House Oversight Committee

Thoroughly and Properly Out of Control

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to employees in Washington, D.C., 21 February 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

This is thoroughly and properly out of control.

First up—

A third top EPA official is leaving the agency amid intensifying scrutiny of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s travel, spending and condo rental.

Associate Administrator Liz Bowman, the top public affairs official at the Environmental Protection Agency, is leaving to become a spokeswoman for Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa.

Bloomberg reports on the third high-ranking departure from Scott Pruitt’s EPA this week. Liz Bowman came to the agency from a trade group called the American Chemistry Council, which in turn hires lobbyists on behalf of chemical manufacturers such as Dow, BASF, and Monsanto.

CNN adds particular detail from “a source close to Bowman”—

Bowman is the third top EPA official to leave the agency this week, following the resignation of Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, who headed Pruitt’s security detail, and Albert “Kell” Kelly, an Oklahoma business associate of Pruitt who led the agency’s superfund cleanup program. Unlike Bowman, both men had come under scrutiny for their role in the scandals swirling around Pruitt.

The source said she is leaving because she has two small children and wants to be able to spend more time with them.

—and postures what seems an obvious contrast. Another source, from EPA, pointed to the growing cascade of scandals, “said Bowman ‘broke her back trying to fight these stories the last few months'”.

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The Pruitt Watch (#swamped)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. (Photo: Jason Andrew/Getty Images)

The list from Steve Benen might, ‘twixt now and Monday, have become obsolete; it’s hard to tell, some days.

1. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s controversial travel habits.

2. The House Oversight Committee is also exploring the EPA chief’s use of public funds for first-class travel.

3. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s behind-the-scenes talks with the National Mining Association.

4. Pruitt’s exorbitant spending on an around-the-clock security detail is the subject of three inspector general investigations.

5. The House Oversight Committee is also examining the EPA chief’s security expenditures.

6. The Government Accountability Office has already investigated Pruitt for exceeding federal spending limits when he bought a $43,000 phone booth for his office.

7. The White House Office of Management and Budget is also investigating the phone booth.

8. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s use of funds set aside for the Safe Drinking Water Act and diverting the money to give generous raises to two of his top aides.

9. The EPA’s inspector general is investigating Pruitt’s four-day trip to Morocco late last year.

10. The Government Accountability Office is investigating Pruitt’s ouster of scientists from the EPA’s science advisory committee.

11. The Government Accountability Office is investigating whether Pruitt broke lobbying laws with comments he made to the National Cattleman’s Beef Association.

12. The House Oversight Committee is investigating Pruitt’s living arrangement at a lobbyist’s condo.

13. And as noted above, the EPA’s inspector general is now also taking a closer look at Pruitt’s time at that condo.

Before the day was out, the msnbc blogger found himself adding to the list, sort of, noting a “controversy that should become the 14th” in a Reuters report describing a financial hardship waiver Pruitt’s EPA granted to an Oklahoma facility for a company owned by former Trump administration hand Carl Icahn:

The waiver enables Icahn’s CVR Energy Inc (CVI.N) to avoid tens of millions of dollars in costs related to the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. The regulation is meant to cut air pollution, reduce petroleum imports and support corn farmers by requiring refiners to mix billions of gallons of biofuels into the nation’s gasoline and diesel each year.

And it does, you know, just keep going downhill.

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Everyday, Easy Cowardice (Palmetto Virtue Edition)

#rapeculture | #WhatTheyVotedFor

House Benghazi Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC04) speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, 6 January 2016, before the start of the committee's closed-door hearing. The House committee is looking into the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya and is interviewing former CIA director David Petraeus as the investigation enters its third calendar year, and a presidential election year. (Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

The report from Griffin Connolly, for Roll Call, might not be surprising—

Rep. Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, will not initiate an investigation into allegations of sexual assault against President Donald Trump, he signaled in a letter Tuesday.

—but it seems worth pointing out that Republicans are not even trying. Nor is this a new phenomenon; it just seems especially relevant.

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Some 2020 Democratic Presidential Speculation, Just Because

The sun rises near the White House on Nov. 8, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

It would be easy enough to overplay the drama in an early look toward the 2020 election by Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin of the New York Times:

In a largely leaderless party, two distinct groups are emerging, defined mostly by age and national stature. On one side are three potential candidates approaching celebrity status who would all be over 70 years old on Election Day: Mr. Biden, and Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Competing against the Democrats’ senior cohort is a large and relatively shapeless set of younger candidates who span the ideological spectrum: governors, senators, mayors, wealthy executives and even members of the House. They are animated by the president’s turbulent debut and the recent history, from Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 to Mr. Trump’s last year, of upstart candidates’ catching fire.

In the Senate alone, as much as a quarter of the Democrats’ 48-member caucus are thought to be giving at least a measure of consideration to the 2020 race, among them Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Kamala Harris of California. All are closer to 40 than 80.

For now, however, it is the party’s septuagenarian trio that is casting the longest shadow over 2020, and all three have taken steps to extend or expand their leadership status in the party.

In between, for good measure, is discussion of an amorphous non-faction we might consider as the collected other, including Rep. Seth Moulton (MA-06), Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. Before booking the orchestra for a dramatic score, we should remember this is merely April, 2017; Democrats need to to read the midterm map, first. That is to say, it seems a bit early to see who lands where in relation to what. And, admittedly, it is hard to account for the proverbial known unknowns in the time of Trump; the unknown unknowns seem extraordinary at this time, too.α

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Even Less Admirable (The Chairman’s Daughter’s Whatnot)

Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT03) questions Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc. during her testimony in a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on 29 September 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

This is not what we would ordinarily call a profile in courage:

Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz again reversed his position on Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy on Wednesday night, saying he’d vote for the Republican nominee but wouldn’t endorse him.

“I will not defend or endorse @realDonaldTrump, but I am voting for him,” Chaffetz tweeted Wednesday. “[Hillary Rodham Clinton] is that bad. HRC is bad for the USA.”

The House Oversight Committee chairman had previously backed Trump’s candidacy before withdrawing his endorsement on Oct. 8 following the revelation that the Republican nominee had made lewd and sexually aggressive comments while filming for an “Access Hollywood” interview in 2005.

(Lima)

Then again, this is Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT03) we’re talking about, so it’s not like anyone expects a lot. To that end, we should at least note the accomplishment, the e’er graceless flip-flop-flip.

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Chairman Trey Gowdy

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC04), chair of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, speaks in an interview 16 October 2015.  (Detail of photo by Getty Images)

“I would say in some ways these have been among the worst weeks of my life. Attacks on your character, attacks on your motives, are 1,000-times worse than anything you can do to anybody physically―at least it is for me.”

Rep. Trey Gowedy (R-SC04)

The first point, to wonder what it is Mr. Gowdy, the chair of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, thinks he is doing to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, should meet resistance; set that urge aside. There is a lot going on, here. Rachel Bade of Politico hopes to explain:

Gowdy says the specifics of his rebuttals don’t matter; he feels he “just can’t win.

“I think that’s just [the Democrats’] MO: If you can’t attack the facts, you can attack the investigators … just attack, attack, attack and something will take hold,” he said. “[A]t some point, maybe something will stick, or maybe you get them off track or you get them to do or say something stupid, then you can seize on that.”

He also lays some blame at the media’s feet, arguing they’re too quick to report Democrats’ accusations without checking the merits, or the story of an ex-committee staffer who accused the panel of focusing on Clinton.

“You can work your entire career to have a reputation, and then someone you have no recollection of ever meeting sits down with a reporter and you’re immediately in a position of having to defend and it’s impossible to prove a negative,” he said.

This is a basic political maneuver very much associated with Karl Rove: Assign your greatest weakness to your opponent. With Republicans, it has pretty much become a tell: “I mean, honestly,” Gowdy complained of Huma Abedin’s testimony, “have you ever heard a more absurd critique than leaking the fact that one of the more recognizable people in the world was coming to Capitol Hill?”

This is a problematic complaint. Trey Gowdy is simply not an honest man.

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The Ruckus on the Hill

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA23), speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Monday, 25 February 2013. (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty.)

“This is serious. McCarthy’s words matter in his current leadership position in the House and will matter even more if he is elected as speaker. He needs to raise his game, collect his thoughts, be very sure-footed and display some measured, informed and thoughtful leadership. In the weeks ahead, he will be called on to explain his worldview and you can bet our allies and our enemies will be watching. Republicans need to be sure we are introducing a new serious actor onto a very troubled world stage. Now is not a good time for verbal bumbling or embarrassing ignorance.”

Ed Rogers

To the one, Ed Rogers is not exactly a proverbial Rino; his right-wing bona fides are well established.

To the other, that’s the point; there are already conservative challenges afoot, including House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT03), fresh off his magical mystery tour aboard the S.S. Colonoscopy, an extraneous metaphor, since he managed a self-exam earlier in the week, but, hey, why not follow up a monumental clusterdiddle with a run for the Speaker’s gavel?

Ed Rogers of BGR Group, in undated photo; credit unknown.And to a third, regardless of where the challenge is coming from, they do have a point. The effect of the would-be Speaker in Waiting’s poor oral discipline has been devastating. Republicans already gamble on a do-nothing Congress; they do not, as Mr. Rogers notes, have any real need for that institution’s equivalent of an old-tyme geek show.

____________________

Image notes: Top ― House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA23), speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Monday, 25 February 2013. (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty.) Right ― Ed Rogers of BGR Group, in undated photo. (Credit unknown.)

Bendery, Jennifer. “Watch Jason Chaffetz React As He’s Accused Of ‘Beating Up On A Woman’ Over Her Pay”. The Huffington Post. 29 September 2015.

Hess, Hannah. “Inspector General Reopens Secret Service Probe of Chaffetz Leak”. Roll Call. 5 October 2015.

Rogers, Ed. “Republicans fret over McCarthy’s skills”. The Washington Post. 2 Octoer 2015.

Required Reading: Scandalmonger Edition

Welcome to your required reading for the day; the topic is presidential administration scandals.

Sort of.

But let us check in with Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine:

The whole Obama scandal episode is a classic creation of a “narrative” — the stitching together of unrelated data points into a story. What actually happened is this: House Republicans passed a twisted account of a hearing to ABC’s Jonathan Karl, who misleadingly claimed to have seen it, creating the impression that the administration was caught in a major lie. Then the IRS story broke, which we now see was Republicans demanding a one-sided audit and thus producing the impression of one-sided treatment. In that context, legitimate controversies over Obama’s civil-rights policies became the “three Obama scandals,” exposing a government panopticon, if not a Nixonian administration bent on revenge.

Why do I need proof when I can lie with impunity?The collapse of the Benghazi story happened very quickly, when Jake Tapper’s reporting found that Karl had peddled a bogus story. (It’s notable that the only misconduct in both the Benghazi and the IRS stories was committed by House Republicans.) But the scandal cloud lingered through the still-extant IRS scandal, which in turn lent the scandal odor to the civil-liberties dispute. Now that the IRS scandal has turned into a Darrell Issa scandal, we’re left with … an important dispute over domestic surveillance, which has nothing to do with scandal at all. The entire scandal narrative was an illusion.

And we must remember that the parliamentary immunity vested in Article I.6 of the U.S. Consitution means that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, will never have to answer legally for the lies he so carefully crafted in order to create a fake scandal in the form of a fact-free, tinfoil-wrapped conspiracy theory.