Today in OpenGov: The House in Sessions

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To start your morning off right, we recommend taking a look at our Ten Principles for Opening Up Government Information, which are newly updated with links to OpenGovData.org, our open data policy resources, and much more. 

Elsewhere in today's edition, Jeff Sessions talks to the House Judiciary Committee, ProPublica unearths potential conflicts at the USDA, we join 108 other organizations in support of open data and evidence-based policymaking, Kenya's democracy hangs in the balance, and more.

sessions in the house

Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Image credit: Gage Skidmore.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed a number of topics with the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. The high profile hearing touched on issues including Russia, requests for a Clinton special counsel, email pseudonyms, and more:

  • Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney report that "Attorney General Jeff Sessions tried Tuesday to distance himself from new accounts of contacts between Donald Trump's aides and Russia-linked people last year, saying he had never lied about his own role but simply had little recollection of discussions on the topic." He told the committee that he didn't remember one meeting with "a Trump adviser trying to broker high-level talks with Russia" until media reports jogged his memory. Sessions also claimed that he could not clearly remember the conversation during which George Papadopoulos suggested organizing a meeting between Trump and Russian President Putin although he expressed a belief that "he rejected the idea of a meeting with Putin when Papadopoulos proposed it." (POLITICO)
  • Sessions admitted using an email pseudonym while defending former Attorney General Loretta Lynch for doing so. Responding to a question from Rep. Matt Getz (R-FL), Sessions said "I would say in defense of Attorney General Lynch, I have a pseudonym also. I understand all cabinet officials do, and maybe some subcabinet officials do. She would probably have been following the advice of the Department of Justice." (The Hill)
  • Sessions walked a tightrope over GOP requests to name a special counsel to look into Hillary Clinton. A day after the Justice Department released a letter responding to Rep. Goodlatte’s request to investigate assertions President Trump has made about the actions of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sessions addressed the issue in front of the House. He acknowledged that the department would name a special counsel if they found legal reason to do so. As Kyle Cheney and Darren Samuelsohn report "Sessions, who has recused himself from any matters connected to Clinton or the 2016 presidential campaign, also told the committee it would be inappropriate for the president to direct him to target a political rival." (POLITICO)

elsewhere in trumpland

ProPublica's Politwoops project archives deleted tweets from @realDonaldTrump and @POTUS.
  • The Justice Department agrees with us: when President Trump tweets from his @realDonaldTrump account it counts as an official presidential statement. "The question of whether the personal or campaign social media accounts of elected officials are official statements has been debated for a decade now, with increasing relevance to our politics as more politicians and member of the public join. This week, federal government lawyers helped to put the debate to rest, at least for the presidency, when their filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia stated that President Donald J. Trump’s tweets at @realDonaldTrump are ‘official statements of the President of the United States.’ (Hat tip National Law Journal)" Alex Howard argues that this helps boost the argument that the President should not be blocking his constituents on Twitter. (The Sunlight Foundation)
  • ProPublica digs into Trump's shadowy deregulatory task forces, finds plenty of conflicts. Yesterday, ProPublica, along with the New York Times, reported that a former lobbyist for the pesticide industry is now heading up the U.S. Department of Agriculture's deregulatory task force. This is only the latest story resulting from months worth of work to identify members of the task forces President Trump has set up to look for regulatory rollbacks at federal agencies. ProPublic has all the details, including plenty of potential conflicts of interest, on this great Twitter thread.
  • Judge limits the scope of Justice Department warrants for Facebook data connected to inauguration protests. "A court in Washington, D.C., has moved to limit the scope of search warrants obtained by federal investigators for Facebook data in connection with an ongoing investigation into criminal rioting on Inauguration Day. As a result of the order, the Department of Justice (DOJ) will be blocked from viewing identifying information on innocent third-party Facebook users who interacted with a page used to organize protests against President Trump on Jan. 20." (The Hill)

washington watch


 
  • Sunlight joins 108 other organizations in support of open data and evidence-based policymaking. "Today, the Sunlight Foundation joined 108 other organizations and individuals committed to using data and evidence to improve outcomes for the public in a letter to Congressional leaders supporting of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (FEBPA) of 2017 (H.R. 4714S. 2046)." Read about why we support this effort on the Sunlight Foundation blog.
  • Sunlight joins nonpartisan coalition in support of campaign finance e-filing in the Senate. The letter urges Senators to support the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act legislation, introduced earlier this year by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and Thad Cochran (R-MS), "that will increase transparency and accountability in government — while saving taxpayers money in the process."
  • House will consider major tax legislation under a closed rule. "The House Republican tax bill cleared the Rules Committee late Tuesday night with no changes or amendments made in order for floor debate. The panel adopted a closed rule in an 8-3 party-line vote, the last hurdle for the bill to clear before it reaches the floor." (Roll Call)

around the world


 
  • New report on global internet freedom finds less than a quarter of world with free and open internet. "Though more people around the world are going online than ever before, almost two-thirds of them live in areas where the government has taken steps to limit freedom on the internet, a study found." (NextGov) For the 7th year in a row the report, published by Freedom House, found a decrease in global internet freedom. 
  • Kenya's democracy is hanging by a thread following disputed elections, press crackdowns. "As the cornerstone of East African democracy, Kenya is an important economic and political force in the region and a critical U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism. But worrying signs, including a crackdown on press and civil society, police killings committed seemingly with impunity, and threats and attacks on election officials and judges, suggest that Kenya may be veering off its democratic path." (The Atlantic)
  • Head of Romania's ruling party indicted on fraud charges. "The leader of Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea, was indicted on fraud charges on Monday. Dragnea was accused of creating an organized crime group, committing fraud to secure EU funds and misusing his position for personal gain, according to a statement by the Romanian National Anti-Corruption Directorate." (POLITICO)
  • In Zimbabwe, the military has detained President Robert Mugabe amid succession battle. The situation is still fluid, but the Guardian reports that Robert Mugabe "and his family remain in military detention in Zimbabwe, 12 hours after the military declared on national television that it had temporarily taken control of the country to 'target criminals' around the head of state. The move by the armed forces appears to have resolved a bitter battle to succeed the 93-year-old president, which had pitted his former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa against his wife, Grace Mugabe, 52." Mnangagwa had fled to South Africa after being removed from office by Mugabe last week, but has reportedly returned to the country. Follow the Guardian for live updates

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