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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

This article was produced in partnership by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Hot off of singlehandedly ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, America's Son-In-Law-In-Chief has put himself in charge of handling half of the White House response to the coronavirus crisis.

Didn't you know that? No? Oh, well, it seems the White House just decided that, ah, the people didn't need to hear about this. Oh, and FYI, most of his team are from the private sector. That's not a problem, Congressional Democrats, is it?

Thanks to some thorough reporting by Politico, we now know that Jared Kushner is running a shadow COVID-19 response team alongside the official task force led by Mike Pence. Pence once characterized his group as an "all-of-government response," but Kushner's team is an "all-of-private-sector response" full of private equity executives and health care profiteers. That "all-of-private-sector" line isn't me being snide: it's how some of the anonymous White House officials in the report characterized their own colleagues.

Of course, in the Trump era, the difference between the government and the private sector is mostly semantic. As the Revolving Door Project has been pointing out since February, Trump's health officials are all ex-Pharma and insurance profiteers. That's a key reason the response has been so bad: the people in charge have perverse incentives and don't believe in government. Nor are they all that different than whom one might expect under a Marco Rubio or Chris Christie administration: shoring up CEO's wallets while leaving the poor and helpless to suffer is just how the Republican party works in 2020.

What is unique to a Trump administration response, however, is Kushner. Members of his shadow task force include his former roommate Adam Boehler, a private equity and venture capital bro who was a deputy to Seema Verma (of Medicaid co-pays infamy) before taking charge of the International Development Finance Corporation. Boehler's replacement, Brad Smith, is also on the Kushner team. Smith, like Boehler, made it big as an entrepreneur by building a home-based palliative care company, which got him a COO job at an Anthem subdivision.

Rounding out the CMS representatives is Andy Slavitt, the last head of Obama's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Slavitt's $115 million venture capital fund has an undisclosed sum of money invested in Boehler's old firm, Landmark Health.

Other Kushner team members include private equity executive David Calouri, a career healthcare investor; and Nat Turner, an online advertising-turned-medtech CEO (Boehler is also considered a Silicon Valley-type within the executive branch).

So we have a group of entrepreneurs and investors who all made their money in healthcare secretly managing the federal government's response to the greatest healthcare crisis in decades. Some have investments in each other's businesses. They're in a position to learn more about the virus, and our health system's needs, than almost anyone. Indeed, Kushner's group has been given leeway to work with a broad range of agencies, including FEMA, HHS, and USAID. And they set themselves up in this way without the White House ever telling the public.

One might start to wonder if these savvy businessmen could be looking to profit off of this insider knowledge. One might then ask how the federal government plans to counteract these potential conflicts of interest.

One would be disappointed, if perhaps unsurprised. The only two ethics precautions Kushner's team have taken are that "people signed voluntary service agreements that were vetted by career legal professionals—and that there is no one doing procurement, outside of government officials," according to one anonymous official who spoke with Politico. That hardly seems sufficient. For one, it's not like this White House's vetting professionals have gotten sterling reviews, including for Kushner himself. Plus, is anyone enforcing these voluntary service agreements? What exactly did the team agree to? Even if someone else is managing government procurement, have the team members promised not to convey what they see and hear back to their private-sector colleagues? If so, how would we know?

And there are other concerns. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has already sent a letter about the task force members using their private, personal email accounts for government business. That's a violation of the Presidential Records Act and Federal Advisory Committee Act, as the President who ran on "but her emails" ought to know.

Indeed, word from inside the White House is troubling; insiders told Politico that "plenty of private companies have been trying to profiteer and fence their wares." One even said, "I don't know how our government operates anymore." Now, there's a long and petty history of Trump HHS appointees gossiping with Politico reporters about their colleagues. Before the coronavirus, it had gotten so bad that one official said (to Politico, of course) that the department was like "a fucking soap opera." But without investigations and oversight, we won't know if this is just jilted aides trampling the new dogs to claw back some power, or if Kushner's clique really is something to worry about.

If we only had an opposition party which could do its constitutional duty of overseeing the executive branch. If only that opposition party controlled half of the legislature, largely thanks to promises to stand up to the president. If only that opposition party hadn't just given the house away on oversight of the largest bailout bill in the nation's history.

If only, with stakes of literal life or death, the Democratic party could actually do as it did during World War II: conduct deep investigations into government waste and profiteering to hold the bureaucracy accountable. Pundits are right to compare the coronavirus to the Second World War in terms of the scale of government response needed; but not only has the response thus far lacked the required scale or any equitability, it hasn't had any accountability measures sufficient for such a project. That's bad enough, but it's doubly so when the key reason we've lacked such accountability is that leaders in the party opposed to the most corrupt president in American history tell reporters they are afraid of looking too aggressive. Democrats, you are an opposition party. Being aggressive is your job.

Actually, as the founders of America envisioned Congress, the same adversarial posture is also demanded of Republicans. The Truman Commission in World War II was bipartisan.

Put another way, there is absolutely no reason why we should be learning from Politico that the president's son-in-law has brought in a bunch of private sector buddies to run the crisis response. We ought to be learning this from subpoenas, witness testimony, and consistent investigatory measures in Congress. The coronavirus has brought out the worst symptoms yet in the Democratic spinelessness epidemic—and we might not know the full cost till the graft is long since done.

Max Moran is a research assistant at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)'s Revolving Door Project, which aims to increase scrutiny on executive branch appointments.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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