Tag: don mcgahn
Inspector General Urges Ethics Review Of Trump-Connected Official After Pro Publica Report

Inspector General Urges Ethics Review Of Trump-Connected Official After Pro Publica Report

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

The inspector general for the Federal Election Commission is calling on the agency to review its ethics policies and internal controls after a ProPublica investigation last year revealed that a senior manager openly supported Donald Trump and maintained a close relationship with a Republican attorney who went on to serve as the 2016 Trump campaign's top lawyer.

The report by ProPublica raised questions about the impartiality of the FEC official, Debbie Chacona, a civil servant who oversees the unit responsible for keeping unlawful contributions out of U.S. political campaigns. The division's staffers are supposed to adhere to a strict ethics code and forgo any public partisan activities because such actions could imply preferential treatment for a candidate or party and jeopardize the commission's credibility.

In its findings, the inspector general said Chacona, head of the FEC's Reports Analysis Division, or RAD, did not improperly intervene in a review of the Trump inaugural committee's fundraising and acted “consistent with relevant law and policy" by allowing career analysts to handle the filings.

But the inspector general said “it is important to address the ethical principle that federal employees should avoid even the appearance of impropriety." It added that the FEC's “unique mission raises heightened concerns when allegations of personal or political bias are raised against FEC senior personnel that could undermine the public's confidence in the agency" and recommended the commission “evaluate the current agency policies on ethical behavior and update them, as may be appropriate."

Chacona displayed her support for Trump in Facebook posts, including one in which she posed with her family around a “Make America Great Again" sign at Trump's January 2017 inaugural. Separately, emails obtained by ProPublica showed that she also consulted regularly on matters personal and professional with the Republican lawyer, Donald McGahn, when he was an FEC commissioner from 2008 to September 2013.

After Trump's election, the fundraising practices of his inaugural committee prompted complaints that the FEC failed to properly examine contributions. As head of RAD, Chacona signed off on amended filings by the committee intended to address some of those complaints even though the revised reports continued to list problematic donations, including ones from donors whose addresses didn't exist in public records.

The 300-employee FEC is an independent regulatory agency that was created by Congress to enforce campaign finance law. It is headed by six presidentially appointed commissioners, four of whom must vote together for the agency to take any official action, a requirement that was meant to bolster nonpartisan compromise but has resulted in chronic gridlock.

The inspector general also took issue with the way the FEC regulates presidential inaugural committees, which are nonprofit entities separate from campaign committees. Trump's inaugural committee raised a record-breaking $107 million from more than 1,000 contributors. Its initial disclosure report was 510 pages.

The inspector general found that unlike with campaign committees, FEC policy confers “broad, subjective discretion to the RAD senior manager to determine what potential violations of law warrant further inquiry" when it comes to inaugural committees. It called such a standard “ill-defined and subjective," cautioning that it could create “a reasonable likelihood of inconsistent results and arbitrary or capricious application (in fact or appearance)."

The inspector general also said that unlike political committees, which file their reports to the FEC electronically, inaugural committee disclosure reports are filed on paper to the commission and then manually reviewed by agency staffers — a system the inspector general said was “antiquated and lacks adequate internal controls."

Asked what the agency has done to address the appearance of a conflict of interest at RAD and whether the agency planned on adopting any of the inspector general recommendations, an FEC spokesperson declined to comment.

McGahn, who was appointed White House counsel after serving as the Trump campaign's top lawyer, now heads the government regulations group at the law firm Jones Day. He did not respond to messages seeking comment; in a response for the earlier ProPublica story, he said he doesn't comment on “nonsense." Chacona did not respond to a message seeking comment. A spokesperson for Trump's inaugural committee didn't return a message seeking comment.

The inspector general said that it interviewed FEC lawyers and RAD staffers, and that it obtained and reviewed agency records to conduct its inquiry. Commissioners were notified of the investigators' findings at the end of July.

With its unprecedented haul and its questionable outlays, Trump's inaugural committee drew swift attention from journalists and regulators. The Washington, D.C., attorney general has sued the committee, accusing it of enriching the Trump family business by spending lavishly at Trump-owned properties, claims the committee has denied in court papers. Separately, federal prosecutors subpoenaed the committee's donor records as part of an inquiry into illegal contributions made by foreign nationals.

Both inaugural and political committees are prohibited from accepting contributions from foreign nationals. But Trump's inaugural committee included in its disclosure reports donations from contributors outside the U.S., and RAD relied on the word of the committee that the donors were indeed U.S. citizens, the inspector general report found. Investigators took issue with that practice. They noted that RAD's policy of accepting a committee's “self-certification" wasn't memorialized in any policy, and they recommended that the division set a threshold when such a contribution would trigger further inquiry to independently verify the source of the money.

Fred Wertheimer, whose advocacy group Democracy 21 helped file a 2017 FEC complaint against Trump's inaugural committee, which the agency's general counsel later dismissed, said the head of RAD should have recused herself from overseeing the committee's filings.

“In my view Ms. Chacona had a clear appearance of conflict and never should've gone anywhere near the inaugural committee's report," said Wertheimer, who was derided by Chacona and McGahn in the email exchanges obtained by ProPublica.

Former White House Counsel  McGahn To Testify On Russia  Probe

Former White House Counsel  McGahn To Testify On Russia  Probe

Former White House counsel Don McGahn has agreed to testify in a private congressional hearing about the Russia investigation, ending a long court battle sparked by former President Donald Trump's effort to stonewall lawmakers. McGahn, a key figure in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, will answer questions from the House Judiciary Committee behind closed doors, but a transcript will be released about a week later, according to federal court papers filed Wednesday. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) hailed the breakthrough agreement with the Justice Depa...

Don McGahn

Court Rules Against McGahn Subpoena — And Exposes GOP Fraud

Former White House Counsel Don McGahn can't be forced to testify by the judicial branch, a D.C. federal appeals court ruled Friday in a split 2-1 decision.

The majority, led by two Republican-appointed judges, sided with President Donald Trump's effort to block McGahn's testimony, subpoenaed by the House of Representatives as part of Democrats' oversight efforts. As a key witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, McGahn could provide illuminating testimony to describe some of the most damning episodes of what could constitute criminal obstruction of justice by the president.

But the administration has sought to block McGahn's testimony, claiming he has "absolute immunity" from testifying. In court, the Justice Department has argued that the judicial branch shouldn't be involved at all in an effort by Congress to compel testimony from an administration official. On Friday, the court agreed.

"The [House Judiciary] Committee's suit asks us to settle a dispute that we have no authority to resolve," the opinion said. "[We] lack authority to resolve disputes between the Legislative and Executive Branches until their actions harm an entity 'beyond the [Federal] Government.' … Without such a harm, any dispute remains an intramural disagreement about the 'operations of government' that we lack power to resolve."

This is a highly dubious position, and many legal experts have argued that it is wrong. The courts should be able to compel executive branch officials to comply with congressional subpoenas unless they have a credible legal argument in their favor. Democrats will likely continue to appeal the case up to the Supreme Court.

But putting aside the merits of the court's view, its argument — which was promoted by Trump's Justice Department — completely undermined one of the key defenses of the president during his impeachment trial.

Trump was charged by the House of Representatives with abusing his power in the Ukraine scandal as the first article of impeachment. But the second article of impeachment charged Trump with obstructing Congress's investigation into the scandal, by blocking witnesses from coming forward and withholding documentary evidence. Many of the president's defenders dismissed the obstruction of Congress charges, saying that the House should have tried harder to obtain witnesses and evidence by going through the courts. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida even called the article fo impeachment "frivolous."

At the time, though, the House impeachment managers pointed out that even as Trump's lawyers made this argument, Justice Department lawyers were making the opposite argument. The Justice Department said, as D.C. Court of Appeals has now agreed, that the courts were an inappropriate venue for the dispute and that Congress and the executive should work it out between themselves.

Trump's overall position, then, was either a contradiction or an assertion of near-absolute power. He was essentially saying there was no way for the Congress to obtain the evidence it needed to impeach him.

But in the new ruling on Friday, the court explicitly listed impeachment as one of the remedies Congress can turn to in order to resolve the dispute without turning to the judicial branch:

The absence of a judicial remedy doesn't render Congress powerless. Instead, the Constitution gives Congress a series of political tools to bring the Executive Branch to heel. … Congress (or one of its chambers) may hold officers in contempt, withhold appropriations, refuse to confirm the President's nominees, harness public opinion, delay or derail the President's legislative agenda, or impeach recalcitrant officers. … And Congress can wield these political weapons without dragging judges into the fray.

If this is right, then the GOP arguments for acquitting Trump on the obstruction of justice charge were entirely bogus.

This fatal flaw in the impeachment defense was evident at the time, but Republicans simply refused to acknowledge or address it. Now that the impeachment process is over, of course, they'll surely insist the matter is history or just continue to ignore it altogether. But the new ruling highlights the corruption of the GOP, and helps forever stain the impeachment trial of Trump as an outright fraud.

House Votes To Enforce Subpoenas Of Barr And McGahn

House Votes To Enforce Subpoenas Of Barr And McGahn

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler can go to court to force two key members of Trump’s inner circle to comply with congressional subpoenas, after the House voted Tuesday to approve that maneuver.

The House voted 229 to 191 along party lines to let Congress enforce subpoenas against Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn, who have refused to follow legally binding subpoenas from the House Judiciary Committee by turning over documents related to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“Mr. Speaker, when a congressional committee issues a subpoena, compliance is not optional,” Nadler said in a speech on the House floor urging House members to vote for the resolution. “We expect witnesses to testify when summoned. We expect the Administration to comply with subpoenas and to provide us with the materials we require to do our jobs.”

Refusing to comply with a subpoena is an affront to the rule of law.

Congressional subpoena powers are key to enforcing the constitutional mandate of Congress to carry out oversight and conduct investigations. And by refusing to comply, Barr and McGahn are creating a bad precedent that could hinder the legislative branch from doing its job for years to come.

But both Barr and McGahn’s trampling of the rule of law is consistent with the behavior of the man both have worked for.

Trump has been systematically trying to obstruct congressional investigations to try to avoid facing any repercussions for his lawless and corrupt conduct — including the conduct Mueller investigated, as well as other unethical things Trump has done while in the White House.

Trump has ordered everyone from McGahn, to former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, to a former White House official in charge of security clearances not to comply with legally binding congressional subpoenas.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump’s attempt to stonewall congressional oversight amounts to obstruction of justice. And it’s led dozens of Democratic members of Congress to call for impeachment proceedings against Trump.

Tuesday’s vote, however, allows Congress to enforce its oversight agenda without launching an impeachment inquiry.

If Trump and his aides continue to obstruct investigations, however, an impeachment inquiry could be the next step.

Published with permission of The American Independent. 

IMAGE: Former White House counsel Don McGahn.