In today's edition, President Trump disbands his "voter fraud" commission, we think that members of Congress should disclose their bitcoin holdings, France considers a law to fight fake news, and much more.
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flawed fraud commission disbanded
Image of the Executive Order via BuzzFeed.
Yesterday, President Trump issued an executive order terminating his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, also known as his "voter fraud" commission. In a statement announcing the order, the White House Press Secretary renewed claims of voter fraud without citing evidence and indicated that the commission was being shut down because numerous states refused to share voter information.
The commission was originally created to investigate President Trump's false statements that millions of people voted illegally in 2016. That baseless claim was roundly debunked by ProPublica and other outlets.
In addition, contrary to President Trump's promises of transparency, the commission operated in the dark, leading to lawsuits by watchdogs over sunshine law violations as well complaints by its own members, including Maine's Secretary of State.
Jessica Huseman, who has been covering the commission for ProPublica since its inception, walked through its history in this highly informative thread on Twitter.
1/12 Trump dissolved his voter fraud commission today. In its 6 months of existence, the commission accomplished basically nothing but caused a lot of controversy. I’ve been covering it from the beginning — let’s review it from start to finish.
— Jessica Huseman (@JessicaHuseman) January 4, 2018
Our take? Instead of investigating Russian efforts to compromise US election integrity in 2016, informing the public, and issuing recommendations that Congress and the executive branch could apply to protect infrastructure and shore up trust, this panel wasted time & taxpayer funds. While the digitization of the US electoral system has given it new efficiencies, it has created new vulnerabilities. The White House and Congress should now invest in securing the critical digital democratic assets our government created.
Robert Mueller. Image via the White House.
- Paul Manafort sues Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein, asks judge to narrow scope of special counsel investigation. "President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, sued the special counsel on Wednesday and asked a federal court to narrow his authority, escalating Republican efforts to discredit an investigation that has stretched longer than the White House expected." (New York Times)
- Numerous high level Justice Department positions have yet to be permanently filled under Trump, raising governance concerns. "Nearly one year into the Trump administration, the Justice Department has begun 2018 without Senate-confirmed leaders in at least six of its most important divisions. The department's top priority — and one often cited by the White House, too — is safeguarding national security. But Justice's national security unit has no permanent Trump appointee in place." At least five other divisions are in the same boat, sparking concern from former Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich. (NPR)
- Should members of Congress be required to disclose their bitcoin holdings? It's legally unclear… "To guard against insider trading and financial conflicts, members of Congress and federal officials must file regular reports on their assets — including stocks, bonds and derivatives. Yet there’s no explicit mention in the disclosure requirements about bitcoin and the other cryptocurrencies that are drawing intense interest from investors and confounding regulators worldwide." (Bloomberg) …but we think they should be. As Sunlight's Alex Howard told Bloomberg, “Whether a member of Congress has holdings of bitcoin is relevant to our understanding of where someone’s interests might lie.”
- Why should members of Congress disclose their bitcoin holdings? We went into more detail on the Sunlight blog. "Cryptocurrencies like bitcoins should be treated as assets and disclosed, like stocks, bonds and derivatives. Whether a Member of Congress has bitcoins is relevant to public understanding of where that person’s interests may lie, as is true of other assets, from stocks to bonds to real estate." (The Sunlight Foundation)
- Sexual harassment settlements by the Executive branch are shrouded in mystery. "Despite a 2002 law aimed at improving federal accountability in discrimination cases, the system for tracking sexual harassment payments in the executive branch is almost as opaque and bureaucratic as the one governing Congress, where payouts similarly lack transparency — a setup that obscures the extent of workplace problems and allows for little oversight of how taxpayer money is spent, according to a POLITICO analysis." (POLITICO)
- U.S. may deport Mexican journalist who sought asylum from death threats. "A Mexican journalist who sought refuge in the U.S. amid death threats almost a decade ago now faces deportation in a case drawing criticism from immigration and journalism advocates." (Wall Street Journal)
around the world
- French President Emmanuel Macron proposes rules against fake news. In an annual speech to the press yesterday, Macron outlined new rules to crack down on fake news, saying "“When fake news are spread, it will be possible to go to a judge (…) and if appropriate have content taken down, user accounts deleted and ultimately websites blocked…Platforms will have more transparency obligations regarding sponsored content to make public the identity of sponsors and of those who control them, but also limits on the amounts that can be used to sponsor this content.." (POLITICO) Our take? While the bill's transparency provisions regarding disclosures and disclaimers mirror our view of how paid political advertising should be treated, the judicial remedy could be abused to limit speech or journalism that powerful people or institutions do not like. We'll be monitoring.
- Amid violent conflict, Internet users in Yemen struggle with blocks, shutdowns, and slow speeds. Yemen has been wracked by civil war for nearly three years. Amid the conflict, internet service disruptions have proved harmful in a range of ways, according to this report by Basheer Alsamawi. (Global Voices)
- Greece's top corruption cop has tough job, ambitious agenda. "Since taking over Greece’s special prosecutorial body fighting corruption almost a year ago, [Heleni] Touloupaki has given new momentum to a sprawling investigation into Germany’s Siemens for alleged suspicious payments it made in the run-up to the 2004 Olympic Games, spearheaded a probe into bribery allegations against Swiss drugmaker Novartis, and led a team of investigators tasked with identifying high-ranking Greeks, including senior politicians, with links to offshore financial holdings." (POLITICO)
one sentence or less
- A new study found that news consumers are less likely to believe conspiracy theories if they are educated about how the media and journalists work. (Columbia Journalism Review)
- The Library of Congress will no longer store every single message posted on Twitter. (NextGov)
- State lawmakers often hold second jobs in law or real estate, but some have more unique sidelines. (Center for Public Integrity)
- The National Democratic Institute shared a recap of the fourth annual Global Legislative Openness Week. (NDI)
- Federal fraud recovery declined in FY 2017, continuing a trend of non-election year drops. (Project on Government Oversight)
- Last week, Congress passed a bill mandating that public-facing federal websites be designed for mobile accessibility. (Executive Government)
- Check out this spreadsheet to track Trump's Twitter attacks on the press. (Columbia Journalism Review)
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