Newsletter

The Paper Trail: February 23, 2024

Shock, Anger, Confusion after Alabama Embryo Ruling; The Lucrative World of COVID Misinformation; IRS Targets Tax Cheats Flying Under the Radar; and More. 

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The Paper Trail

Announcements

Join the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy on Monday, February 26, at 12:15 p.m. ET for a Zoom webinar presentation of Professor Jason MacDonald’s award-winning paper surveying 50 years of oversight investigations by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The presentation will be followed by discussion and Q&A.

Top stories for February 23, 2024

GOP on defense over Biden probe after Russian revelations: Congressional Republicans are seeking to preserve the credibility of their inquiries into the Biden family after it was revealed that a former FBI informant behind a discredited claim that President Biden and his son Hunter received bribes is allegedly linked to Russian intelligence. (Niall Stanage, The Hill)

🔎 See Also: How a Bill Barr “assignment” led to a Biden impeachment effort based on a lie (Glenn Kessler, Washington Post)

Federal prison employees falsified logs in case where inmate committed suicide, IG says: Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said his office began investigating the document retention policies surrounding logs at the special housing units of federal prisons after his office found that in at least one inmate’s death, two correctional officers had falsified records after failing to conduct mandatory rounds. (Erich Wagner, Government Executive)

“Unprecedented” indictment of federal firefighter leads employees to question their liabilities: The U.S. Forest Service is deciding what to do after an Oregon county sheriff arrested a federal firefighter who conducted a controlled burn in the state. The incident reflects a growing friction between local/state and federal officials in some parts of the country. (Eric Katz, Government Executive)

Tax records reveal the lucrative world of COVID misinformation: Four nonprofits that rose to prominence during the pandemic by capitalizing on the spread of medical misinformation collectively gained more than $118 million between 2020 and 2022, enabling them to deepen their influence in statehouses, courtrooms, and communities across the country. (Lauren Weber, Washington Post)

The rising cost of the oil industry’s slow death: Unplugged oil and gas wells across the U.S. accelerate climate change, threaten public health, and risk hitting taxpayers’ pocketbooks. The money set aside to fix the problem falls woefully short. (Mark Olalde and Nick Bowlin, ProPublica)

Supreme Court Ethics

Whitehouse floats congressional intervention for SCOTUS fact-finding adventurism: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse argued in a law review article that the Supreme Court has shown a pattern of “extra-record fact finding,” repeatedly manipulating the facts of cases in which a lower court or Congress had already established a factual record in order to benefit “Republican donor interests.” Whitehouse warned that if the court doesn’t take action to remedy this problem, Congress will. (Benjamin S. Weiss, Courthouse News Service)

Dobbs Aftermath

Shock, anger, confusion grip Alabama after court ruling on embryos: As a result of the Alabama supreme court’s ruling that frozen embryos are people, doctors are puzzled over whether they will have to make changes to in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures, couples are deciding if they should transfer frozen embryos out of state, and attorneys warn that divorce settlements that call for frozen embryos to be destroyed may now be void. (Tim Craig and Sabrina Malhi, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: Fearing prosecution, UAB pauses in vitro fertilization after Alabama embryo court ruling (Amy Yurkanin, AL.com)

Abortion shield laws: a new war between the states: Doctors in six states where abortion is legal are using new legal protections to mail abortion pills to women in states where it’s illegal. It’s expected that these new abortion shield laws will be challenged in court. (Pam Belluck, New York Times)

An ectopic pregnancy put her life at risk. A Texas hospital refused to treat her: Medical exceptions to abortion bans have not stopped doctors from turning away patients with significant pregnancy complications, often resulting in harrowing consequences. (Caroline Kitchener, Washington Post)

Russia-Ukraine War

U.S. to impose sanctions on more than 500 Russian targets: It isn’t clear which sectors or individuals the administration plans to target, a crucial variable in the sanctions' ultimate effectiveness. (Alan Rappeport, New York Times)

North Korean missile used in Ukraine was packed full of U.S. parts: A short-range ballistic missile produced by North Korea and recently used against Ukraine by Russia relied on more than 290 foreign-sourced components, 75% of them produced by U.S. manufacturers in the last three years. (Thomas Newdick, The Warzone)

U.S. failed to plan upkeep for weapons sent to Ukraine, watchdog says: According to an inspector general review, the Pentagon failed to prepare adequate plans to guide Ukraine forces in maintaining fighting vehicles and Patriot air defense interceptors. (Anthony Capaccio, Bloomberg)

COVID-19

Supreme Court turns away House GOP lawmakers’ appeal over mask rule violations: The Supreme Court refused to revive a lawsuit filed by Reps. Thomas Massie, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Ralph Norman challenging their fines for not complying with a mask mandate on the House floor in 2021. Greene racked up more than $100,000 in fines. (Zach Schonfeld and Mychael Schnell, The Hill)

Anti-vaccine feds still fighting for damages over Biden’s federal employee mandate: A group of about 8,500 federal employees is continuing its legal fight against President Biden’s now-defunct COVID vaccine mandate, seeking damages despite repeated rulings in favor of the administration. (Eric Katz, Government Executive)

1 in 4 New York City children now lives in poverty: The biggest reason for the surge in poverty, both nationally and in New York, was the end of pandemic-era government policies like the expanded child tax credit, enhanced unemployment insurance, and cash payments that helped low-income families keep up with rising costs. (Stefanos Chen, New York Times)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

Army struggling to spot and report extremism, audit shows: A large number of Army personnel believe anti-extremism directives don't prohibit service members from violating people’s constitutional rights or donating money to explicitly racist groups, according to a 2023 Army report. The review also found that many who could identify extremism didn’t know how to report it. (Nick Schwellenbach, Project On Government Oversight)

Patients of Army doctor accused of sexual abuse describe betrayal of trust, fight to endure: The number of alleged victims who have come forward could make it one of the largest sexual assault prosecutions by the Army. Despite recent policy changes and efforts to curb the prevalence of sexual assault in the military, the number of incidents continues to grow. (Jonathan Vigliotti and Clare Hymes, CBS News)

Business and Finance

Senate report blasts high-end life insurance plans as $40B “tax dodge”: Specialized life insurance plans offered only to the wealthiest Americans are a vehicle for evading billions in taxes, according to a new Senate report. However, the tax advantages of these Private Placement Life Insurance (PPLI) plans are perfectly legal. (Julie Zauzmer Weil, Washington Post)

IRS to crack down on corporate jet users who abuse tax code: The IRS said it would begin cracking down on corporate jet owners that abused the tax code by claiming millions of dollars in deductions on airplanes that were being used for personal travel. The agency plans dozens of new audits that will focus on large companies, partnerships, and wealthy taxpayers. (Alan Rappeport, New York Times)

Tech

A marketplace of girl influencers managed by moms and stalked by men: Seeking social media stardom and modeling careers for their underage daughters, mothers post images of them on Instagram. The accounts draw creepy men who sometimes pay to see more. (Jennifer Valentino-DeVries and Michael H. Keller, New York Times)

A New Orleans magician says a Democratic operative paid him to make the fake Biden robocall: Paul Carpenter claims that creating the fake audio took less than 20 minutes and cost only $1. “It’s so scary that it’s this easy to do,” Carpenter said. “People aren’t ready for it.” (Alex Seitz-Wald, NBC News)

Infrastructure

Are the Build America rules slowing infrastructure progress? State transportation agencies and the construction industry want the White House to make it easier to comply with rules designed to include American-made products in infrastructure projects. (Daniel C. Vock, Route Fifty)

Health Care

Americans paid $11 billion to make drugs you can't afford: Americans funded the development of all 10 drugs up for Medicare price negotiations, shelling out a total of $11.7 billion on their research. In 2022 alone, Big Pharma made $70 billion selling these drugs — and they want to keep prices high. (Helen Santoro, The Lever)

Black people have the highest rates of death from heart disease. Could more Black cardiologists help? Around 60% of Black American adults have heart disease, and heart disease death rates are highest among Black Americans compared to other racial and ethnic groups. Yet only 3% to 4% of cardiologists are Black. (Claretta Bellamy, NBC News)

ICYMI

Immigration and Border Security:

Biden mulling plan that could restrict asylum claims at the border

Trump and allies plotting militarized mass deportations, detention camps

New data shows why the U.S. needs more immigrants

Other News:

Border Patrol’s second-highest official opts to retire amid sexual misconduct allegations

NY Times reporters plan fall exposé on Trump’s taxes

FBI, DHS, FCC probing AT&T cell network outage

One plan to modernize Congress? A coworking space

Because It’s Friday

Secret Service had to adjust tactics to avoid bites from Biden’s dog: Newly released documents recorded at least 24 biting episodes before Commander, the president’s German shepherd, was banished from the White House last fall to an undisclosed location. A previous presidential dog, Major, was moved out of the White House two years earlier for similar reasons. (Peter Baker, New York Times)

Martians wanted: Think you have what it takes to apply to NASA? Move over, Matt Damon. It’s someone else’s turn to be “The Martian” in a new NASA mission. (Bill Shannon, The Hill)

Upcoming Events

📌 The U.S. Technology Fueling Russia’s War in Ukraine: How and Why. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; Subcommittee on Investigations. Tuesday, February 27, 10:00 a.m., 562 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

📌 Examining and Preventing Deaths of Incarcerated Individuals in Federal Prisons. Senate Judiciary Committee. Wednesday, February 28, 10:00 a.m., G50 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

📌 Reducing Mismanagement: GAO Recommendations for Improving the SBA. House Committee on Small Business. Wednesday, March 6, 10 a.m., 2360 Rayburn House Office Building.

Hot Docs

🔥📃 DOJ OIG: Notification of Concerns Regarding Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Policies Pertaining to Special Housing Unit Logs Used to Record Mandatory Rounds and the Retention Period for the Original Logs. 24-047(PDF)

Nominations & Appointments

Nominations

  • Georgia N. Alexakis - Judge, United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
  • Matthew Gannon - United States Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa
  • Krissa M. Lanham - Judge, United States District Court for the District of Arizona
  • Nancy L. Maldonado - Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
  • Angela M. Martinez - Judge, United States District Court for the District of Arizona
  • Sparkle L. Sooknanan - Judge, United States District Court for the District of Columbia
  • David C. Waterman - United States Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa