The Paper Trail: December 19, 2023

Interior IG Report on Jan. 6 Ellipse Rally; Billionaires Bankroll Judges' Luxury Travel; A Textbook Example of Corporate Greenwashing; and More. 

The Paper Trail logo in front of government buildings in Washington, DC

Interior IG Report on Jan. 6 Ellipse Rally; Billionaires Bankroll Judges' Luxury Travel; A Textbook Example of Corporate Greenwashing; and More. 

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Editor’s Note

The Paper Trail will return on Friday, January 5, 2024. Have a great Holiday and a Happy New Year!

Top stories for December 19, 2023

A “delicate matter”: Clarence Thomas’ private complaints about money sparked fears he would resign: Interviews and newly unearthed documents reveal that Justice Thomas, facing financial strain in early 2000, privately pushed for a higher salary and to allow justices to take speaking fees. (Justin Elliott et al., ProPublica)

Billionaires are bankrolling judges’ luxury travel: In 2021 and 2022, two conservative, billionaire-funded legal interests — George Mason University and The Federalist Society — sent more than 100 federal judges on 251 trips to conferences and seminars around the world. In all, both groups funded nearly half of the travel-related payments reported in those years. (Andrew Perez, The Lever)

Government watchdog gives mixed review on handling of Jan. 6 rally at Ellipse: The Interior Department’s inspector general found that Women for America First, organizers of the pro-Trump rally held at the White House Ellipse on January 6, 2021, knew of President Trump’s plan to have attendees march to the Capitol but repeatedly denied it to federal permitting officials. (Zack Budryk, The Hill)

Government presumption of racial disadvantage under siege by White plaintiffs: The legal offensive against the Minority Business Development Agency and other federal programs is part of a broader backlash against affirmative action and diversity efforts in government and the private sector. (Julian Mark, Washington Post)

USPS’ workforce is very diverse. Its management is less so: According to the GAO, the U.S. Postal Service has grown more racially and ethnically diverse in recent years and is “one of the most diverse workforces in the nation,” but its management is still disproportionately white. GAO also found employees from historically disadvantaged groups earn less than their white colleagues. (Eric Katz, Government Executive)

“A colossal waste of time”: Frustrations rise over use of privileged resolutions in the House: As they look to the second session of the 118th Congress, lawmakers in the House are frustrated with what some say is an overuse of a procedural tool allowing any member to sidestep leadership and bring a resolution to the floor. (Nina Heller, Roll Call)

Dozens of assisted-living residents died after wandering away unnoticed: Since 2018, more than 2,000 people have wandered away from assisted-living and dementia-care facilities unnoticed or were left unattended for hours outside. Nearly 100 have died, and state inspectors frequently found evidence of neglect. (Christopher Rowland et al., Washington Post)

Israel-Hamas War

DOJ meets with Arab American groups over canceled meetings in major hotel chains: Arab American and Muslim civic organizations told the DOJ that the hotels — which include the Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton chains — claimed to have received threatening calls and messages in the weeks following the October 7 Hamas attacks but didn’t offer specifics about the safety concerns. (Shia Kapos, Politico)

Russia-Ukraine War

U.S. says it will run out of funds for Ukraine this month: The Biden administration plans to announce one more package of military aid to Ukraine this month, but after that, according to National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby, funding for Ukraine will dry up. (Lara Seligman, Politico)

Chinese traders and Moroccan ports: How Russia flouts global tech bans: Using specialized e-commerce sites, secretive shipping workarounds, and a constellation of middlemen, Russia is obtaining the tech components it needs to keep the war in Ukraine going. (Paul Mozur, Aaron Krolik, and Adam Satariano, New York Times)

Police Misconduct

Portland protesters were beaten, shot at and snatched. Years later, they are frustrated by legal blockades to accountability: After the 2020 racial justice protests, a flurry of lawsuits accused federal law enforcement agents of using excessive force. None have succeeded thanks to the Supreme Court, which has created an environment in which federal officials across the government can violate people’s constitutional rights with impunity. (Lawrence Hurley, NBC News)

🔎 See Also: Justice Dept. launches database to track misconduct by federal officers (David Nakamura, Marisa Iati, and Mark Berman, Washington Post)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

LGBTQ military veterans finally seeing the benefits of honorable discharge originally denied them: The Pentagon began the process of reviewing the records of thousands of veterans who were discharged for their sexuality for potential discharge upgrade eligibility. (Jim Axelrod and Jessica Kegu, CBS News)

Business and Finance

The nation’s largest credit union rejected more than half its Black conventional mortgage applicants: Navy Federal Credit Union has the widest disparity in mortgage approval rates between White and Black borrowers of any major lender, a trend that reached new heights last year. (Casey Tolan, Audrey Ash, and Rene Marsh, CNN)

Federal regulators seek to force Starbucks to reopen 23 stores: The NLRB accused Starbucks of illegally closing 23 stores to suppress union organizing activity and sought to force the company to reopen them. It’s the latest in a series of accusations by federal officials that Starbucks has broken the law during a two-year labor campaign. (Noam Scheiber, New York Times)

Build Back B.S.: Critics say building products manufacturer Kingspan Group is a textbook example of a corporation greenwashing its own harmful environmental practices while also glossing over criticism of its safety and labor practices. Now, as an ostensibly “green” operation, the company is likely to receive lucrative U.S. tax benefits. (Sam Knight, The Lever)


L.L. Bean tips the scales in state privacy fight: As customer data becomes an increasingly lucrative global industry, the federal government has largely stalled in its efforts to pass national laws. So companies have been waging their influence wars in state legislatures — often cobbling together powerful coalitions of local businesses and national industries to water down privacy laws. (Alfred Ng, Politico)

Marketing company claims that it actually is listening to your phone and smart speakers to target ads: Cox Media Group claims it has the capability to listen in real time to conversations of consumers through embedded microphones in smartphones, smart TVs, and other devices to gather data and use it to target ads. (Joseph Cox, 404 Media)

Apple’s treatment of iMessage for Android app Beeper Mini triggers bipartisan call for competition investigation: A bipartisan congressional letter called on the DOJ to investigate potentially anticompetitive conduct by Apple, which has admitted it leverages iMessages to lock users into Apple devices and services. (Stephen Warwick, iMore)

Health Care

Doctors with histories of big malpractice settlements work for insurers, deciding if they’ll pay for care: Doctors working for insurance companies can rule on thousands of requests for care a year. At least a dozen doctors were hired after being disciplined by state medical boards or making multiple or outsized malpractice payments. (Patrick Rucker, David Armstrong, and Doris Burke, ProPublica)

Behind the shortage keeping cancer patients from chemo: Key chemotherapy and other generic drugs remain in short supply. But the deepening crisis has not fostered solutions to improve the delivery of generic drugs, which make up 90% of prescriptions in the U.S. (Christina Jewett, New York Times)

FDA database that tracks heart device harms may miss red flags, safety experts warn: Not all device problems are reported to the FDA’s database of medical device incidents, known as the Manufacturer and User Facility Device Experience (MAUDE), and device problem reports can be inaccurate or incomplete. (Daniel Chang and Holly K. Hacker, CBS News)

A defense-linked contractor took over a successful CDC anti-overdose initiative. It imploded in a day: A groundbreaking CDC initiative to support groups across the country working to reduce overdose deaths fell apart this month after the program came under the control of a federal contractor that had done no public health work. Experts blame the CDC’s mismanagement of the process to transition the initiative to H2 PCI, a relatively new federal contractor with close links to the defense industry and the murky world of military special operations. (Noah Hurowitz, The Intercept)


Immigration and Border Security:

Abbott signs law allowing Texas to arrest migrants, setting up federal showdown

U.S. closes two rail bridges to Mexico amid migrant surge

Arizona governor sends National Guard to the border

Other News:

A more aggressive China tried to influence the 2022 midterms, U.S. intelligence report says

Biden administration pleads with states after millions of kids lose Medicaid coverage

They just won a $148M verdict against Giuliani. Now they’re suing him again

Sen. Cardin “terribly angered” by staffer sex tape as Capitol Police investigate

U.S. fines Southwest Airlines $140 million for holiday meltdown

Google will pay $700 million in antitrust deal with states

The nation’s capital, built on water, struggles to keep from drowning

How race, politics, culture and money are shaping which kids play tackle football

Hot Docs

🔥📃 Department of the Interior OIG: Review of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Actions Related to January 6, 2021. 21-0286 (PDF)

Nominations & Appointments


  • Joseph R. “Joe” Adams - United States Marshal for the Northern District of West Virginia
  • Ann Marie McIff Allen - Judge, United States District Court for the District of Utah
  • Susan M. Bazis - Judge, United States District Court for the District of Nebraska
  • Ernesto “Ernest” Gonzalez - Judge, United States District Court for the Western District of Texas
  • Gary D. Grimes - United States Marshal for the Western District of Arkansas
  • Robin M. Meriweather - Judge, United States Court of Federal Claims
  • Kelly H. Rankin - Judge, United States District Court for the District of Wyoming
  • Leon Schydlower - Judge, United States District Court for the Western District of Texas