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The Paper Trail: May 31, 2024

Trump Hush Money Trial Verdict; Health Officials Tried to Evade FOIA; SCOTUS Won’t Budge on Alito Controversy; and More. 

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Announcements

How to Conduct Oversight from a Personal Office: POGO’s virtual training on how to conduct oversight when you don’t have a gavel will be held TODAY at 12 noon. This event is only open to staff in Congress, GAO, and CRS. Register HERE.

House staff are invited to join the Office of the Whistleblower Ombuds and speakers from district offices for a virtual fireside chat on Thursday, June 13 from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. EDT. Speakers will discuss tips for working with whistleblower constituents and oversight sources from a district office perspective. For more information, see the Office’s events page.

Top stories for May 31, 2024

Donald Trump found guilty on all counts in New York hush money trial: Donald Trump became the first former U.S. president to be convicted of a crime when a jury found him guilty on 34 felony counts in a scheme to illegally influence 2016 election. Sentencing is set for July 11. Neither the conviction nor any sentence he may receive prevents him from serving as president. (Shayna Jacobs et al., Washington Post)

Health officials tried to evade public records laws, lawmakers say: The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic released a series of private emails that suggest NIH officials deleted messages and used other ways to evade the Freedom of Information Act. (Benjamin Mueller, New York Times)

New regulation would allow some former feds to skirt conflict-of-interest contact requirement: A proposed rule would allow former senior employees of the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response to have contact with HHS officials within the one-year “cooling off period.” (Carten Cordell, Government Executive)

TikTok offered an extraordinary deal. The U.S. government took a pass: TikTok in 2022 proposed giving the government considerable control over its U.S. operations. The Biden administration declined, opting instead for a potentially protracted legal battle. (Drew Harwell, Washington Post)

Trump makes sweeping promises to donors on audacious fundraising tour: By tying donation requests to pledges of tax cuts and other favorable policies, Trump is testing the boundaries of federal campaign finance laws and the effectiveness of the federal election watchdog. (Josh Dawsey, Washington Post)

Gender equity in college sports hampered by sluggish, underfunded oversight: The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights oversees Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination in education programs receiving federal funding. But in college athletics, the office seems to have pulled a hamstring with its sluggish, under-resourced enforcement of the law. (Joe Davidson, Washington Post)

Opinion: Detroit says the census undercounts its residents. It’s probably right: Detroit is suing the Census Bureau for allegedly using a flawed methodology that disadvantages older, economically struggling northern and Midwestern cities in favor of Sun Belt cities and discriminates against Black and Hispanic residents. Many other cities are also upset with the 2020 count for similar reasons. (Washington Post)

Francis Scott Key Bridge Collapse

Coast Guard response to Key Bridge collapse reveals a strained service: When a container ship struck the Key Bridge in March, the U.S. Coast Guard became one of several federal agencies mobilized to close the Port of Baltimore waterway, initiate search-and-rescue, and begin clearing tons of wreckage and debris. It did so with an already lean force that experts say has been underfunded for much of its modern history. (Molly Weisner, Federal Times)

Israel-Hamas War

White House says Rafah strike does not violate Biden’s warnings to Israel: Several Biden officials lamented the “heartbreaking” and “tragic” scenes and loss of life from the Israeli airstrike in Gaza last weekend. But they said the incident didn’t cross Biden’s “red line” for withholding weapons shipments to Israel. (Yasmeen Abutaleb, John Hudson, and Missy Ryan, Washington Post)

🔎 See Also: Israel used U.S.-made bombs in strike that killed dozens near Rafah (Robin Stein, Christiaan Triebert, and Haley Willis, New York Times)

U.S. pier for Gaza aid damaged by rough seas: A Pentagon spokesperson said the fact that the pier, which cost $320 million, was able to get 1,000 metric tons of aid into Gaza before it broke apart demonstrates that it can work. (Helene Cooper, New York Times)

🔎 See Also: U.S. military hasn’t airdropped Gaza aid since May 9 (Military Times)

Supreme Court Ethics

The Alitos, the neighborhood clash and the upside-down flag: New details contradict Justice Alito’s account of the upside-down U.S. flag at his Virginia home in January 2021. (Jodi Kantor, New York Times)

🔎 See Also: Roberts declines meeting with Senate Democrats about Alito controversy (Al Weaver, The Hill)

🔎 See Also: Opinion: How to force Justices Alito and Thomas to recuse themselves in the Jan. 6 cases (Jamie Raskin, New York Times)

Amy Coney Barrett’s husband is representing Fox in a lawsuit: Jesse Barrett’s work for Fox Corp. highlights one of ethics experts’ biggest complaints about the Supreme Court: Justices aren’t required to disclose their spouses’ clients, so the public has no way to track who is paying money directly to their families. (Andrew Perez, Rolling Stone)

 

Insurrection

Republicans divided on pledging to accept 2024 election results: While Donald Trump has refused to accept the election results in advance, many GOP lawmakers aren’t willing to go down that same road — except for a handful who are trying to rise to the top of his VP shortlist. (Alexander Bolton, The Hill)

 

Russia-Ukraine War

Biden secretly gave Ukraine permission to strike inside Russia with U.S. weapons: It’s a stunning shift the administration initially said would escalate the war by more directly involving the U.S. in the fight. (Erin Banco, Alexander Ward, and Lara Seligman, Politico)

 

Political Misbehavior

The prospect of a second Trump presidency has the intelligence community on edge: Numerous former officials and analysts who worked in the Trump administration warn the extent to which Trump could remake the intelligence community is underestimated and could lead to an unprecedented level of politicization of intelligence. (Erin Banco and John Sakellariadis, Politico)

 

COVID-19

DOJ charges Chinese national with operating “world’s largest botnet” that stole $5.9 billion in COVID relief funds: YunHe Wang was arrested and charged with running a global malware network responsible for the theft of $5.9 billion in COVID relief funds and tied to numerous other crimes, including child exploitation, bomb threats, and illegal exportation of goods. (Rebecca Picciotto, CNBC)

 

Defense and Veterans Affairs

DOD, VA need more data on how their toxic exposure tracking app is used, watchdog says: The GAO found that oversight of the system for centralizing military personnel and veteran toxic exposure records has fallen off, despite a growing influx of PACT Act-related claims. (Edward Graham, Nextgov/FCW)

More kosher, halal foods needed in commissaries, lawmakers say: The Defense Commissary Agency operates 235 grocery stores on bases around the world. Troops and others have told Congress of the difficulties they face due to the stores’ lack of kosher and halal options. (Karen Jowers, Military Times)

 

Business and Finance

Blacklisted Chinese companies rebrand as American to dodge crackdown: Chinese companies trying to buffer themselves from Washington’s anti-China policies are rebranding and creating U.S.-domiciled businesses. (Heather Somerville, Wall Street Journal)

Labor Department sues Hyundai to block use of illegal child labor in Alabama: The lawsuit, which stems from an investigation that found extensive, illegal use of migrant child laborers at suppliers of Hyundai in Alabama, is the first time the agency has sued a major company over alleged child labor violations by a subcontractor. (Lauren Kaori Gurley, Washington Post)

Senate Democrats call for DOJ to probe Big Oil over price-fixing allegations: The senators specifically cited recent FTC allegations that ex-Pioneer Natural Resources CEO Scott Sheffield colluded with the OPEC oil group on price-fixing activity. (Zack Budryk, The Hill)

The loneliness of the American worker: More meetings and faceless chats. Fewer work friends. The modern workday is fueling an epidemic of isolation, and it’s costing companies billions of dollars. (Te-Ping Chen, Wall Street Journal)

 

Tech

OpenAI finds Russian and Chinese groups used its tech for propaganda campaigns: ChatGPT maker OpenAI caught groups from Russia, China, Iran, and Israel using its technology to try to influence political discourse around the world. (Gerrit De Vynck, Washington Post)

Google scales back AI search answers after it told users to eat glue: Google’s error-prone AI-generated search results told users to put glue on their pizza, drink plenty of urine to help pass a kidney stone, and that John F. Kennedy graduated from the University of Wisconsin after his death. (Gerrit De Vynck, Washington Post)

 

Health Care

Wyden demands penalties for Obamacare enrollment fraud: Unscrupulous, commission-hungry insurance agents enroll people in Affordable Care Act plans, or switch their coverage, without their knowledge. The problem appears concentrated among the 32 states using the healthcare.gov federal marketplace, where rogue agents can easily access policyholder information. (Julie Rovner, KFF Health News)

Safety-net health clinics cut services and staff amid Medicaid unwinding: One of Montana’s largest health clinics that serves people in poverty has cut back services and laid off workers. The retrenchment mirrors similar cuts around the country, as safety-net health centers feel the effects of states purging their Medicaid rolls. (Katheryn Houghton, KFF Health News)

Black women face extraordinary maternal mental health challenges: Black women are two to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related issues than white women. Most of these deaths are preventable. (Cheyanne M. Daniels, The Hill)

 

ICYMI

Immigration and Border Security:

Biden said to be finalizing plans for migrant limits as part of a U.S.-Mexico border clampdown

U.S. planning to refer some migrants for resettlement in Greece and Italy

Other News:

Supreme Court rules for NRA in New York government coercion battle

Opinion: The Supreme Court is about to make Congress reinvent itself

Leonard Leo built the conservative court. Now he’s funneling dark money into law schools

Federal appeals board could soon reshape what it means to be a whistleblower

Native American children endured years of sexual abuse at boarding schools

Off leash: Inside the secret, global, far-right group chat

How America inadvertently created an “Axis of Evasion” led by China

As summer interns descend on the Hill, this resource office is ready

Upcoming Events

📌 A Hearing with Dr. Anthony Fauci. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic. Monday, June 3, 10:00 a.m., 2154 Rayburn House Office Building.

📌 The Assault on Women’s Freedoms: How Abortion Bans Have Created a Health Care Nightmare Across America. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Tuesday, June 4, 10:00 a.m., 106 Dirksen Senate Office Building.

📌 Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice. House Committee on the Judiciary. Tuesday, June 4, 10:00 a.m., 2141 Rayburn House Office Building.

📌 Bonus Blunder: Examining VA’s Improper Decision to Award Senior Executives Millions in Incentives. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Tuesday, June 4, 10:15 a.m., 360 Cannon House Office Building.

Hot Docs

🔥📃 GAO - Priority Open Recommendations: Department of Education. GAO-24-107296 (PDF)

🔥📃 GAO - Priority Open Recommendations: Environmental Protection Agency. GAO-24-107310 (PDF)

🔥📃 VA OIG: Supplement to OIG Report, “VA Improperly Awarded $10.8 Million in Incentives to Central Office Senior Executives”. 23-03773-179 (PDF)

🔥📃 Combating Terrorism Center at West Point: Rising Threats to Public Officials: A Review of 10 Years of Federal Data. May 2024

Nominations & Appointments

Nominations

  • Mark Angelson - Ambassador, Norway
  • Michael G. Heath - Ambassador, Malawi