John Kelly and Robert E. Lee

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I want to make sure this story stays fresh in the minds of Americans.

John Kelly went on Laura Ingraham’s show “The Ingraham Angle” Monday night and said Robert E. Lee is “an honorable man who gave up his country to fight for his state.” This is a lie and Kelly should be ashamed. I rehearsed the sins of Robert E. Lee in a previous blog about Martin Luther King’s birthday. Here is an excerpt from that blog:

Lee was a hard taskmaster. He broke up slave families and salves would run away from his plantation. Lee had runaways severely whipped for this infraction. A firsthand retelling of Lee’s brutality was written in the April 14, 1866 printing of the National Anti-Slavery Standard. Here is the account of Wesley Norris, a recipient of one of the beatings ordered by Lee:

My name is Wesley Norris; I was born a slave on the plantation of George Parke Custis; after the death of Mr. Custis, Gen. Lee, who had been made executor of the estate, assumed control of the slaves, in number about seventy; it was the general impression among the slaves of Mr. Custis that on his death they should be forever free; in fact this statement had been made to them by Mr. C. years before; at his death we were informed by Gen. Lee that by the conditions of the will we must remain slaves for five years; I remained with Gen. Lee for about seventeen months, when my sister Mary, a cousin of ours, and I determined to run away, which we did in the year 1859; we had already reached Westminster, in Maryland, on our way to the North, when we were apprehended and thrown into prison, and Gen. Lee notified of our arrest; we remained in prison fifteen days, when we were sent back to Arlington; we were immediately taken before Gen. Lee, who demanded the reason why we ran away; we frankly told him that we considered ourselves free; he then told us he would teach us a lesson we never would forget; he then ordered us to the barn, where, in his presence, we were tied firmly to posts by a Mr. Gwin, our overseer, who was ordered by Gen. Lee to strip us to the waist and give us fifty lashes each, excepting my sister, who received but twenty; we were accordingly stripped to the skin by the overseer, who, however, had sufficient humanity to decline whipping us; accordingly Dick Williams, a county constable, was called in, who gave us the number of lashes ordered; Gen. Lee, in the meantime, stood by, and frequently enjoined Williams to lay it on well, an injunction which he did not fail to heed; not satisfied with simply lacerating our naked flesh, Gen. Lee then ordered the overseer to thoroughly wash our backs with brine, which was done. After this my cousin and myself were sent to Hanover Court-House jail, my sister being sent to Richmond to an agent to be hired; we remained in jail about a week, when we were sent to Nelson county, where we were hired out by Gen. Lee’s agent to work on the Orange and Alexander railroad; we remained thus employed for about seven months, and were then sent to Alabama, and put to work on what is known as the Northeastern railroad; in January, 1863, we were sent to Richmond, from which place I finally made my escape through the rebel lines to freedom; I have nothing further to say; what I have stated is true in every particular, and I can at any time bring at least a dozen witnesses, both white and black, to substantiate my statements: I am at present employed by the Government; and am at work in the National Cemetary on Arlington Heights, where I can be found by those who desire further particulars; my sister referred to is at present employed by the French Minister at Washington, and will confirm my statement. (Emphasis Mine)

John Kelly should be condemned and dismissed if he said this with full knowledge of history.

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Roy Moore: Relevant Circumstantial Evidence

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We are surrounded by news reports about Roy Moore’s alleged sexual misconduct. Cases like these are difficult to prove and unimpeachable evidence is often never found. Assessment of these cases is aided by circumstantial evidence. A consistent pattern of behavior from disparate witnesses can serve as helpful evidence in adjudicating the case.

One such piece of evidence comes from the Birmingham News:

Roy Moore’s penchant for flirting with teen girls was “common knowledge” and “not a big secret” around Gadsden, according to some area residents.

The Senate candidate has denied any wrongdoing in the wake of a report from The Washington Post in which four women accused Moore of inappropriate advances – and in one instance, a sexual encounter – toward them when they were teens and he was in his early 30s.

One of the four women claims she was 14 at the time, making her the only one whose claim would represent a legal violation. Moore has said he never met her. A fifth woman came forward this afternoon.

Moore and other Republican leaders have questioned why it took so long for his accusers, now in their 50s, to come forward publicly.

And yet people who lived in Etowah County during that time have said Moore’s flirting with and dating much younger women and girls was no secret.

“These stories have been going around this town for 30 years,” said Blake Usry, who grew up in the area and lives in Gadsden. “Nobody could believe they hadn’t come out yet.”

Usry, a traveling nurse, said he knew several of the girls that Moore tried to flirt with.

“It’s not a big secret in this town about Roy Moore,” he said. “That’s why it’s sort of frustrating to watch” the public disbelieve the women who have come forward, he said.

… Jason Nelms, who now lives in Tennessee but grew up in nearby Southside, was a regular at the mall when he was a teenager.

He recalled being told by a mall employee that they kept watch for an older guy who was known to pick up younger girls.

Nelms said he was told later by a concession worker at the mall that it was Roy Moore.

Greg Legat worked at the Record Bar, a music store near Sears in the mall, from 1981-1985. The store was just down from the back entrance of the mall, near the three-screen Mall Theatre. It was a popular place for parents dropping off their teens in the evenings and on weekends.

Legat, now 59, said an off-duty Gadsden police officer named J.D. Thomas told him about various people he should look out for when he was working. This was around 1981, and Thomas worked security at the mall.

One of the people was a pickpocket, he said, while another was someone prone to pick fights.

One was Roy Moore.

“I asked him, ‘What did he do?'” Legat recalled. “He said, ‘If you see him, let me know. I’ll take care of it.'”

Moore had a pattern of flirting with young girls in a local mall. The 14-year-old featured in the Washington Post article worked at the mall mentioned in this story. This circumstantial evidence adds credibility to other allegations because it shows the alleged behavior is not out of character for Moore.

We will wait to see what emerges in the future.

Money, Senators, Representatives, and the NRA

 

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There will, no doubt, be calls for new legislation after the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. David Leonhardt, Ian Prasad Philbrick, and Stuart A. Thompson wrote an important story in the New York Times that needs little explanation. The authors list the top ten recipients of NRA money in the House and Senate. This is an important issue to consider before a possible vote on a bill to regulate bump stops and other gun accessories. Here is the list:

Senate

1. John McCain (R- AZ) – $7,740,521
2. Richard Burr (R- NC) – $6,986,620
3. Roy Blunt (R- MO) – $4,551,146
4. Thom Tillis (R- NC) – $4,418,012
5. Cory Gardner (R- CO) – $3,879,064
6. Marco Rubio (R-FL) – $3,303,355
7. Joni Ernst (R-IA) – $3,124,273
8. Rob Portman (R-OH) – $3,061,941
9. Todd Young (R-IN) – $2,896,732
10. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) – $2,861,047

House

1. French Hill (R-AK) – $1,089,477
2. Ken Buck (R-CO) – $800,544
3. David Young (R-IA) – $707,662
4. Mike Simpson (R-ID) – $385,731
5. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) – $344,630
6. Don Young (R-AK) – $245,720
7. Lloyd Smucker (R-PA) – $221,736
8. Bruce Poliquin (R-ME) – $201,398
9. Pete Sessions (R-TX) – $158,111
10. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) – $137,232

Let’s watch to see how they vote on the gun control bill.

Was George Papadopoulos a Mere Coffee Boy?

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George Papadopoulos was a foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign. He plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia. A statement of offense against Papadopoulos was filed in a US district court for the District of Columbia on October 10, 2017. The Trump administration is trying to diminish Papadopoulos’ role in the campaign. Michael Caputo, former Trump campaign adviser, said Papadopoulos was just a “coffee boy.” The facts don’t seem to work in the administration’s favor.

Here is a timeline of Papadopoulos’ activities for the Trump campaign:

NPR:

“Early March” 2016: According to Justice Department documents, George Papadopoulos learns he will be a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.

March 14, 2016: Papadopoulos, while traveling in Italy, meets a London-based professor. Per a special counsel filing, “initially, the professor seemed uninterested” in him. “However, after defendant Papadopoulos informed the professor about joining the campaign, the professor appeared to take great interest” in him. The professor had “claimed to have substantial connections with Russian government officials,” which according to the filing, Papadopoulos thought would help his standing as a foreign policy adviser for the campaign.

March 19, 2016: Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta reportedly receives a phishing email, which led to the theft of thousands of his emails going back years, including embarrassing campaign correspondence. Those emails were then posted by Wikileaks in batches beginning in early October and continuing right through the election. The US intelligence community concluded Russia’s intelligence agency, the GRU, was responsible for the hacking.

March 21, 2016: Trump cites Papadopoulos as a foreign policy adviser in Washington Post editorial board meeting. Carter Page is also mentioned. Trump told the Post:

“Well, I hadn’t thought of doing it, but if you want I can give you some of the names… Walid Phares, who you probably know, PhD, adviser to the House of Representatives caucus, and counter-terrorism expert; Carter Page, PhD; George Papadopoulos, he’s an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy; the Honorable Joe Schmitz, [former] inspector general at the Department of Defense; [retired] Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg; and I have quite a few more. But that’s a group of some of the people that we are dealing with. We have many other people in different aspects of what we do, but that’s a representative group.”

March 24, 2016: Papadopoulos meets in London with the professor, who brought with him a female Russian national introduced to him “as a relative of Russian President Vladimir Putin with connections to senior Russian government officials.” Papadopoulos then emails a “campaign supervisor” not named in court filings as well as “several members of the Campaign’s foreign policy team,” recounting his meeting with the professor, the woman whom Papadopoulos described as Putin’s niece (the filings note he later learned she was not actually related to Putin). Papadopoulos said the topic of the discussion was “to arrange a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russian ties under President Trump.”

March 28, 2016: Trump brings on Manafort to manage delegate operations for the campaign.

March 31: According to court filings, Papadopoulos attended a “national security meeting” in Washington, D.C., with then-candidate Trump and other foreign policy advisers for the campaign. Per the filings, when Papadopoulos introduced himself to the group, he said he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between Trump and President Putin.

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Note: Papadopoulos is doing more than delivering coffee here. This is a tweet from Trump. He called the meeting a “meeting with my national security team!”  

April 18, 2016: Around this day, Papadopoulos is introduced by email to a person in Moscow who was said to have connections to the Russian Foreign Ministry. According to court filings, Papadopoulos and this individual have multiple conversations over Skype and email about “setting ‘the groundwork’ for a ‘potential’ meeting” between the campaign and Russian officials.

April 25, 2016: Papadopoulos emails an unnamed senior policy adviser to the campaign, saying, “The Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to met when he is ready []. The advantage of being in London is that these governments tend to speak a bit more openly in ‘neutral’ cities.”

April 26, 2016: Papadopoulos meets with the professor in London. The professor tells Papadopoulos that he had just returned from a trip to Moscow, where he met with high-level government officials and learned that the Russians had obtained “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. “They have thousands of emails,” the professor said, according to Papadopoulos’ statements to the FBI.

April 27, 2016: In a major foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., Trump indicates a willingness to work with Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only, is possible, absolutely possible,” he said. “Common sense says this cycle, this horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon. Good for both countries. Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out.”

Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the U.S., was sitting in the front row, according to a report by Radio Free Europe.

On this same day, Papadopoulos separately emails a “senior policy advisor” and a “high-ranking” campaign official, both unnamed in legal filings. He told the adviser he had “some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.” He told the campaign official that he had been receiving “a lot of calls” about Putin wanting to host Trump and his team.

Aug. 15, 2016: According to legal filings on Papadopoulos, after weeks of back and forth about a possible “off the record” trip to Moscow, a campaign supervisor writes in an email, ” ‘I would encourage you” and another foreign policy adviser to the Campaign to ‘make the trip [], if it is feasible.’ “ The trip did not take place.

Jan. 27, 2017: Papadopoulos sits for an interview with the FBI, during which he “made material false statements and material omissions,” according to court filings released Oct. 30.

Oct. 5, 2017: Papadopoulos pleads guilty to making false statements to FBI agents. (Emphasis Mine)

You can read the entire timeline here.

Did Hillary Clinton Do It? The Russia Uranium Scandal (Part 2)

 

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The Clinton Foundation Donor

Frank Giustra once owned a company called UrAsia. In 2007 Giustra sold the company to Uranium One. This is one of the factors that raises the hair of Clinton detractors. It is important to note, however, that Giustra sold all of his stakes in Uranium One in 2007, three years before the deal was approved and over a year before Clinton became the Secretary of State.

Why did the deal take place?

Why would the United States allow this transaction to move forward?

PolitiFact:

As others, including a New York Times’ investigation, have suggested, the United States was still seeking to “reset” its relationship with Russia and trying to get the Kremlin on board with its Iran nuclear deal. But another factor may have been that, at the end of the day, the Russian deal wasn’t that big.

Russia’s purchase of the company “had as much of an impact on national security as it would have if they set the money on fire,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear nonproliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute and former director at the New America Foundation, in an interview with PolitiFact last year. “That’s probably why (CFIUS and the NRC) approved it.”

The FBI Investigation

The FBI is investigating a different angle of the story. This aspect of the story is probably at the heart of the scandal.

The Hill:

Before the Obama administration approved a controversial deal in 2010 giving Moscow control of a large swath of American uranium, the FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews.

Federal agents used a confidential U.S. witness working inside the Russian nuclear industry to gather extensive financial records, make secret recordings and intercept emails as early as 2009 that showed Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FBI and court documents show.

They also obtained an eyewitness account — backed by documents — indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow, sources told The Hill.

… In 2011, the administration gave approval for Rosatom’s Tenex subsidiary to sell commercial uranium to U.S. nuclear power plants in a partnership with the United States Enrichment Corp. Before then, Tenex had been limited to selling U.S. nuclear power plants reprocessed uranium recovered from dismantled Soviet nuclear weapons under the 1990s Megatons to Megawatts peace program.

“The Russians were compromising American contractors in the nuclear industry with kickbacks and extortion threats, all of which raised legitimate national security concerns. And none of that evidence got aired before the Obama administration made those decisions,” a person who worked on the case told The Hill, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by U.S. or Russian officials.

… The Obama administration and the Clintons defended their actions at the time, insisting there was no evidence that any Russians or donors engaged in wrongdoing and there was no national security reason for any member of the committee to oppose the Uranium One deal.

But FBI, Energy Department and court documents reviewed by The Hill show the FBI in fact had gathered substantial evidence well before the committee’s decision that Vadim Mikerin — the main Russian overseeing Putin’s nuclear expansion inside the United States — was engaged in wrongdoing starting in 2009.

Make sure you look at the piece from The Hill linked above. Court documents are attached to the article. Hillary Clinton is certainly legally liable if she knew about these illegal transactions.

Stewart A. Baker worked at the Department of Homeland Security and he is a partner at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson. He said the FBI is part of the CFIUS team. Baker said it would be “somewhat surprising to me if a company was under scrutiny as a buyer in CFIUS and simultaneously under investigation for criminal behavior by the FBI, but the criminal investigation was not known to the FBI’s representatives on CFIUS.”

We are still in the dark about what Clinton knew at the time of the State Department’s approval of the deal. The FBI lifted the gag order on the FBI informant involved in the deal. I expect more light on this scandal in the coming days.

Did Hillary Clinton Do It? The Russia Uranium Scandal (Part 1)

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Republicans recently initiated an investigation into the sale of uranium to Rosatom, a Russian-run company. Approval for the sale took place in 2010 under the Obama administration.

Brietbart News ran a story with the following headline: “FBI uncovers confirmation of Hillary Clinton’s corrupt uranium deal with Russia.” According to the article, the findings of Peter Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash have been confirmed. Is this true?

Sean Hannity calls the transaction “one of the biggest scandals in American history.” Is this true?

Then there’s Donald Trump:

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Background

Uranium One is a mining company of ROSATOM State Atomic Energy Corporation. Rosatom was allowed to buy a majority stake in Uranium One by the US State Department while Hillary was Secretary of State.

Political pundits and politicians talk about the deal as if Clinton made a unilateral decision to make it happen, but this his is far from the truth. The transaction had to be approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). This agency is an arm of the US Department of the Treasury. CFIUS is an “inter-agency committee authorized to review transactions that could result in control of a U.S. business by a foreign person (“covered transactions”), in order to determine the effect of such transactions on the national security of the United States.” Here is how the process works:

The CFIUS process generally begins formally when parties to a proposed or pending transaction jointly file a voluntary notice with CFIUS containing information required by § 800.402 of the regulations. Upon receiving the notice, the Staff Chairperson will promptly determine whether the notice is complete and satisfies the requirements stated in the regulations. If the notice is complete, the Staff Chairperson will circulate the notice to all CFIUS members. A review period of up to 30 days begins on the next business day.

During the review period, CFIUS members examine the transaction in order to identify and address, as appropriate, any national security concerns that arise as a result of the transaction. During the review period, CFIUS members, through the Department of the Treasury as Committee Chair, may request additional information from the parties. Parties must respond to such follow-up requests within three business days of the request or within a longer time frame if the parties so request in writing and the Staff Chairperson grants that request in writing.

CFIUS concludes action on the preponderant majority of transactions during or at the end of the initial 30-day review period.

It’s hard to imagine how implicating Clinton wouldn’t involve implicating CFIUS. In fact, “Jose Fernandez, then-assistant secretary of state for economic, energy and business affairs, sat on the committee.” He said Clinton “never intervened on any CFIUS matter.”

The State Department is one vote among nine voters on the deal. Members of the departments of Defense and Energy are also voted for the transaction. The deal received approval from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Commerce.

The Trump administration was asked for evidence that shows that either the State Department or Clinton had a stronger role in the deal than the eight other members of CFIUS involved in approving the deal and they have not produced anything.

Dignity Still Lives in the Republican Party: Against Trump Era Indignity and Legislative Intransigence

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Republican Jeff Flake is an unquestionably devoted Republican. I disagree with Flake on many issues far and wide. We shouldn’t allow our disagreements to stop us from hearing others and finding common ground.

Flake delivered a dignified and eloquent speech on the Senate floor this week that deserves amplification. Here are excerpts from the speech:

“Mr. President, I rise today to address a matter that has been much on my mind, at a moment when it seems that our democracy is more defined by our discord and our dysfunction than it is by our values and our principles.”

“In this century, a new phrase has entered the language to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order – that phrase being “the new normal.” But we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue – with the tone set at the top.

We must never regard as “normal” the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country – the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve.

None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that this is just the way things are now. If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that this is just politics as usual, then heaven help us. Without fear of the consequences, and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal.

Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as “telling it like it is,” when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified.”

“Here, today, I stand to say that we would better serve the country and better fulfill our obligations under the constitution by adhering to our Article 1 “old normal” – Mr. Madison’s doctrine of the separation of powers. This genius innovation which affirms Madison’s status as a true visionary and for which Madison argued in Federalist 51 – held that the equal branches of our government would balance and counteract each other when necessary. “Ambition counteracts ambition,” he wrote.

But what happens if ambition fails to counteract ambition? What happens if stability fails to assert itself in the face of chaos and instability? If decency fails to call out indecency? Were the shoe on the other foot, would we Republicans meekly accept such behavior on display from dominant Democrats? Of course not, and we would be wrong if we did.”

““The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile.” President Roosevelt continued. “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

Acting on conscience and principle is the manner in which we express our moral selves, and as such, loyalty to conscience and principle should supersede loyalty to any man or party. We can all be forgiven for failing in that measure from time to time. I certainly put myself at the top of the list of those who fall short in that regard. I am holier-than-none. But too often, we rush not to salvage principle but to forgive and excuse our failures so that we might accommodate them and go right on failing—until the accommodation itself becomes our principle.””

You can read and hear the speech here.

Wasteful Spending and the Promise of Fiscal Responsibility

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Donald Trump once said:

“I have said this many times, so it is not exactly breaking news. I pay as little as possible. I fight like hell to pay as little as possible, for two reasons. Number one, I am a businessman, and that’s the way you are supposed to do it, and you put the money back in your company and employees and all of that, but the other reason is that I hate the way our government spends our taxes”

And

“I hate the way they waste our money, trillions and trillions of dollars of waste and abuse, and I hate it”

Tom Price resigned from his post as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). The catalyst for his resignation was his lavish spending habits. Consistency requires that other cabinet members follow Price out the door. The Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, and CNN published stories exposing the extravagance of other cabinet members. Axios summarized some of these instances of excess:

Tom Price, Health and Human Services Secretary

The flights: $500,000 in military flights to Africa, Asia and Europe (which were approved by the White House) and more than $400,000 in charter flights.
Total cost: His travel has exceeded $1 million, Politico reports, when accounting for both his overseas trips and the more than two dozen domestic trips he’s taken on private planes since May.
Price’s “reimbursement”: Price said Thursday that he will reimburse the government for the cost of his own seat on his domestic trips via private jet, reportedly around $52,000, but that would not include the cost of the military flights.
Where things stand: Price resigned on Friday.

Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency administrator

The flights: A June 7 military flight to Ohio then New York ($36,068); a July 27 charter flight from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Guymon, Oklahoma ($14,434); an August 4 charter flight from Denver, Colorado, to Durango, ColoradoA ($5,719); an August 9 flight on the North Dakota governor’s plane ($2,144).
Total cost: Pruitt took “non-commercial” flights costing taxpayers more than $58,000,according to CBS News.
The EPA’s defense: “When the administrator travels, he takes commercial flights,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told the Washington Post Wednesday, adding that the one charter flight and three government flights were due to particular circumstances.
Where things stand: Last month, the EPA’s inspector general announced it was launching a preliminary probe into Pruitt’s travels to Oklahoma.

Steve Mnuchin, Treasury Secretary

The flights: Mnuchin requested a government jet earlier this year for his honeymoon, according to ABC News. He and his wife also used a government jet when traveling to Louisville and Fort Knox, Kentucky, which coincided with the eclipse.
Total cost: An Air Force spokesman told ABC News that a government jet typically costs roughly $25,000 per hour to operate.
Mnuchin’s defense: Mnuchin told Politico’s Ben White that the honeymoon story was “misreported” and the use of such a plane would only be for “national security” purposes. He also denied that his Kentucky trip had anything to do with watching the eclipse.
Where things stand: Mnuchin later withdrew the plane request for his honeymoon. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department’s Inspector General is reviewing his Kentucky trip.

Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior

The flights: Zinke and his aides have reportedly taken several flights on private or military aircraft, including a $12,000 charter flight — which belongs to Nielson & Associates, a Wyoming-based oil-and-gas exploration firm — from Las Vegas to his hometown in Montana, and private flights between St. Croix and St. Thomas in U.S. Virgin Islands, per the Washington Post.
Total cost: Unclear, as the total number of charter or military flights is unknown.
The Interior’s defense: Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said those trips were booked only after officials failed to find commercial flights that would accommodate Zinke’s schedule. She added that they all were “pre-cleared by career officials in the ethics office,” per Politico.
Zinke’s defense: “All this travel was done only after it was determined by multiple career officials at the department that no commercial options existed to meet the promulgated scheduled,” Zinke said. “The flights were only booked after extensive due diligence by the career professionals in the department’s general law and ethics division.”
Where things stand: The Interior Department said in a statement to the Huffington PostFriday that Zinke’s travel “was completely compliant with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations.”

David Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs 

The flights/luxury purchases: Although Shulkin flew commercial to Europe for meetings with Danish and British officials about veterans’ health issues in July, he did use government funds to fly his wife out, stating that she was traveling on “approved invitational orders,” per the Washington Post. The government also provided a stipend for her meals. They also attended a Wimbledon championship tennis match, toured Westminster Abbey, and took a cruise on the Thames.
The VA’s defense: All of Shulkin’s activities on the trip, including Wimbledon visit, “were reviewed and approved by ethics counsel,” VA press secretary Curt Cashour said in a statement.
Where things stand: In response to questions from The Post, the VA announced Friday that they’ll start posting details of the Shulkin’s travel online, and disclose any use of government or private aircraft. This information was never previously public.

As we said earlier, Tom Price is gone because of these excesses. What will be the fate of these cabinet members? This blog will keep an eye on future developments.

Donald Trump has failed to reign in his administration’s excess spending.

Silent Deterioration of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

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I don’t normally write about anything from The Atlantic, but they have a story that is of interest to readers of this blog. The Affordable Care Act is slowly being dismantled by its political detractors. No doubt, these measures are meant to bolster the narrative that the ACA is failing. It is important to bring these measures to light so that people can make an informed assessment of the merits and demerits of the ACA. Here is what the Republicans are doing:

1. Cutting the open enrollment period from 90 to 45 days
2. Slashing the advertising budget by 90%
3. Introducing 12 hour service interruptions on five of the six Sundays of the open enrollment period
4. Slashing the funding for in-person outreach from $62.5 million to $36 million
5. Instructing Health and Human Services regional directors not to participate in state events that promote open enrollment