Today in OpenGov: Protection
In today's edition, Robert Mueller needs some protection, open data and requests for extension mark tax day, Maryland embraces transparency for online ads, and more.
Despite apparent bipartisan support, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won't schedule a vote on bill to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller. "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he would not be making floor time for legislation designed to shield Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III from firing. McConnell’s determination that the action is not needed is apparently regardless of what happens in the Senate Judiciary Committee." (Roll Call)
We don't agree with McConnell. Congress should ensure that the Special Counsel's investigation is protected, not assume that the President will do the right thing. Yesterday, we officially endorsed the Special Counsel Transparency Act to preserve evidence and recommendations that result from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s investigation, should President Donald J. Trump fire him. Additionally, we joined a coalition of good government and ethics watchdogs in a letter urging the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to support the bill. You can read our full take here.
Meanwhile, more than 600 former Justice Department employees have signed a letter urging protection for Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The letter, which has 704 signatures as of early this morning, states how "many of us served with Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein. Those of us who served with these men know them to be dedicated public servants committed to these principles. All of us served with thousands of their peers at the Department, who also swear an oath to serve, defend, and protect the United States, the Constitution and the American people…We are therefore deeply disturbed by the attacks that have been levied against the good men and women of the Department. Not only is it an insult to their public service, but any attempt to corrupt or undermine the even-handed application of the rule of law threatens the foundation of our Republic." Charles S. Clark has more context at Government Executive.
- President Trump requested an extension on his 2017 taxes, which the public likely won't ever get to see. Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that President Trump had filed for an extension on his 2017 tax returns, as Vox reported. Meanwhile, Philip Bump lamented the fact that Trump's tax returns will likely never become public; "A lot of money is sloshing around in Trump’s tax returns and, as of Jan. 20, 2017, where it’s sloshing and how big the waves are (to exhaust the metaphor) is more important than ever. But, as you know very well by now, Trump will never release those tax documents to the public…Trump is not going to release his tax returns at any point during his presidency. He was never going to release his tax returns, regardless of whether they were under audit; he’s certainly not going to release them now." (Washington Post)
- The U.S. Trade Representative spent nearly $1 million on new office furniture, says it was all part of a plan started under President Obama. "President Trump’s trade representative is spending nearly $1 million on new furniture — and blaming the Obama administration. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer spent more than $917,000 to furnish the two trade offices near the White House, according to contracts reviewed by The Post…When asked about the spending spree, Lighthizer’s office pointed the finger at the Obama administration…They said they’re just sticking to the plan set in motion under Obama…But Obama-era reps say they didn’t sign off on any major remodeling plans." (New York Post)
- Half of the contractors vying to build President Trump's border wall have questionable histories. "Half of the six contractors that built border wall prototypes had questionable track records, including one contractor that the Army Corps of Engineers felt was too risky to do future business with, according to a review of public records, a previously unreported whistleblower lawsuit, and new documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the Project On Government Oversight." (Project on Government Oversight)
- One of Trump's top energy advisers set to spin through revolving door back to his old lobbying firm. "Michael Catanzaro, a chief architect of President Donald Trump’s energy policy, is leaving the White House and returning to his former lobbying firm. Catanzaro, who was appointed in February 2017 as a special assistant to the president for domestic energy and environmental policy, is returning to his previous advocacy and public relations firm, the CGCN Group. Before joining the White House, Catanzaro was a partner at CGCN, where his clients included major oil companies and oilfield service providers, including Hess Corp., Noble Energy Inc. and Halliburton Co., as well as the American Chemistry Council." (Bloomberg)
- President Trump's crackdown on leaks claims first victim. "The Trump administration’s drive to crack down on government leaks scored its first guilty pleas on Tuesday as a former FBI special agent admitted to leaking classified information to the media and to keeping classified information at his home without permission. Former FBI Agent Terry Albury, 39, appeared in federal court in St. Paul, Minnesota, to offer guilty pleas to two felony violations of the Espionage Act…Albury's attorneys issued a statement saying he acknowledged his guilt, but concluded disclosing the information to the media was his only viable option to fight profiling and discrimination in the FBI's anti-terrorism efforts." (POLITICO)
- The House passed a bill that would require nonprofits to e-file their tax returns, boost open data. Yesterday, the House passed HR 5443, which would require e-filing of nonprofit tax returns and make those forms available to the public as open data. Read the bill here. We think that's a superlative idea and that the Senate should pass the bill as well!
- As Mark Zuckerberg was preparing to testify before Congress, Facebook's lobbyists were asking for help fighting European-style privacy rules. "Facebook asked conservative groups for help last week in heading off European-style privacy rules, just as CEO Mark Zuckerberg prepared to apologize to Congress for his company's data scandal…Facebook made its plea to conservative and libertarian groups last week, just hours before Zuckerberg went before a a joint session of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees to express contrition for the leaking of users’ data to Cambridge Analytica and tout new steps the company is taking to boost user privacy." (POLITICO)
- Yesterday, a number of our colleagues talked to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch about the importance of Congressional staff. We were proud to join our friend (and former Sunlighter) Daniel Schuman in comments on the importance of congressional staff–and asking for a study to review their pay, retention, and demographic information. You can watch video of the hearing here.
- Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) resigned earlier this month ahead of impending House Ethics Committee decision against him. "It’s been a mystery why Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) abruptly resigned earlier this month. But HuffPost has new details on what happened. The House Ethics Committee was about to rule against Farenthold in its investigation into whether he sexually harassed members of his staff, used official money for campaign purposes and lied in previous testimony to the committee, according to the office of Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.)." (Huffington Post)
states and cities
- Missouri Governor Eric Greitens refuses to step down despite growing pressure and new criminal accusations. "Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on Tuesday refused to resign amid allegations he coerced a woman into sex and then blackmailed her, despite top state Republican lawmakers urging him to step down." (The Hill) Also on Tuesday, "Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) said his office has uncovered evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Gov. Eric Greitens (R), adding to a pile of legal woes that threaten to end Greitens's political career." (The Hill)
- Judge finds that the Oklahoma governor's office violated open records laws by slow-walking release of information around a botched execution. "The Governor’s Office and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety violated the state Open Records Act when they did not respond to a Tulsa World request for records in a “prompt and reasonable” manner, an Oklahoma County district judge ruled last week. The case involves records requests filed by the Tulsa World and former World editor Ziva Branstetter with the Governor’s Office and DPS within days after Clayton Lockett’s marred execution April 29, 2014." (Tulsa World)
- Maryland moves towards more transparency for online political ads. "We know that internet advertising is a problem for federal elections: Look no further than Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress last week. Yet while Congress is grabbing headlines for the political theater of marathon hearings with a celebrity witness, it has done nothing to address the problem through lawmaking. The states, on the other hand, have been quietly leading the way in modernizing our election advertising laws for the digital age. In a huge victory for voters, Maryland recently passed a bill to align online election advertising requirements with similar, decades-old requirements for broadcast ads." (The Brennan Center for Justice)
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