May 15, 2020

I've grown to hate Friday nights. Fridays themselves have been quiet lately, and then along about 10:00 pm... wham. The Friday night news dump.

Tonight's news dump was Trump giving notice that he intends to fire yet another inspector general, this one from the State Department. Trump wants to replace Steve Linick, a career official from the Justice Department appointed to his position by President Barack Obama in 2013, with an ally of Vice President Mike Pence. Trump says he no longer has the “fullest confidence” in Linick. Trump plans to replace Linick with Stephen Akard, who was chief of staff for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation when Pence was Indiana governor.

Linick had issued a number of reports lately about Trump appointees retaliating against career employees. Even more important to Trump, perhaps, is that at the State Department, Linick oversaw Trump’s loyal Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. Tonight, after news broke of Linick’s firing, Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted on an official account that Linick had just opened an investigation into Pompeo. MSNBC reporter Chris Hayes noted that “Engel is an extremely cautious politician. For him to put this out is mind-blowing.”

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy tweeted: “Using foreign aid to destroy rivals. Weaponizing the judiciary. Firing all the inspectors general. Democracies begin to die when a leader starts to destroy the limits on his power, and his faction decides that he is more important than the republic. Welcome to that moment.”

But Walter Schaub, who used to direct the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, points out that the law requires the president to give 30 days notice of such a removal because Congress intended for its members to be able to prevent exactly the sort of purge in which Trump is engaging. Republican Senators are required by law to stop this behavior… but they refuse. It is a mistake, Schaub points out, to consider this firing a done deal. Trump has to give notice so that Congress can weigh in. He has done so, and now it is in the hands of Congress, just as the previous notice that Trump was removing other inspector generals has been.

In other news, there is mounting pressure on the Justice Department to release the transcripts of the phone calls between Michael Flynn and Russian officials, both from people who believe the transcripts will exonerate him and from those who believe they will confirm his guilt. The Justice Department has released a trove of information about Flynn’s contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, including confidential memos and internal deliberations. But it steadfastly refuses to release the transcripts, despite an order from Judge Emmet Sullivan to do so. Sullivan has recently named retired federal Judge John Gleeson to review Flynn’s case.

A follow up to yesterday’s news about Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) stepping down from his position as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee during his investigation for insider trading: Before he stepped down, Burr submitted the final report of the committee on Russian interference in the 2016 election to the intelligence community for review so it can be declassified. That process could take many months, as it did for previous reports. In those cases, though, the committee did release a set of general findings before the final volume was available. Here… we’ll see.

The other big piece of news is that the House of Representatives has passed a new $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill. Both the president and Senate Republicans have said the bill is a non-starter; as such, it should be seen as a Democratic marker of the party’s priorities. The bill provides nearly $1 trillion for the state, local, and tribal governments that are suffering as the lack of tax revenue during this crisis is forcing them to slash social programs from their budgets. It provides direct payments to individuals, hazard pay for essential workers, money for coronavirus testing and contact tracing, unemployment benefits, housing support, student loan forgiveness, and food stamp money.

It also provides for universal mail-in ballots, and $25 billion for the United States Postal Service.

Meanwhile, White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow has suggested reviving the economy not by putting money in the hands of ordinary Americans, but by slashing the 21% corporate tax rate, cutting it in half for companies willing to bring their operations back to the United States. The White House also wants liability protection for businesses that reopen, and a payroll tax cut. Such a cut would inject money into the economy immediately, but only by taking money that would otherwise fund social Security and Medicare.

The two approaches reveal very different visions of the way the economy works.

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Notes:

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/05/15/state-department-inspector-general-fired-261536

https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/15/politics/state-department-inspector-general-fired/index.html

Engel:

Engel statement: https://foreignaffairs.house.gov/2020/5/engel-statement-on-the-firing-of-inspector-general-linick

Hayes:

Murphy:

Schaub:

Flynn: https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/14/politics/flynn-kislyak-transcripts-secret/index.html

Burr: https://www.snopes.com/ap/2020/05/15/burr-submits-final-russia-report-before-leaving-chairmanship/

New bill: https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2020/05/15/democrats-pelosi-congress-coronavirus-3-trillion-trump/

Kudlow: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-tax/white-houses-kudlow-floats-cutting-u-s-corporate-tax-rate-in-half-idUSKBN22R2FH

Payroll taxes: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-payroll-analys/trumps-coronavirus-payroll-tax-cut-would-punch-hole-in-social-security-medicare-budgets-idUSKBN20Y351