as the "First Lady of the CIA" and had her own office space at the agency and staff looking after her needs in addition to their official duties as, you know, intelligence professionals:
Pompeo, who is a volunteer at the CIA, uses office space [wrote Shane Harris/WaPo in December 2018] on the seventh-floor headquarters in Langley, Va., where senior leaders, including the director, have their offices. A support staff of CIA employees assists her in her duties, although that is not their full-time job. And Pompeo travels with her husband, who President Trump nominated last week to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, including on trips he takes overseas to meet with foreign intelligence officials.... 
While it is not unheard of for directors’ spouses to take on volunteer work, particularly advocating for families, Susan Pompeo’s presence at the agency, along with her use of office space and help from staff, has raised questions internally about the nature of her duties and why agency resources are being used to support her, according to people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about a sensitive subject. The misuse of government travel and other perquisites of office has been a persistent issue in the Trump administration.

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