Posted on

Trump Fires Back At Big Tech By Signing Executive Order Defending Free Speech On Social Media

President Donald Trump just signed an executive order that will protect free speech on social media and regulate how Big Tech can censor their users.

“We’re here today to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers,” Trump said as he signed the order, referring to the “unchecked power” of social media giants.

“They’ve had unchecked power to censor restrict, edit shape hide alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences,” Trump added, according to Breitbart News. He went on to blast the unprecedented amount of power that is wielded by just a few Big Tech social media companies, which we all known are overwhelmingly liberal.

“There’s no precedent in American history for so small a number of corporations to control so large a sphere of interaction,” Trump said.

“The choices that Twitter makes, when it chooses to suppress, edit, blacklist, shadowban are editorial decisions, pure and simple, they are editorial decisions,” the president added, going on to accuse the companies of carrying out political activism in an “inappropriate” way.

“What they choose to fact check and what they choose to ignore or promote is nothing more than a political activism group,” Trump said.

The president also said that social media companies have “more power and more reach” than any phone company or newspaper or media outlet, which is why they need to be regulated.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr attending the signing of the executive order on Thursday in the Oval Office, and he made it clear that he is firmly behind it.

“These companies grew because they held themselves out as public forums,” Barr said. “Now that they’ve become these very powerful networks of eyeballs. They’ve now switched and they are using that market power to force particular viewpoints.”

Things got contentious at one point in the Oval Office when ABC News reporter Jon Karl asked President Trump why he did not delete his own Twitter account in protest of the site. Without missing a beat, Trump replied, “If you weren’t fake, I would not even think about it, I would do that in a heartbeat.”

This executive order has been a long time coming, as social media companies have clearly shown that they have a clear liberal bias and are hellbent on silencing conservatives. We applaud Trump for making this move, and we hope his order lets Big Tech know that they will not get away with trying to rid the world of rightwing voices.

This piece was written by PoliZette Staff on May 28, 2020. It originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.

Read more at LifeZette:
Jimmy Kimmel launches attack on ‘willfully ignorant woman’ Kayleigh McEnany while he defends Biden
Former Van Halen front-man Sammy Hagar slams coronavirus lockdowns, refuses to comply
Angry mob assails woman who didn’t wear a mask in a supermarket: ‘Get the f*** out of here!’

Posted on

Photos: U.S. coronavirus deaths pass 100,000

They were musicians, engineers and teachers. And cancer survivors, firefighters, lawyers and doctors. Others were grandfathers, mothers and retirees. And some were just beginning their careers.

More than 100,000 Americans across the nation have died just four months after officials announced the nation’s first known coronavirus case, with COVID-19 killing both the old and young in cities large and small.

It’s a distressing milestone in the pandemic that the United States reached this week.

President Trump, acknowledging for the first time Thursday that the number of deaths climbed past six figures after facing criticism for failing to do so, finally offered his condolences:

“We have just reached a very sad milestone with the coronavirus pandemic deaths reaching 100,000. To all of the families & friends of those who have passed, I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy & love for everything that these great people stood for & represent. God be with you!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The virus has not only changed the way people live but also how they mourn. The sick overwhelmingly have died alone, and loved ones have had to say their goodbyes over the phone or on video chat.

And despite the United State’s wealth of information, power and leadership on the world stage, the death toll from the virus is more than double the number of reported deaths of any other nation.

But what that number doesn’t reflect are the memories that those people leave behind and the impact on the lives of friends, families, co-workers and communities.

According to a recent survey conducted by Ipsos, 14% of Americans know someone who has died of COVID-19.

As the nation reopens and COVID-19 continues to spread, with these images we look at how some lives have been affected.

A nurse places a blanket over a patient in the emergency room at San Jose’s Regional Medical Center on May 21, 2020. Santa Clara County, where this hospital is located, had the earliest known COVID-19-related deaths in the United States.

(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Bodies in boxes in the chapel of a funeral home.

A funeral home overwhelmed by the coronavirus crisis in New York City’s Elmhurst neighborhood stores bodies in its chapel on May 11, 2020, before sending them to crematoriums and cemeteries.

(Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis)

Four mourners stand next to a U.S.-flag-draped casket of a military veteran in a cemetery

Mourners attend the funeral of veteran Mary Foley on April 8, 2020, in Malden, Mass. Foley, who died at 93, served in the Air Force during World War II. Because of the coronavirus crisis, she cannot be given a formal military funeral.

(Elise Amendola / Associated Press)

Activists carry body bags symbolizing COVID-19 victims.

Activists from Indivisible Brooklyn and Rise and Resist carry body bags symbolizing COVID-19 victims as they head to Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York on May 24.

(Gabriele Holtermann / Pacific Press/LightRocket)

Omar Martinez holds a cellphone showing a photo of his parents’ wedding.

In West Liberty, Iowa, on April 25, 2020, Omar Martinez holds a cellphone showing a photo of his parents’ wedding. Martinez’s family had been living the American dream after immigrating from Mexico in the 1990s and settling in this small town in eastern Iowa, but their lives fell apart after coronavirus infections spread from his mother to his sister and his father. Now, he is planning his father’s funeral while hoping his sister recovers in an intensive care unit. He is grateful his mother is better and appreciates the community’s support.

(Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

Four people in masks and gloves roll a casket at a cemetery.

Funeral director Sarah Smith, right, and other workers at Jay Chapel Funeral Home bring the body of Wanda DeSelle, 76, to a gravesite on April 8, 2020. Wanda DeSelle, a medical office worker in Madera, Calif., died of COVID-19. Immediate family had to remain in their cars as DeSelle was buried.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Posted on

Floyd, Arbery, and Cooper provide lessons in terror

I didn’t feel well Tuesday. My body was tense, my stomach unsettled, the headache I was trying to push past kept pushing back. On most days I choose to be numb. Tuesday, I decided to feel. I recognize for some the video of George Floyd’s fatal encounter with four Minneapolis police officers is shocking. For me, it was not. I may not always choose to feel, but I am always aware. I learned early on that I didn’t have the luxury of not being aware.

I was 12 when an officer placed his gun to the back of my head while his knee rested in the center of my back. I had been sent to the store to buy a gallon of milk. I came home with trauma. As the officer placed me in handcuffs, he said I looked like a burglary suspect he was searching for.

I was told something similar in my 20s, a full-time reporter fresh out of graduate school, after I was pulled over and placed in handcuffs. The officer asked what I was doing in the neighborhood. When I told him I lived in it, he asked what I did to be able to afford to live there.

In my 30s, shortly after moving in with my now-husband, Steve, in his predominantly white Michigan suburb, I was pulled over and placed in handcuffs. Another officer telling me he thought I “looked like someone.”

Six years ago, now in my 40s and on assignment for CNN during the Ferguson uprising outside St. Louis, I was pulled over yet again for looking like someone.

And those are just a fraction of the times I’ve been pulled over for looking like someone.

So, yeah, on most days I choose to be numb just to survive.

Which is why I understand the need to avoid watching fatal moments captured on camera. Sympathy should not be confused with empathy, which reaches deeper and strips away all of the safeguards protecting suppressed memories and emotions. It leaves your soul raw. It’s difficult to survive with a wounded and unprotected heart. Tuesday, however, I allowed myself to feel because simply surviving isn’t always enough. Not if you want to live. For a while pain brings discomfort; it is also the indication that something is wrong. When you’re numb, you can trick yourself into believing things are better than what they really are.

For those of you who are tired of reading about racism, trust me when I say this — I’m tired of writing about it.

I’m tired of our humanity slowly being bled out from micro-aggressive encounters slicing at our collective psyche. Social media may give the impression that incidents like the Central Park encounter between avid birdwatcher Christian Cooper and Amy Cooper — the woman who put his life in danger by falsely telling police he was threatening her life — are recent developments, but they are not. It’s just that 14-year-old Emmett Till didn’t have a smartphone back in 1955, when he was lynched after Carolyn Bryant falsely claimed he made a pass a her.

For those of you who are tired of reading about racism, trust me when I say this— I’m tired of writing about it.

In a 2018 encounter, another white woman, Teresa Klein, falsely told police a 9-year-old black boy sexually assaulted her. That accusation is sadly similar to the circumstances surrounding the execution of George Stinney Jr., the 14-year-old black boy who was put to death in 1944 after being falsely accused of killing two school-aged white girls.

For those of you who are tired of reading about racism, I’m tired of black and brown bodies being killed by it. I’m tired of watching some white people be more upset by those who are protesting racism as opposed to the racism itself. Being numb is characterizing what happened to Floyd, Cooper, Ahmaud Arbery (who was hunted, shot and killed by two white men while jogging), as unfortunate, disconnected anomalies. Feeling is understanding they are not disconnected at all but, rather, the reason why James Baldwin once said “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

Sometimes you just want to drive down the street and not tense up when you see a police car. Sometimes you wonder what it’s like to fail up as opposed to work twice as hard to be considered half as good. Sometimes you don’t want to have to choose between being numb and feeling.

Sometimes you just want to be.

One night I drove to the store to buy Steve, then my boyfriend, allergy medication. Somewhere between the parking lot and the driveway of my house, a police officer started to follow me. Before long I was surrounded by multiple squad cars — lights flashing, guns drawn.

From the car, I called Steve, who is white, to come to the door to calm things. At first he didn’t understand the urgency, but I told him that if he didn’t come to the door there was a chance I would be killed. As I expected, the situation deescalated when he came outside and identified me as the homeowner. I was allowed to go in the house. The officer who followed me home believed I might have stolen the car. To this day, I joke to Steve that while he always knew he was with a gay dude, that was the night he learned he was dating a black man.

It’s a funny story on the days I choose to be numb.

It’s the scariest moment of my life when I choose to feel.

Posted on

Leaders urge mask wearing to slow coronavirus, Trump mocks wearers

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo became the latest state official to more aggressively promote mask usage to slow the spread of the coronavirus Thursday, announcing he will sign an executive order allowing private businesses to deny entry to patrons who decline to wear a face covering.

Cuomo has sought to make masks “cool” and on Thursday brought in actors Chris Rock and Rosie Perez to his news briefing to encourage New York residents to wear face coverings and get tested for the coronavirus.

Rock said he regularly watches Cuomo’s briefings and has come to see how differently the states are approaching the coronavirus outbreak.

“I thought I lived in the United States. I thought I lived in a country,” he said. “And now I realize that we have 50 countries, essentially. Right now we’re in the country of New York.”

Rock added that he gives “a nice side-eye” to people he sees walking around Brooklyn without a mask.

Cuomo’s latest executive order gives more power to business owners.

“That store owner has a right to protect themselves. That store owner has a right to protect the other patrons in that store,” Cuomo said. “You don’t want to wear a mask? Fine. But you don’t have a right to then go into that store if that store owner doesn’t want you to.”

Cuomo said 74 COVID-19 deaths had been reported on Wednesday, about the same as the last two days. More than 29,500 people have died of the disease in the state as of Thursday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University. There have been more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 nationwide with more than 101,100 deaths, according to the university.

The New York order follows similar moves by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who ordered most residents to wear face coverings in public spaces last month, and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who announced Tuesday that all residents 10 or older must wear a face covering in indoor public spaces, starting Friday. Northam’s order makes exceptions for people who are eating, exercising or can’t for health reasons.

“I’m taking this step because science increasingly shows us that the virus spreads less easily when everyone is wearing face coverings,” Northam said.

He made the announce after apologizing for his own recent failure to wear a mask while stopping to take photos during a visit to Virginia Beach over Memorial Day weekend.

“People held me accountable, and I appreciate that,” he said.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio mandated masks in the city last month. In mid-May, he announced that police would no longer enforce the mask policy after videos surfaced of police aggressively confronting people not wearing face coverings.

Mask policies have led to confrontations between businesses and customers across the country. In Texas, a bar owner has blocked patrons wearing masks, arguing that masks would make it difficult to check IDs and ensure people aren’t overly intoxicated. In Pennsylvania, where Gov. Tom Wolf required masks in stores starting last month, six customers who said they couldn’t wear masks due to health issues sued the Giant Eagle supermarket for denying them entry.

Even in states that haven’t mandated masks, elected officials have encouraged people to wear them to protect their neighbors. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has said that although he isn’t requiring people to wear masks, he hoped residents would skip the ideological battle seen in other states, calling it a “senseless dividing line.”

“I would ask people to try to dial up your empathy and your understanding,” he said during an emotional May 22 press briefing. “If someone is wearing a mask, they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support. They might be doing it because they have a 5-year-old child who’s been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life who currently have COVID and are fighting.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine early this month rescinded an order requiring customers to wear face masks in stores after protests. Workers are still required to wear face coverings, however, and DeWine has continued to encourage them as a sign of “loving your fellow human being,” as he told CNN on Tuesday.

“You are not wearing it so much for yourself as you are wearing it for that person that you will come in contact with,” he said.

President Trump — who has declined to wear masks in nearly any setting despite his administration’s guidelines encouraging face coverings — appeared to mock former Vice President Joe Biden this week after Biden wore one during a Memorial Day appearance.

Biden has since updated his Facebook and Twitter avatars to an image of himself wearing the black mask and encouraged others to follow the guidelines.

On Wednesday night, the president tweeted a photo of Biden wearing the mask, commenting, “He looks better!” Trump on Thursday promoted an article from the Federalist, a conservative website, that said mandatory mask policies “provide a valuable foundation to weaponize the virus against American liberty.”

Trump tweeted: “So many different viewpoints!”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell broke from the president Wednesday and voiced his support for wearing masks. “There’s no stigma attached to wearing a mask,” he said, according to Politico. “There’s no stigma attached to staying six feet apart.”

As states seek to encourage people to wear masks, they’re also cracking down on businesses that have reopened without permission.

De Blasio said nine businesses in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood were forced to shut down in the last 48 hours after reopening illegally, and that businesses that open in defiance of lockdown orders could face $1,000-per-day fines.

“I’m not into free agents,” De Blasio said during a Wednesday news briefing. “I’m not into people deciding that they get to make the rules and they can do something everyone else can’t do.”

In Michigan, an appeals court ruled against a barber who reopened his shop in defiance of the state’s stay-at-home order. Karl Manke said he learned of the decision while serving a customer and that he didn’t plan on complying.

“If they want to put me in jail, put me in jail,” he said Thursday. “I will be governed — fair governing — but not ruled.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Posted on

Inmate recovering from coronavirus dies at Terminal Island

A ninth inmate infected with the coronavirus at the federal prison on Terminal Island in San Pedro died this week after authorities said the man had previously recovered from the illness.

Adrian Solarzano tested positive for the virus on April 16 and was placed in isolation. The Federal Bureau of Prisons deemed him “recovered” on May 10 after he no longer showed symptoms.

But five days later — on May 15 — Solarzano was admitted to a hospital after complaining of chest pain and anxiety. He was tested twice for COVID-19, and authorities said both results were negative. But his condition worsened, and he was pronounced dead by hospital staff Sunday.

Terminal Island, which has the second-highest death toll among all federal prisons, instituted mass testing at the facility last month, following Los Angeles County Department of Public Health guidelines.

Solarzano, 54, was serving a sentence of more than 20 years for racketeering and drug charges. He had been at the facility since August 2013.

Prison officials said 42 of the nearly 700 inmates at Terminal Island who had tested positive for the virus had not yet been deemed “recovered” as of Thursday. About 70% of the prison population has tested positive, with many being asymptomatic. The facility typically holds just over 1,000 inmates in its dormitory-like settings.

The federal prison board’s handling of the outbreak at the low-security facility, which caters to those with medical needs, has been criticized by several California congressional members.

After touring the prison earlier this month, Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán said there was “no physical distancing happening” and described inmates as screaming for help. Many in the units for highly infectious inmates were only supplied with cloth masks, she said.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a pair of class-action lawsuits on behalf of prisoners at Terminal Island and Lompoc, claiming officials mishandled outbreaks at the facilities, where a combined total of about 1,800 inmates have been infected. More than 900 inmates have tested positive at Lompoc — the most in a federal prison — with 884 deemed recovered, according to the Board of Prisons.

“While the rest of California took extraordinary measures to stop the spread of coronavirus, the Bureau of Prisons failed to take preventive measures as basic as isolating sick prisoners, allowing social distancing, or providing enough soap,” Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California, said in a statement. “Their deliberate indifference to the risk of disease violates the Constitution, and puts both those in prison and the surrounding community at risk.”

The lawsuits allege that officials at both facilities allowed the virus to spread by failing to provide clean environments, basic sanitary supplies and personal protective equipment to prisoners and staff.

Overcrowding makes it impossible for prisoners to maintain social distancing or take other precautions, but officials have refused to consider the majority of inmates for release into home confinement despite directives to do so, according to the lawsuits. The refusal amounts to cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the 8th Amendment, the suits claim.

In an attempt to provide more space, prison officials have moved inmates into field tents and warehouses that were hastily converted into makeshift living spaces, the lawsuit states.

Two Terminal Island prisoners named in the lawsuit — Maurice Smith, 50, and Edgar Vasquez, 32 — say that, amid the outbreak, they were moved to one such space, an old warehouse that had no heating or hot water for showers. The warehouse is also “infested by a veritable menagerie,” including mice, raccoons, feral cats, possums, skunks, and bats that fly through holes in the ceiling, the lawsuit states.

There, inmates sleep on folding cots three feet from the floor, and up to 60 prisoners share four toilets, four sinks and four showers, according to the lawsuit.

“In the face of a COVID-19 outbreak, Terminal Island has the worst of all worlds,” the lawsuit states.

Both complaints note that the CARES Act, which became law March 27, gave Bureau of Prisons officials broad discretion to reduce prison populations by releasing inmates into home confinement. That was followed by an April 3 memo issued by Atty. Gen. William Barr urging the bureau to take such actions for medically at-risk prisoners, especially at facilities with outbreaks, the lawsuits state.

At least two of the Terminal Island inmates who died from COVID-19 — Scott Cutting, 70, and James Lino, 65, both of whom had underlying health conditions — should have been on the shortlist to be released into home confinement per the directive, the lawsuit states.

Posted on

Trump signs executive order targeting social media companies

Speaking from the Oval Office ahead of signing the order, Trump said the move was to “defend free speech from one of the gravest dangers it has faced in American history.”

“A small handful of social media monopolies controls a vast portion of all public and private communications in the United States,” he claimed. “They’ve had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter, virtually any form of communication between private citizens and large public audiences.”

The executive order tests the boundaries of the White House’s authority. In a long-shot legal bid, it seeks to curtail the power of large social media platforms by reinterpreting a critical 1996 law that shields websites and tech companies from lawsuits. But legal experts on both the right and the left have raised serious concerns about the proposal. They say it may be unconstitutional because it risks infringing on the First Amendment rights of private companies and because it attempts to circumvent the two other branches of government.

“(Trump) is trying to steal for himself the power of the courts and Congress to rewrite decades of settled law,” said Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the architect of the legislation that the order seeks to reinterpret. “He decides what’s legal based on what’s in his interest.”

The order marks a dramatic escalation by Trump in his war with tech companies as they struggle with the growing problem of misinformation on social media. The President has regularly accused sites of censoring conservative speech.

On Thursday, Trump acknowledged that legal challenges to the order are on the horizon, saying he was “sure they’ll be doing a lawsuit.”

“I guess it’s going to be challenged in court, what isn’t?” he asked. “But I think we’re going to do very well.”

A draft of the order, which was reviewed by CNN, targets a law known as the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 of the legislation provides broad immunity to websites that curate and moderate their own platforms, and has been described by legal experts as “the 26 words that created the internet.”

It argues that the protections hinge mainly on tech platforms operating in “good faith,” and that social media companies have not.

“In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to hand-pick the speech that Americans may access and convey online,” the draft order says. “This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic. When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power.”

On Tuesday, Twitter applied a fact-check to two of Trump’s tweets, including one that claimed, without evidence, that mail-in ballots would lead to widespread voter fraud. Trump immediately shot back, accusing the social media giant of censorship and warning that if it continued to offer addendums to his messages, he would use the power of the federal government to rein it in or even shut it down.

The draft order also accuses social media platforms of “invoking inconsistent, irrational, and groundless justifications to censor or otherwise punish Americans’ speech here at home.” It also faults Google for helping the Chinese government surveil its citizens; Twitter for spreading Chinese propaganda; and Facebook for profiting from Chinese advertising.

Facebook, Google and Twitter declined to comment.

A fight Trump wants to have

The move highlights what Trump believes is a fight worth having. In many ways, the latest episode with Twitter feeds Trump’s narrative that there are powerful forces in the media aligned against him, and that his is the only voice his supporters can trust.

“This plays right into President Trump’s hands,” said Jason Miller, the communications director for Trump’s 2016 campaign and someone who has been directly involved with Trump’s social media strategy. “They basically handed him a massive gift.”

Many of Trump’s political allies rushed to his defense on Wednesday.

“Twitter is engaging in 2020 election interference. They are putting their thumb on the scale,” said Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, a loyal Trump supporter and surrogate during an appearance on the Steve Bannon-produced podcast War Room Pandemic. “The notion that they would outsource fact checking to people who have been wrong about everything is an insult.”

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said that his team no longer pays for advertising on Twitter and accused the tech giant of purposefully influencing the election to hurt the President.

“We always knew that Silicon Valley would pull out all the stops to obstruct and interfere with President Trump getting his message through to voters,” Parscale said in a statement. “Partnering with the biased fake news media ‘fact checkers’ is only a smoke screen Twitter is using to try to lend their obvious political tactics some false credibility.”

The President made the decision to warn Twitter despite the fact that the company and most other prominent social media platforms have allowed him and his associates to peddle unsubstantiated conspiracy theories with few constraints. While Twitter added the fact check to Trump’s tweets on mail-in voting, it did not do so on any of his recent tweets baselessly suggesting MSNBC host Joe Scarborough was somehow involved in the death of a former aide, despite a plea from the aide’s widower to take the tweets down.
Fact-checking Trump's recent claims that mail-in voting is rife with fraud
Trump’s Twitter habits have been scrutinized for virtually his entire political career, but people familiar with his use of the platform describe less of a strategy and more of a mindset as he or an aide taps out messages.

Other people inside the administration, and even some of Trump’s closest advisers, are regularly caught off-guard by what appears on his feed — if not always surprised.

While his messages often have the effect of distracting from an unfortunate headline, people close to the President say it is their impression that he genuinely believes many of the more conspiratorial things he sends — including debunked theories about his predecessor — and that he isn’t raising them only in the hopes of diverting attention elsewhere.

Trump’s top social media adviser, Dan Scavino Jr., was recently elevated to become one of the highest-ranking officials in the West Wing. His title, deputy chief of staff for communications, belies the fundamental role he plays both in Trump’s use of Twitter and in his life generally. Trump trusts Scavino almost unreservedly. Scavino has worked for the President since before the 2016 campaign when he was a manager at one of Trump’s golf clubs.

Scavino is usually the person who locates the internet content — sometimes from fringe sources and often incendiary — that finds it way to Trump’s Twitter feed, though other friends and advisers have suggested tweets and retweets as well.

Scavino’s West Wing office provides him regular access to the President, as does his near-ubiquitous presence on Trump’s trips, where he is often seen videotaping or photographing the President. He is believed to be the only other person with access to @RealDonaldTrump, though the mechanics of the account have never been confirmed by the White House.

Trump’s tweet rants have always been controversial. But recently, as the US death toll from the pandemic has approached 100,000, they have become uncomfortable even for some of the President’s most prominent supporters.

“I do think the President should stop tweeting about Joe Scarborough in the middle of a pandemic,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican. “He’s the commander in chief of this nation and he is causing great pain to the family of the young woman who died.”

But those who understand the President’s social media habits believe it is unlikely that he will change his behavior any time soon. Miller, who has been present as Trump crafts his tweets, said the President views the platform as an outlet where he can speak directly to his supporters.

“It is one of President Trump’s super powers,” Miller said. “He understood very early on that social media, Twitter in particular, gave him unvarnished access to the American people and his supporters. What Trump maximized was social media’s ability to bypass the artificial conversation created by the mainstream media.”

How the order would work

Under the draft order, the Commerce Department would ask the Federal Communications Commission for new regulations clarifying when a company’s conduct might violate the good faith provisions of Section 230 — potentially making it easier for tech companies to be sued.

That is consistent with a draft order whose text CNN first reported last summer — and which prompted FCC officials to push back on the plan privately.

The draft order instructs the Justice Department to consult with state attorneys general on allegations of anti-conservative bias. It bans federal agencies from advertising on platforms that have allegedly violated Section 230’s good-faith principles.

Finally, the draft order would direct the Federal Trade Commission to report on complaints about political bias collected by the White House and to consider bringing lawsuits against companies accused of violating the administration’s interpretation of Section 230.

The provisions regarding the FTC could raise additional legal questions, as the FTC is an independent agency that does not take orders from the President.

This story and headline have been updated with additional information about the executive order.

Nikki Carvajal contributed to this story.

Posted on

Fires, looting rock Minneapolis after man’s death; 1 dead


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz called in the National Guard as a wounded Minneapolis braced for more violence Thursday, one day after rioting over the death of a handcuffed black man in police custody reduced parts of one neighborhood to a smoking shambles, with burned buildings, looted stores and angry graffiti demanding justice.

The unrest ravaged several blocks in the Longfellow neighborhood, with scattered rioting reaching for miles across the city. It was the second consecutive night of violent protests following the death of George Floyd, who gasped for breath during a Monday arrest in which an officer kneeled on his neck for almost eight minutes. In footage recorded by a bystander, Floyd can be heard pleading that he can’t breathe until he slowly stops talking and moving.

Another protest was announced for Thursday evening near county offices downtown. Some stores in Minneapolis and the suburbs planned to close early, fearing more strife. The city shut down its light-rail system and planned to stop all bus service “out of concern for the safety of riders and employees,” a statement said.

Around midday Thursday, the violence spread to a Target store several miles away in the Midway neighborhood of St. Paul, where police said 50 to 60 people rushed the store and attempted to take merchandise. St. Paul police and state patrol squad cars later blocked the entrance, but looting then spread to shops along nearby University Avenue, one of St. Paul’s main commercial corridors, and other spots in the city.

St. Paul spokesman Steve Linders said authorities have been dealing with unrest in roughly 20 different areas throughout the city.

“Please stay home. Please do not come here to protest. Please keep the focus on George Floyd, on advancing our movement, and on preventing this from ever happening again. We can all be in that fight together,” St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter tweeted.

Walz called for widespread changes in the wake of Floyd’s death.

“It is time to rebuild. Rebuild the city, rebuild our justice system, and rebuild the relationship between law enforcement and those they’re charged to protect. George Floyd’s death should lead to justice and systemic change, not more death and destruction,” Walz said.

By Thursday morning in Minneapolis, smoke rose from smoldering buildings in the Longfellow neighborhood, scene of the worst violence. In a strip mall across the street from the police’s 3rd Precinct station, the focus of the previous night’s protests, the windows in nearly every business had been smashed, from the large Target department store at one end to the Planet Fitness gym at the other. Only the 24-hour laundromat appeared to have escaped unscathed.

“WHY US?” demanded a large expanse of red graffiti scrawled on the wall of the Target. A Wendy’s restaurant across the street was charred almost beyond recognition.

“We’re burning our own neighborhood,” said a distraught Deona Brown, a 24-year-old woman standing with a friend outside the precinct station, where a small group of protesters were shouting at a dozen or so stone-faced police officers in riot gear. “This is where we live, where we shop, and they destroyed it.”

“What that cop did was wrong, but I’m scared now,” Brown said.

But others in the crowd saw something different in the wreckage.

Protesters destroyed property “because the system is broken,” said a young man who identified himself only by his nickname, Cash, and who said he had been in the streets during the violence. He dismissed the idea that the destruction would hurt residents of the largely black neighborhood.

“They’re making money off of us,” he said angrily of the owners of the destroyed stores. He laughed when asked if he had joined in the looting or violence: “I didn’t break anything.”

The protests that began Wednesday night and extended into Thursday were more violent than Tuesday’s, which included skirmishes between offices and protesters but no widespread property damage or looting.

Mayor Jacob Frey appealed for calm. “Please, Minneapolis, we cannot let tragedy beget more tragedy,” he said on Twitter.

Protests also spread to other U.S. cities. In California, hundreds of people protesting Floyd’s death blocked a Los Angeles freeway and shattered windows of California Highway Patrol cruisers. Memphis police blocked a main thoroughfare after a racially mixed group of protesters gathered outside a police precinct. The situation intensified later in the night, with police donning riot gear and protesters standing shoulder-to-shoulder in front of officers stationed behind a barricade.

Amid the violence in Minneapolis, a man was found fatally shot Wednesday night near a pawn shop, possibly by the owner, authorities said.

Fire crews responded to about 30 intentionally set blazes during the protests, including at least 16 structure fires, and multiple fire trucks were damaged by rocks and other projectiles, the fire department said. No one was hurt by the blazes.

There was no sign of police at the destroyed shopping center, though a couple dozen were outside the precinct house. One man standing outside the building was using a bullhorn to shout. “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe. Mama, I can’t breathe,” repeating some of Floyd’s pleas for relief.

Across from the precinct, someone had spray-painted the sidewalk in red: “Where’s humanity?”

The 46-year-old Floyd died as police arrested him outside a convenience store after a report of a counterfeit bill being passed. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI in Minneapolis said Thursday they were conducting “a robust criminal investigation” into the death and making the case a priority. The announcement came a day after President Donald Trump tweeted that he had asked an investigation to be expedited.

The FBI is also investigating, with a probe focused on whether Floyd’s civil rights were violated.

The officer who kneeled on Floyd and three others were fired Tuesday. The next day, the mayor called for him to be criminally charged.

Frey appealed to Gov. Tim Walz to activate the National Guard, a spokesman confirmed Thursday. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Walz tweeted for calm Wednesday night, calling the violence “an extremely dangerous situation” and urging people to leave the scene.

The last time the Minnesota National Guard was called out to deal with civil unrest was in a backup role during the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul. The most comparable situation to the current disturbances happened when the Guard was called up to deal with the riots in Minneapolis in 1967, a summer when anger over racial inequalities came to a boil in many cities across the country.

The Minnesota National Guard was also called out during protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s and during a 1986 strike by Hormel meatpackers in Austin.


Associated Press writers Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis, Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.

Posted on

Graham urges older judges to retire so GOP can fill openings

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is publicly urging federal judges in their mid-60s or older to step aside so President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans can fill the vacancies with conservative jurists.

Graham’s comments, in an interview Thursday with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, come as Republicans fret they may lose the Senate majority in the November elections amid the economic shutdown resulting from the coronavirus and Trump’s stumbles in addressing the crisis.

Democrats have increasing hopes of gaining the minimum three seats they’ll need to capture a Senate majority, while Republicans who once banked on a robust economy and rising Trump approval ratings are showing signs of nervousness.

“This is an historic opportunity,” Graham said. “We’ve put (nearly) 200 federal judges on the bench. … If you can get four more years, I mean, it would change the judiciary for several generations. So if you’re a circuit judge in your mid-60s, late 60s, you can take senior status. Now would be a good time to do that, if you want to make sure the judiciary is right of center.”

Graham’s committee is set to vote next week on Judge Justin Walker, a 37-year-old protege of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who has been nominated to the nation’s second-most powerful court. If confirmed, Walker would take an appeals court seat being vacated by Judge Thomas Griffith, who intends to retire in September. The Judiciary Committee also is considering 49-year-old Cory Wilson, a Mississippi judge who has been nominated to a seat on the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Asked by Hewitt if he can assure veteran judges that their successor “will indeed be confirmed before the election,” Graham said, “Well, if you wait, you know, (until) November the 1st, no. So do it now.”

Hewitt replied: “Do it now. Loud and clear.”

The interview with Graham was not the first time the issue of Republicans seeking judicial retirements has been raised publicly. Earlier this month, Chief Justice John Roberts turned down a request from the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to allow an ethics inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Griffith’s retirement.

A legal adviser to Roberts said the request from Judge Sri Srinivasan, the circuit’s chief judge, did not meet the standards for transferring the inquiry to another judicial circuit to pursue.

Demand Justice, a progressive advocacy group, filed a complaint in March asking the appeals court to determine whether McConnell or any other lawmaker had inappropriately played a role in Griffith’s decision to retire. The vacancy creates an election-year slot on the influential appeals court, where four of the nine current Supreme Court justices served, including Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh.

Griffith issued a statement earlier this month saying no political pressure was put on him to leave the bench.

Posted on

Trump’s firings of inspectors general, explained

“It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General,” President Donald Trump wrote to congressional leaders in a letter dated May 15. “That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General.”

That inspector general was Steve Linick, who held that job at the State Department from 2013 until Trump dismissed him earlier this month.

Trump didn’t offer details about why he’d lost confidence in the agency’s watchdog. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed that he’d recommended that Trump fire Linick, who was, in Pompeo’s words, “undermining” the department. He did not go into specifics, but reporting suggests Linick might have been looking into Pompeo’s treatment of a staffer, and the justification for a Saudi arms deal.

Linick isn’t the first inspector general Trump says he has lost confidence in recently. Since April, Trump has fired two permanent IGs and replaced three acting inspectors general.

This has raised fears that the president — who has balked at pretty much any form of oversight during his tenure — is now targeting the watchdogs serving in his administration. Especially those who, in the course of doing their jobs, embarrass the president and his close associates or implicate them in wrongdoing.

Trump does have the power to fire inspectors general, who, as executive branch appointees, serve at the pleasure of the president. But IGs are tasked with auditing and investigating that same executive branch — a job that could become increasingly challenging if these officials face retaliation for what they audit and investigate.

Congress and the American people rely on inspectors general, at least in part, to help the government run more efficiently and fairly. Inspectors general do not always succeed in this aim, but undermining the institution could be detrimental to oversight.

That is a threat always, but especially during a time of widespread crisis.

What are inspectors general?

Inspectors general are basically internal government watchdogs. Broadly, they combat waste, fraud, and abuse within government agencies, keeping both agency heads and Congress informed of their findings through audits and investigations. What they cannot do is make policy, though ideally their investigations and reviews will help inform policymaking and implementation.

An IG’s work can be huge and high-profile, like Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s review of the Russia investigation. Or it can be a bit more, well, technical-sounding, like this inspector general report on “NASA’s Compliance with the Improper Payments Information Act for Fiscal Year 2019.” All of it is intended to show where the government might be failing and how it can work better.

Congress officially established these oversight positions in 1978. The law was passed in the post-Watergate reform era, but experts told me attempts to establish some sort of oversight within executive branch agencies predated that, as had concerns about mismanagement and abuse in the federal government.

IGs were originally assigned to just 12 federal agencies, but that has since expanded to 74. Inspectors general are appointees. For Cabinet-level agencies (like State or DOJ), the president nominates a person and the Senate must confirm them. At some smaller agencies, the agency head appoints the IG directly and no Senate confirmation is needed.

Congress designed these roles to be slightly different from that of the average political appointee. “The original legislation built in a number of signals, if you will, that this person was supposed to be independent,” said Charles A. Johnson, professor emeritus of political science at Texas A&M University and co-author of US Inspectors General: Truth Tellers in Turbulent Times.

Inspectors general, Congress said, should be selected “without regard to political affiliation” and “solely on the basis of integrity and demonstrated ability” in fields like financial management, law, and public administration.

In 2008, Congress reformed the IG law, adding provisions that would, ideally, better protect the independence of inspectors general. The law formalized a Council of the Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), an organization of all IGs that examines best practices and promotes professional development.

This reform law also included a provision that said a president must give Congress 30 days’ notice if he intends to dismiss an IG, and that the president must provide a reason to congressional leaders.

When Congress made that rule, it generally had little experience with a president outright firing an inspector general. Unlike other presidential appointees who come and go with different administrations, inspectors general tend to stick around.

In 1981, when Ronald Reagan took office, he fired all the inspectors general, many of whom were career federal employees. His press secretary claimed at the time that Reagan wanted to hire his own people, who would be “meaner than a junkyard dog when it comes to ferreting out waste and mismanagement.’’

Congress — both Republicans and Democrats — pushed back, warning about the politicization of the IG role. In the end, Reagan ended up hiring back at least five of the 16 he had dismissed. When George H.W. Bush took office, he sent the standard letter to presidential appointees asking them to step down, but the IG community protested, citing their independence. Congress backed them up, and Bush dropped the issue.

Congress’s longstanding bipartisan support of IGs helped establish this norm. Inspectors general are responsive to Congress, unlike other administration officials who can play coy with lawmakers. IGs also facilitate Congress’s oversight job, which is particularly nice if you’re a lawmaker of a different party than the administration. That doesn’t mean Congress always has a copacetic relationship with individual IGs; in fact, Congress has a decent track record of putting pressure on inspectors general to resign.

But overall, Congress has defended the institution. And so, largely, have presidents and agency heads. IGs help point out inefficiencies, save taxpayer dollars, and keep the government honest. Officials frequently embrace and implement an IG’s recommendations or reforms.

Tensions do arise, however, because IGs have leeway in what they investigate, and sometimes those investigations can be embarrassing or particularly damning for top officials.

As former Homeland Security Department Inspector General Clark Ervin told me, “If you’re an inspector general and you do your job correctly, and you’re one of those inspectors general who wind up serving for quite a long time, then over time, you’re going to alienate Democratic administrations and Republican administrations. You’re going to alienate Democrats in Congress and Republicans in Congress.”

IGs, then, have to be sensitive to both Congress and the executive branch. They can’t always keep them happy, but they do have to navigate pressures from both. It’s what Texas A&M’s Johnson called “walking the barbed wire fence.”

Who has been fired (or replaced)?

Trump has fired two confirmed inspectors general: Linick, as discussed above, and Michael Atkinson, who was the inspector general for the intelligence community. Trump has replaced or moved to replace three other acting inspectors general from their jobs; however, since they were serving in an acting capacity, the personnel shuffle could be done without notifying Congress.

Each of these dismissals — and particularly those of Linick and Atkinson — stank of retaliation, as the IGs had recently taken actions or instigated investigations that embarrassed or had the potential to embarrass Trump or his political allies. That is, historically, precisely what Congress has wanted to avoid: the politicization of these watchdog roles.

Here’s who’s been fired, and the circumstances that led up to their dismissals, in the general order it went down:

Michael Atkinson, inspector general for the intelligence community

Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general since May 2018, was abruptly dismissed by Trump in early April. Trump, in his notification to Congress, said he had lost confidence in Atkinson.

But Atkinson seemed to be the latest in a string of officials who’d been dismissed from their roles for doing their jobs in the course of the impeachment investigation into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Atkinson had notified Congress of a credible whistleblower complaint of “urgent concern” regarding an inappropriate phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president. That whistleblower complaint helped spur the impeachment inquiry into Trump.

There had been rumblings for some time that Trump wanted to fire Atkinson, whom he blamed for being disloyal and getting him caught up in the impeachment inquiry. Trump waited, at least, until after he was acquitted in his Senate trial — and as the country was distracted by an escalating coronavirus crisis — to fire Atkinson late one Friday evening. And though Trump told Congress he had lost confidence in the IG, he was much more candid with reporters.

“I thought he did a terrible job. Absolutely terrible,” Trump said at a press conference in April. “He took this terrible, inaccurate whistleblower report and he brought it to Congress.”

Atkinson was placed on administrative leave immediately, which basically mooted that 30-day window the president is required to give Congress. Atkinson was also pretty blunt about why he thought he’d lost his job.

“It is hard not to think that the President’s loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial Inspector General,” Atkinson said in a statement.

He added that it was his job to ensure whistleblowers feel protected when they follow the proper channels to raise concerns. “Inspectors General are able to fulfill their critical watchdog functions because, by law, they are supposed to be independent of both the Executive agencies they oversee and of Congress,” Atkinson said.

Top Democrats decried Atkinson’s ouster. Sen. Mark Warner (VA) warned that Americans should be “deeply disturbed by ongoing attempts to politicize the nation’s intelligence agencies.” A bipartisan group of senators asked for more information from Trump on why he fired Atkinson and chastised him for putting Atkinson on leave. But that was about it.

Glenn Fine, principal deputy inspector general at the Department of Defense

After Congress passed its $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package in March, the CIGIE tapped Fine to lead the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), which he would take on as an additional role. Fine’s job would be to police fraud and waste in distribution of funds and implementation of the legislation.

But shortly after Fine was appointed in late March, Trump replaced him as acting DOD inspector general, putting the then-inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency, Sean W. O’Donnell, in that role. Trump then nominated Jason Abend, a senior policy adviser at US Customs and Border Protection, to take over the role permanently.

According to the White House, Abend has experience working in offices of inspectors general, including at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But some good-government groups have questioned his experience managing and conducting oversight at an agency as sprawling as the Defense Department.

But back to Fine. Trump’s decision to replace Fine as the acting DOD IG meant Fine was disqualified from overseeing the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. (DOJ Inspector General Horowitz is currently serving as acting director of the PRAC.) When asked about Fine’s removal, Trump insinuated that he was an “Obama holdover.”

“We have a lot of IGs in from the Obama era,” Trump told reporters. “And as you know, it’s a presidential decision.”

“But when we have, you know, reports of bias and when we have different things coming in. I don’t know Fine. I don’t think I ever met Fine,” he added.

Fine kept his position as principal deputy inspector general (basically, he got to stay on as second-in-command). But on Tuesday, he resigned from his post, effective June 1.

“The role of Inspectors General is a strength of our system of government,” Fine said in a statement. “They provide independent oversight to help improve government operations in a transparent way. They are a vital component of our system of checks and balances, and I am grateful to have been part of that system.”

Christi Grimm, principal deputy inspector general, Department of Health and Human Services

Christi Grimm, the principal deputy inspector general at HHS, took the job in January 2020 and became acting IG. Though relatively new to this post, Grimm has worked in HHS’s Office of Inspector General since 1999.

In April, Grimm gained the president’s attention after her office published a survey on US hospitals’ preparedness for the pandemic, which found that some facilities would struggle to treat Covid-19 patients because of shortages in personal protective equipment and poor testing capacity.

By this point, the HHS inspector general was one of a chorus of officials, experts, and health care providers who had called out the US’s problems with testing, PPE scarcity, and more. But when asked about the HHS IG report at a press conference, Trump replied: “It is wrong.”

“So give me the name of the inspector general,” Trump responded, when a reporter asked about the report. “Could politics be entered into that?”

The next day, Trump complained on Twitter about the IG, tying her to the Obama administration despite her being a career official. “Another Fake Dossier!” Trump wrote.

Trump has since nominated Jason C. Weida, an assistant US attorney in Boston, to take over the permanent job at HHS. Grimm, unlike Fine, is not being replaced in the acting role and will remain until Weida’s confirmation.

On Tuesday, Grimm testified before the House Oversight Committee. She said that her office was still pursuing at least 14 reviews of the administration’s pandemic response. The previous report, she told lawmakers, was “just the beginning of the work” her office was doing on the coronavirus response.

“I personally and professionally cannot let the idea of providing unpopular information drive decision-making in the work that we do,” Grimm also told lawmakers via videoconference.

The politicization of the IG also came up in the hearing. The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, praised the work of Grimm and other IGs, saying, “Congress must protect [IGs’] independence in order to ensure that they are able to do their jobs without fear of retaliation.”

Ranking member Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), meanwhile, said any allegation that Grimm was removed “for issuing a report is simply incorrect.”

Steve Linick, State Department inspector general

On a Friday night in May, Trump notified Congress that he had lost confidence in Linick, who’d served as the State Department inspector general since 2013. Beyond that, Trump did not offer a reason for firing Linick, and the note sounded a lot like the one the president had sent when he removed Atkinson from the job.

Linick’s firing immediately drew outrage from Democrats on Capitol Hill, who suggested that the administration might be retaliating against Linick because he’d reportedly opened an investigation into Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Soon after, congressional aides told reporters that Linick had been looking into whether Pompeo had been using a State Department appointee to run personal errands for him and his wife, including making restaurant reservations and walking his dog. Additionally, Linick may have been examining a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia that had sidestepped Congress.

Trump later said Pompeo had recommended that Trump fire Linick. “I don’t know him. Never heard of him. But I was asked by the State Department, by Mike,” he told reporters. He also made reference to Linick being an Obama appointee.

Pompeo confirmed to the Washington Post that he’d asked Trump to fire Linick, but he denied that it had anything to do with an investigation into his actions at the State Department.

“I went to the president and made clear to him that Inspector General Linick wasn’t performing a function in a way that we had tried to get him to, that was additive for the State Department, very consistent with what the statute says he’s supposed to be doing,” Pompeo said. “The kinds of activities he’s supposed to undertake to make us better, to improve us.”

Brian Bulatao, the State Department’s undersecretary for management, also told the Washington Post that Linick’s office was believed to be the source of media leaks (though they had no evidence that Linick himself was behind them) regarding an investigation into whether State Department appointees had retaliated against career officials. However, a review by the Pentagon Inspector General last year found no evidence Linick or his office were involved in the leaks, according to CNN.

Officials also faulted Linick for failing to promote Pompeo’s State Department “ethos statement” laying out employees’ mission at the agency. (The ethos statement had been panned by some career officials, who felt it was unnecessary given that officers already take an oath to the Constitution.)

Linick had also previously issued reports that showed political appointees retaliating against career officials, including one who referred to them as “Obama holdovers” and “traitors.” And Linick released a report in September that said Brian Hook, the Trump administration’s special representative for Iran, had targeted employees they perceived to be loyal to Obama.

Though Pompeo denied that he had retaliated against Linick, he defended the decision to fire Linick, telling reporters, “I frankly should have done it some time ago.”

Pompeo did confirm that he had answered questions from Linick’s office in writing, though he did not go into specifics. But he dismissed the allegations that he was under investigation. “Someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner. I mean, it’s all just crazy,” Pompeo said, being purposely obtuse.

Mitchell Behm, deputy inspector general for the Department of Transportation

As Linick was abruptly fired, the Trump administration also quietly removed the acting inspector general for the Department of Transportation, Michael Behm.

Behm had been serving in the acting role since February, but Trump replaced Behm with another official, Howard “Skip” Elliott, who is serving as the administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration within the Department of Transportation.

Top Democrats objected to the move, calling it the “latest in a series of politically motivated firings of Inspectors General.” Behm had also been serving on the Pandemic Response Accountability Commission until his removal as acting IG.

Democrats are investigating Behm’s ouster, and they’ve questioned whether he was removed because he was looking into whether Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao had given preferential treatment to the state of Kentucky when evaluating infrastructure grants, among other things. Chao is married to Kentucky senator and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Democrats also fretted about the person tapped to be Behm’s replacement as acting IG. Elliott currently holds another position at the Department of Transportation, which could amount to a conflict of interest, as both positions aren’t exactly part-time jobs. Trump did nominate a permanent replacement for the DOT inspector general job: Eric Soskin, a Justice Department official, though Elliott will presumably serve until he’s confirmed.

Is Trump’s purge extreme?

Trump has the authority to fire presidential appointees, but presidents have largely refrained from ousting IGs outright. IGs have certainly resigned, though — some under pressure from presidents, some under pressure from Congress, and some because fellow IGs found they weren’t doing their job.

But for presidents, it’s really not a great look to fire the people tasked with investigating your administration. And historically, Congress’s bipartisan strong advocacy for inspectors general made it a risky and controversial move.

Besides Reagan’s attempt to dismiss all the IGs upon taking office, the one exception to this rule — until Trump, that is — was President Barack Obama. In 2009, Obama fired the inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service, Gerald Walpin.

Obama notified Congress that he planned to remove Walpin, but both Democrats and Republicans objected to the manner in which he did so — which was by writing: “It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general. That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general.” (Guess we know where Trump got the form letter from.)

Both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill criticized Obama for failing to give a reason for Walpin’s ouster.

Walpin had recently led an investigation into federal grants given to a nonprofit that was led by then-Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who was also an ally of Obama’s. That investigation had alleged that the grant money had been misused, and Walpin had referred Johnson for possible criminal charges. The US attorney’s office ultimately disagreed with the referral and criticized portions of Walpin’s investigation, though the nonprofit did pay make some of the funds.

Obama officials ultimately went back to Congress with more details, saying that they had removed Walpin at the request of the bipartisan Board of the Corporation, and said that after a May 2009 board meeting, Walpin had been “confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions and exhibited other behavior that led the Board to question his capacity to serve.”

White House officials also said Walpin had insisted on working from home in New York and had displayed “troubling and inappropriate conduct.”

Republicans still seized on Obama’s sidelining of Walpin; Fox News host Glenn Back even gave Walpin a senility test on air. Walpin sued to get his job back, but the courts ultimately declined to reinstate him to his position.

Walpin’s firing was controversial at the time, and Congress pushed back — even if it ultimately broke down along party lines. But that was the last IG fired until Atkinson was ousted in April.

Which is why Trump’s recent dismissals of Linick and Atkinson are so unusual. The White House has provided no additional details on why they were removed — though, with Atkinson, Trump has basically admitted he wanted him out of the job for fielding the whistleblower complaint.

Linick and Atkinson were clearly dismissed; the other cases are a bit squishier. Fine, Grimm, and Behm were all serving in acting capacities. Trump has every right — and both Democrats and Republicans alike would probably say the responsibility — to nominate permanent inspectors general to various offices.

Kathryn E. Newcomer, a professor of public policy at George Washington University and co-author of U.S. Inspectors General, told me that vacancies have become a real problem in IG roles, a phenomenon that really picked up during the Obama administration.

Acting IGs often don’t have the authority or stature of Senate-confirmed officials, and that can diminish the credibility of IGs or their work, even though the acting inspectors general in question, like Fine, may have stellar credentials and deep experience working in the IG community.

So generally, relying on acting IGs isn’t ideal. But the problem with Trump’s reshuffle is that his comments and behavior don’t exactly indicate he’s eager for and interested in robust oversight. He’s accused long-serving IGs of being Obama administration holdovers, though they are career officials. (And, even during the Obama administration, their job was the same: to investigate.)

Trump has bristled at oversight throughout his presidency, seeing it not as an opportunity for reform but as a personal attack. And though Congress will ultimately vet his picks for the permanent roles, Trump has removed some of these qualified acting IGs and replaced them with handpicked and unvetted successors in the interim.

Why does this matter?

Trump’s purge of inspectors general is dangerous because it threatens to undermine the independence of the office and politicize the institution.

That could have a chilling effect on the work of inspectors general. Inspectors general might become reluctant to initiate studies or audits, and agency heads may ignore findings of mismanagement or worse uncovered by IGs, Newcomer told me. “The agency head may feel like, ‘Oh, we don’t really need to worry about implementing these recommendations because, worst comes to worst, we’ll just have the IG fired,’” she said.

Congress has been one of the main bulwarks against too much interference in the offices of inspectors general. And sure, the motivation isn’t purely unselfish: IGs, in fielding requests from Congress, are often conducting the investigations lawmakers wish they could. But their support still helped protect the community and prevented some of the antagonism between administrations and inspectors general from spilling over into the types of attacks happening now.

And Congress had previously helped restrain Trump’s worst impulses about IGs. Before Trump took office, his transition team reached out to some inspectors general, asking them to step down. The IGs protested, and some reached out to Congress for help from Republicans, who pushed back. Trump dropped that effort.

Trump’s firing of inspectors general now shows the limitations of even Congress’s bipartisan support for the institution. Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have objected to the manner in which Trump fired Atkinson and later Linick. Some, such as Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), have been more forceful in their criticism than others. “The firings of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented; doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose,” Romney tweeted. “It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power.” (Trump called Romney a “loser” on Twitter.)

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) — who’s historically been a big advocate for IGs — wrote a letter to the White House asking for more information about why Atkinson and Linick were dismissed. The White House Counsel responded that, basically, Trump had lost confidence in the two officials and that it was his prerogative to fire them if he wished.

Grassley said Tuesday that the White House’s response was insufficient. “If the president has a good reason to remove an inspector general, just tell Congress what it is,” Grassley said. “Otherwise, the American people will be left speculating whether political or self interests are to blame. That’s not good for the presidency or government accountability.”

Grassley also objected to the placement of political appointees in acting roles, which raises concerns about conflicts of interest.

But his objections might not matter. Congress does have some tools here: They could investigate or hold hearings. Democrats are doing that, but the moves would probably have much more weight and meaning if they were bipartisan affairs. And so far, Trump’s Republican allies in Congress have been reluctant to push the president too hard. Expressions of concern have rarely motivated him to change course.

Trump’s actions have revealed the limitations of the current law to protect IGs. During the 2008 reform, lawmakers introduced a provision that IGs could only be removed for cause, such as neglect of duty or violating the law. That wasn’t included in the final bill. Some experts I spoke to said Congress might want to consider that again, or potentially adding term limits to an IG’s tenure, something that stakeholders had previously thought was unnecessary. But that was before Trump upended these norms, too.

Support Vox’s explanatory journalism

Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.

Posted on

Trump considering legislation that may scrap law that protects social media companies

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said he will introduce legislation that may scrap or weaken a law that has long protected internet companies, including Twitter and Facebook, an extraordinary attempt to intervene in the media that experts said was unlikely to survive legal scrutiny.

Trump signed an executive order on Thursday afternoon after attacking Twitter for tagging his tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting with a warning prompting readers to fact-check the posts.

Trump said we may “remove or change” a law kown as section 230 through legislation so social media companies will not enjoy this legal immunity, which protects such platforms from liability for content posted by their users.

The President also said U.S. Attorney General William Barr will pursue said legislation to regulate social media companies.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported the White House’s plan to modify Section 230 based on a copy of a draft order.

Facebook and Twitter did not immediately comment on the executive order.

The President’s remarks and the draft order, as written, attempts to circumvent Congress and the courts in directing changes to long-established interpretations of Section 230. It represents the latest attempt by Trump to use the tools of the Presidency to force private companies to change policies that he believes are not favorable to him.

“In terms of presidential efforts to limit critical commentary about themselves, I think one would have to go back to the Sedition Act of 1798 – which made it illegal to say false things about the president and certain other public officials – to find an attack supposedly rooted in law by a president on any entity which comments or prints comments about public issues and public people,” said First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams.

Slideshow (3 Images)

Others like Jack Balkin, a Yale University constitutional law professor said “The president is trying to frighten, coerce, scare, cajole social media companies to leave him alone and not do what Twitter has just done to him.”

Still, Twitter’s shares were down 4.4% on Thursday. Facebook was down 1.7 percent and Google parent Alphabet Inc were up slightly.

Trump, who uses Twitter heavily to promote his policies and insult his opponents, has long claimed without evidence that the service is biased in favor of Democrats. He and his supporters have leveled the same unsubstantiated charges against Facebook, which Trump’s presidential campaign uses heavily as an advertising vehicle.

Reporting by Nandita Bose and David Shepardson in Washington, Additional reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in Birmingham, England; Susan Cornwell and Susan Heavey and Jeff Mason in Washington and Karen Freifeld in New York ; Edited by Nick Zieminski and Grant McCool