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Congress Summons Postmaster DeJoy To Explain ‘Sabotage’ Of Service

Reprinted with permission from DailyKos

The sudden collapse of the United States Postal Service's ability to do its core job—deliver mail—is now so widespread a problem as to be stoking enormous public outrage. This may finally result in substantive congressional action—sort of. Perhaps.

House Democrats are now asking (but not subpoenaing) Trump Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to appear before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Aug. 24 to explain his actions. DeJoy, who remains heavily invested in for-profit competitors to the USPS even as he guts federal mail delivery capabilities, was previously scheduled to appear on September 17; moving his appearance up by several weeks is an indication that Congress no longer thinks waiting until mid-September is defendable. Democrats ask that DeJoy confirm his plan to appear by tomorrow; DeJoy has also been asked to deliver requested documents by Friday, August 21.

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Trump Aides Worked With GOP Activist Who Sought To Rig Census

The House Oversight and Reform Committee has obtained evidence showing that the Trump administration worked hand-in-hand with a GOP activist to try to rig the 2020 census.

Thomas Hofeller, who died last year, was a Republican activist who specialized in gerrymandering and redistricting. In 2015, he conducted a study that determined that having a citizenship question on the decennial census would disadvantage Democrats and be “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”

During litigation over the Trump administration’s attempts to justify adding the question to the 2020 census, allegations appeared that Hofeller’s study had been instrumental in the administration’s decision to push for the question. The Justice Department flatly denied this, saying that the study “played no role” in the matter.

Now, the House Oversight Committee says it has material showing that the Trump administration began strategizing about how to add a citizenship question almost immediately after Trump took office — and, in the summer of 2017, worked directly with Hofeller to do so.

Mark Neuman, who was a member of the Trump transition team and a former adviser on census issues, provided information about his contacts with Hofeller during the time the administration was discussing how it could get the citizenship question on the census.

In August 2017, Neuman, then an adviser to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, communicated directly with both Hofeller and his business partner, Dalton “Dale” Oldham, about how to best phrase the citizenship question. Neuman asked both men to review language in a letter Neuman was sending to request the addition of the question.

Neuman’s letter offered the unfounded rationale the DOJ would later use to justify the question — to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act — and he wanted to make sure Hofeller and Oldham thought the language was correct. Both Oldham and Hofeller agreed the language was fine.

At every turn, Hofeller sought to advantage Republicans by minimizing participation by voters of color and Democratic voters. He didn’t do this in the shadows. On the contrary, Hofeller was ubiquitous in his efforts to ensure Republican control at any cost. When he passed away in 2018, one obituary said he “may be more responsible for the Republican majority in Congress than any other single person in modern politics.”

Over the years, Republicans paid him millions of dollars for his services.

Hofeller helped draw a highly gerrymandered map in North Carolina. He was hired by the conservative Washington Free Beacon to assess whether it would advantage Republicans to draw political maps based on a subset of the population — American citizens of voting age — rather than a state’s total population. He worked as the redistricting director for the Republican National Committee.

Trying to rig the census was just a logical progression for Hofeller. In the Trump administration, he found a willing ear for his efforts. And now the House Oversight committee has proof the administration formed a partnership with Hofeller as well.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

IMAGE: Wilbur Ross departs Trump Tower after a meeting with Donald Trump in New York, November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Border Patrol Condemns Secret Facebook Group, But Reveals Few Specifics

 

Long known for its insular culture and tendency toward secrecy, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is saying little in the aftermath of news reports exposing a vulgar and hateful Facebook group for current and retired Border Patrol agents, including supervisors.

While CBP officials have publicly condemned the offensive social media posts, they’ve disclosed few details about the steps the agency has taken to identify employees who behaved inappropriately online and hold them accountable.

The agency, which is responsible for policing the nation’s borders and official ports of entry, declined to say how many employees CBP has disciplined or how many remain under investigation.

In response to questions from ProPublica, a CBP spokesperson would only say that “several” employees had been placed on restricted duty as a result of postings in the three-year-old Facebook group, and that so far no one had been suspended from the patrol, a more serious disciplinary action. The agency would not say whether the agents now on restricted duty are allowed to have contact with the public, and it refused to answer questions about specific agents who appear to have made posts celebrating sexual violence and demeaning migrants and women.

The “majority of employees who have been positively identified” as being active in the Facebook group have been issued letters instructing them stop posting objectionable material, said the spokesperson, who declined to specify how many people had received the letters, described as “cease and desist” notices.

“This secrecy is unacceptable,” said Joaquin Castro, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and representative for San Antonio. “This secrecy is dangerous to human life. CBP is perhaps the least transparent law enforcement agency in the country.”

ProPublica last week revealed the existence of the secret 9,500-member Facebook group, called “I’m 10-15,” a reference to the Border Patrol code for “alien in custody.” In the private group, current and former Border Patrol agents, including supervisors, mocked dead migrants, called congresswomen “scum buckets,” and uploaded misogynistic images, including an illustration of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a harsh critic of CBP, engaged in oral sex with a migrant in a detention facility. A later story by The Intercept published additional graphic posts from the group and information about its members.

CBP policies bar employees from making “abusive, derisive, profane, or harassing statements or gestures” about any person or group on private or public social media.

Among those who apparently made egregious posts is Thomas Hendricks, a 20-year veteran of the Border Patrol who serves as a supervisor of the Calexico station, a desert outpost in Southern California’s Imperial County. Hendricks — or someone using his Facebook account — uploaded a photo illustration of President Donald Trump forcing the head of Ocasio-Cortez toward his crotch. The image was accompanied by a cryptic message that appeared to refer to prior issues within the patrol: “That’s right bitches. The masses have spoken and today democracy won. I have returned.”

Hendricks did not respond to requests for comment from ProPublica.

An agent at the Alamogordo station in New Mexico, Mario Marcus Ponce, apparently described Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Veronica Escobar of El Paso, Texas, both Democrats, as “hoes” in a discussion in the Facebook group. Ponce did not answer calls and text messages from ProPublica.

CBP would not discuss the current status of Hendricks and Ponce or two other agents identified by ProPublica. “We cannot comment on individual cases,” the CBP spokesperson said.

Unlike many big city police departments, the Border Patrol generally divulges little information about agents found to have engaged in misconduct or those involved in shooting incidents. At times, the agency has refused even to reveal the names of agents facing trial on criminal corruption charges.

“They are not used to being questioned. They are not used to be scrutinized,” said Josiah Heyman, an anthropologist at the University of Texas at El Paso who has been studying the border since 1982.

The Facebook group, he said, is “an indicator of broader problems” within the Border Patrol. “There is an attitude within CBP and Border Patrol that everybody crossing the border is invading the United States and coming to do bad things,” he said.

While Heyman noted that there is little solid statistical data on the views held by Border Patrol agents, he pointed to a survey of approximately 1,100 migrants who’d been deported to Mexico. Nearly a quarter of the respondents said they’d been verbally abused by U.S. government employees, primarily Border Patrol. “It is an enormous number,” said Heyman, director of the school’s Center for Inter-American and Border Studies.

In a statement issued last week, Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost said the Facebook images and comments aren’t representative of the patrol as a whole. “These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see—and expect—from our agents day in and day out,” she said. “Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable.”

At least two oversight bodies are now looking into the conduct of Border Patrol agents on social media. One inquiry is being led by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility, essentially an internal affairs unit staffed with professional investigators.

In Congress, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, led by Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings has opened an investigation and committee staffers are currently gathering facts. Cummings has requested that Kevin McAleenan, the acting chief of the Department of Homeland Security — CBP’s parent organization — testify before the committee this week about “racist, sexist, and xenophobic posts by Border Patrol agents,” as well as reports of inhumane conditions and severe overcrowding at CBP detention facilities.

The congressman has also instructed Facebook to turn over digital evidence related to the group. “The Committee requests that you preserve all documents, communications, and other data related to the ‘I’m 10-15’ group. This includes log files and metadata,” Cummings wrote in a letter to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg.

At the House Homeland Security Committee, chair Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, has called on the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security to mount an investigation into the Facebook group.

The inspector general’s office would not comment on whether it has opened an inquiry.

For his part, Castro said he intends to ask some questions of his own. “I am going to set up a call with Secretary McAleenan to have a conversation about the discipline and accountability process within DHS,” Castro, a Democrat, said. “I don’t know if there is any accountability. I don’t know if there is any discipline.”

 

 

Report: Aide’s Testimony Shows Ross Lied About Census Citizenship Question

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

The House Oversight Committee has been probing the Trump Administration’s move to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 U.S. Census. And according to a House Oversight Committee memo, the Washington Post is reporting, Commerce Secretary Wilber Ross directed a former senior adviser, James Uthmeier, to add the question.

The House Oversight memo states that although Uthmeier “refused to answer” dozens of questions, he confirmed that it was Ross who directed him to add “the citizenship question.” Ross has claimed that he added the question at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

“Mr. Uthmeier disclosed that Secretary Ross directed him to begin examining the citizenship question within weeks of being sworn in as secretary and that they had multiple conversations about it well before any request came from DOJ — erasing any doubt about the inaccuracy of Secretary Ross’ claim that he added the citizenship question ‘solely’ at DOJ’s request,” the House Oversight memo reads.

Ross, who oversees the U.S. Census Bureau, has claimed that in December 2017, the DOJ asked him to add a citizenship-related question to the 2020 U.S. Census. But lawsuits, according to the Washington Post, have revealed that Ross was encouraging a citizenship-related question for the Census for months before that.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Maryland Democrat who heads the House Oversight Committee, asserts that Republicans have political and racial motives for wanting to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census.

“Official after official appearing before the Committee have refused to answer questions about the real reasons behind their effort,” Cummings said in a statement on Tuesday. “But the mounting evidence points to a partisan and discriminatory effort to harm the interests of Democrats and non-whites.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether or not a citizenship-related question can be added to the 2020 U.S. Census. But attorneys for civil rights organizations have asked the High Court to delay a ruling following allegations that the question was added with the input of GOP strategist Thomas Hofeller — who, in 2015, wrote a study showing that adding a citizenship-related question to the U.S. Census would give an electoral advantage to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.

IMAGE: Wilbur Ross testifies before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be commerce secretary at Capitol Hill in Washington, January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria