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

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) has reportedly been tapped to become the new chair of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics next month. Lankford has staunchly defended Donald Trump and those around him, even as their ethical scandals have mounted.

Recently, Lankford dismissed concerns about Trump’s personal lawyer and “de facto Secretary of State” Rudy Giuliani. “Part of the challenge is not a shadow foreign policy. It is doing political work for the president, as well as legal work. Obviously, Rudy Giuliani has been very engaged, trying to defend the president on all these accusations with Russia,” he told WBUR’s On Point in late September.

Lankford also minimized Trump’s effort to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to dig up dirt on political opponents, falsely claiming that Zelenskiy was “actually the one who brought the issue up — about Rudy Giuliani, and about the Hunter Biden topic — up to President Trump, first. And, then, President Trump actually responded back to him.” The call summary released by the White House shows it was Trump who brought up the Bidens and Crowdstrike.

In January, he excused former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort — who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and was convicted of financial fraud charges in 2018 — for having shared information a Russian associate. “This is an ongoing relationship that Paul Manafort had with Ukraine,” he argued. “He was a representative of Ukraine, worked for the Ukrainian government, and was trying to be able to work for a peace proposal.” One of the charges against Manafort was that he failed to register as a Ukrainian foreign agent.

In May 2018, when it came out that Donald Trump Jr. and others from the 2016 Trump campaign had taken a meeting with Russian operatives offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, Lankford quickly tried to explain it away, telling Fox News that it was just “a rabbit hole.”

“I know Democrats are trying to be able to make something of this,” he said. “They’re constantly trying to … say there must be something here that we can stir up, or at least just create an accusation that has the appearance of it.”

And when Trump’s then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s abuse of power scandal became public in early 2018, Lankford loyally defended his fellow Oklahoman and said he should not resign from his position. Asked about Pruitt’s sweetheart rental deal that let him pay just $50 per night to stay in a lobbyist’s Washington condo (less than half of what it costs the District of Columbia to house homeless people each night), Lankford argued that it “would seem normal for most Oklahomans to say, ‘If I know somebody in town, I’m trying to get a place, and in the meantime to be able to stay there.’ Now, there’s all kinds of challenges about it and it becomes a big issue… In a normal world, this would seem very normal. But in a political world, everything gets dialed up, as far as the volume.”

Daniel Stevens, executive director for the nonpartisan Campaign for Accountability, said in a phone interview that Lankford is unlikely to improve an already problematic committee. “The Senate Ethics Committee isn’t exactly an active body,” he observed. “For many years lots of us in the watchdog community have been complaining there’s a lack of accountability. If they’re gonna appoint someone who isn’t interested in ethics, that’s more of the same. It’s a real problem with that body that this appointment probably won’t fix.”

He pointed to the House of Representatives, which created an independent Office of Congressional Ethics to review ethics allegations, saying “maybe [Lankford’s appointment] is a good indication why the Senate needs a similar body, so that complaints can be taken seriously and investigated.”

The selection will need to be officially approved by the Senate Republican Conference, reportedly set to happen next week.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), who has chaired the panel since 2015, is resigning from Congress at the end of December due to “mounting health problems” stemming from Parkinson’s disease.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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  • 1.Why did Trump choose to hide certain specific files and not others at Mar-a-Lago? What were the criteria that Trump used to keep some files concealed and not others? Who selected those files? Did Trump consult or direct anyone in his selection of secret files? Trump was notorious for being too impatient to read his briefing papers, even after they had been drastically shortened and simplified. Is there the slightest evidence that he spirited these papers away so that he could consult or study them? Who besides Trump knew of the presence of the files he had concealed at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 2. Mar-a-Lago has an infamous reputation for being open to penetration even by foreign spies. In 2019, the FBI arrested a Chinese woman who had entered the property with electronic devices. She was convicted of trespassing, lying to the Secret Service, and sentenced and served eight-months in a federal prison, before being deported to China. Have other individuals with possible links to foreign intelligence operations been present at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 3. Did members of Trump's Secret Service detail have knowledge of his secret storage of the files at Mar-a-Lago? What was the relationship of the Secret Service detail to the FBI? Did the Secret Service, or any agent, disclose information about the files to the FBI?
  • 4. Trump's designated representatives to the National Archives are Kash Patel and John Solomon, co-conspirators in the investigations into Russian interference in the presidential election of 2016, the Ukraine missiles-for-political dirt scandal that led to the first impeachment in 2019, and the coup of 2020. Neither has any professional background in handling archival materials. Patel, a die-hard Trump loyalist whose last job in the administration was as chief of staff to the Acting Secretary of Defense, was supposedly involved in Trump’s “declassification” of some files. Patel has stated, “Trump declassified whole sets of materials in anticipation of leaving government that he thought the American public should have the right to read themselves."
  • The White House counsel failed to generate the paperwork to change the classification markings, but that doesn’t mean the information wasn’t declassified.” If Pat Cipollone, the White House legal counsel, did not “generate the paperwork,” was he or anyone on his staff aware at all of the declassifications? The White House Staff Secretary Derek Lyons resigned his post in December 2020. Did his successor, who held the position for a month, while Trump was consumed with plotting his coup, ever review the material found in Trump’s concealed files for declassification? Or did Patel review the material? Can Patel name any individual who properly reviewed the supposed declassification?
  • 5. Why did Trump keep his pardon of Roger Stone among his secret files? Was it somehow to maintain leverage over Stone? What would that leverage be? Would it involve Stone's role as a conduit with the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers during the coup? Or is there another pardon in Trump’s files for Stone, a secret pardon for his activities in the January 6th insurrection? Because of the sweeping nature of the pardon clause, pardons can remain undisclosed (until needed). Pardons are self-executing, require no justification and are not subject to court review beyond the fact of their timely execution. In other words, a court may verify the pardon was valid in time but has no power to review appropriateness. A pardon could even be oral but would need to be verifiable by a witness. Do the files contain secret pardons for Trump himself, members of his family, members of the Congress, and other co-conspirators?
  • 6.Was the FBI warrant obtained to block the imminent circulation or sale of information in the files to foreign powers? Does the affidavit of the informant at Mar-a-Lago, which has not been released, provide information about Trump’s monetization that required urgency in executing the warrant? Did Trump monetize information in any of the files? How? With whom? Any foreign power or entity? Was the Saudi payment from its sovereign wealth fund for the LIV Golf Tournament at Trump’s Bedminster Golf Club for a service that Trump rendered, an exchange of anything of value or information that was in the files? If it involved information in the files was it about nuclear programs? Was it about the nuclear program of Israel? How much exactly was the Saudi payment for the golf tournament? The Saudi sovereign wealth fund gave Jared Kushner and former Trump Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin $2 billion for their startup hedge fund, Affinity Partners. Do the Saudis regard that investment as partial payment for Trump’s transfer of nuclear information? Were Kushner or Mnuchin aware of the secret files at Mar-a-Lago?
  • 7.Did Trump destroy any of the files? If so, when? Did those files contain incriminating information? Did he destroy any files after he received the June subpoena?
  • 8.Were any of the secrets of our allies compromised? Has the U.S. government provided an inventory of breaches or potential breaches to our allies?
  • 9.Does the resort maintain a copying machine near the classified documents that Trump hid? Were any of the documents copied or scanned? Are Trump’s documents at Mar-a-Lago originals or copies? Were any copies shown or given to anyone?
  • 10.Trump’s lawyer Christina Bobb has revealed that a video surveillance system covers the places where Trump hid the files at Mar-a-Lago, and that the system is connected to a system at his other residences at the Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey and Trump Tower in New York City. According to Bobb, Trump and members of his family observed the FBI search and seizure of his files at Mar-a-Lago, “actually able to see the whole thing” through their surveillance system. Who has that surveillance system recorded entering the rooms where the files were kept?

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