Watchdog One – Week in Review – February 3, 2018

Welcome back to an abbreviated edition of the Watchdog One weekly, by Jason Mojica. Please make sure to follow us on Twitter: @watchdog_one / Tell your friends to SUBSCRIBE / Send us tips: tips@watchdogone.org / Let us know what you think: editor@watchdogone.org.

THIS WEEK WE HEARD A LOT ABOUT…

The Memo
– Here’s the Nunes memo annotated [Politico]
– Here’s a touch of detail about the counter memo from the Democrats [NYT]
– Lawfare has put together a timeline of the life and times of Devin Nunes, from the transition to #MemoDay [Lawfare]
– Mother Jones has put together a timeline of Jeff Sessions’ recusal violations from Bill O’Reilley to #MemoDay [Mother Jones]
666: The Memo of the Beast [CNBC]

MEANWHILE…

Victor Cha’s ideas about how to avoid the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans didn’t sit too well with the Trump administration
A couple of hours before President Trump gave his first State of the Union on Tuesday, in which he would use as props a North Korean defector and the parents of a young American whose trip to the DPRK led to his untimely demise, the Washington Post reported that the man widely expected to become the next US Ambassador to South Korea was no longer in consideration for the role, largely due to disagreements over North Korea policy. “Victor D. Cha, an academic who served in the George W. Bush administration, raised his concerns with National Security Council officials over their consideration of a limited strike on the North aimed at sending a message without sparking a wider war — a risky concept known as a “bloody nose” strategy,” the Post reported. Just as the news was sinking in that a very sane person was no longer being considered for what is arguably the country’s most important diplomatic post at this time, and moments before the SOTU was about to begin, the Post dropped an op-ed by Cha himself. In the piece, Cha argues against… well, making moves that could quickly escalate into “a war that would likely kill tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Americans.” He says he empathizes with the hope of some Trump officials that a military strike would shock the regime of Kim Jong Un into taking the US seriously and lead to its denuclearization, but that “there is a point at which hope must give in to logic. If we believe that Kim is undeterrable without such a strike, how can we also believe that a strike will deter him from responding in kind? And if Kim is unpredictable, impulsive and bordering on irrational, how can we control the escalation ladder, which is premised on an adversary’s rational understanding of signals and deterrence?” [Read more from Cha at The Washington Post]

Trump’s SOTU gave us a new term to unpack: “campaign of maximum pressure”
If you were in receipt of the news about Cha’s conflict with the Trump administration over its ideas about how to solve a problem like North Korea, aspects of the President’s speech took on a more ominous tone. “North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening,” said President Trump. “Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position. We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies.” And then, as an example of said depraved character, President Trump recounted the story of American university student Otto Warmbier as the cameras turned to his crying parents in the audience. “You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires us all. Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with American resolve.” [Read more from the SOTU transcript at WhiteHouse.gov]

A group of Senators politely told Trump they are alarmed by the disturbing, superficial, fiscally irresponsible Nuclear Posture Review
Their words, not ours. 16 Democratic Senators signed on to a letter that urges President Trump to reconsider… pretty much everything contained in the leaked version of the now-released Nuclear Posture Review. “The sole purpose of our nuclear arsenal should be to deter nuclear attack against the United States, our allies and partners,” wrote the Senators. “However, the reported policies outlined in your forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review increase the risk of a nuclear arms race and raise the real possibility of nuclear conflict. As the world’s greatest nuclear power and the only nation that has ever used nuclear weapons in combat, we have a unique responsibility to continue to lead the international community towards eventual nuclear disarmament.” [Read more from the letter at Senate.gov]

Joe Kennedy talked tough on drugs
Proving he’s no Jack Kennedy, the representative from the 4th district of Massachusetts, gave the Democratic response to the SOTU on Tuesday night with the conviction of someone who has been led to believe that he really knows how to connect with an audience. Kennedy talked of an America that fights for all its citizens, “because the greatest, strongest, richest nation in the world shouldn’t have to leave anyone behind.” He referenced in particular the plight families of people suffering through opioid addiction, and suggested that the Democrats offer a healthcare system that offers “mercy” to addicts. Lee Fang at the Intercept points out that this is a bit rich, considering Kennedy’s, “most consequential action as a federal legislator… was to push a bill that gave the opioid industry a shot at watering down prescription guidelines first implemented by the Obama administration.” [Read more at the Intercept]

Jeff Sessions talked tough on drugs
Seeming to presage that the president would talk about the need to crack down on “dealers and pushers” in his SOTU, on Tuesday, Jeff Sessions announced a “surge” of DEA Special Agents, Diversion Investigators, and Intelligence Research Specialists to crack down on prescription drug diversion. For the next month-and-a-half these folks will “focus on pharmacies and prescribers who are dispensing unusual or disproportionate amounts of drugs.” To do this, the DOJ says it will utilize data from approximately 80 million transaction reports it collects every year from prescription drug manufacturers and distributors. We’re curious how the DOJ will define “unusual” or “disproportionate,” so we asked. However, the agency did not respond to our request for comment.

Related: Sessions’ new crackdown on drug prescribers won’t stop the opioid crisis [Think Progress]

Mick Mulvaney defanged the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity
On Thursday, the Washington Post’s Renae Merle broke the story that the acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mick Mulvaney, stripped the office responsible for pursuing discrimination cases of its enforcement powers. “The Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity has headed up some of the CFPB’s most high-profile cases, including a 2015 settlement against Hudson City Savings Bank, a New Jersey-based bank accused of racially discriminating against minority mortgage borrowers,” the Post reported. “The bank was required to provide $25 million in loan subsidies in what the CFPB called the country’s largest settlement in a redlining case.” The office transferred inside the Director’s Office, becoming part of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Fairness. In a statement provided to Watchdog One, the CFPB argued that the agency is merely finding efficiencies. “The Bureau’s statutory mandate includes the supervision and enforcement of fair lending laws and regulations, and the Bureau will continue to perform those functions. The fact is, it never made sense to have two separate and duplicative supervision and enforcement functions within the same agency – one for all cases except fair lending, and the other only for fair lending cases,” read the statement from John Czwartacki, Senior Advisor to the Acting Director. “By announcing our intent to combine these efforts under one roof, we gain efficiency and consistency without sacrificing effectiveness. And by elevating the Office of Fair Lending to the Director’s Office, we have enhanced its ability to focus on its other important responsibilities.” [Read more from The Washington Post]

Here’s Mulvaney’s original email to CFPB staff [Watchdog One].

Related: Consumer protection bureau structure upheld in blow to Trump’s deregulation efforts [CNBC]

A Texas Republican has threatened to subpoena the DHS over documents related its use of Kaperski software
Texas Republican Lamar Smith – chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee – wants to know where his documents are. On Thursday, Smith threatened to subpoena the department if they didn’t turn over documents that his committee asked for in December relating to the department’s ban on the use of cyber security products by the Russia-based company Kaperski. The DHS apparently told committee staff that they wouldn’t be turning over any more documents due to pending litigation – presumably Russia-based Kapersky’s legal challenge on the federal government’s ban on its products filed on January 17. [Read the letter at house.gov]

INVESTIGATIONS & REVELATIONS

White House seeks 72 percent cut to clean energy research, underscoring administration’s preference for fossil fuels [Washington Post]

Lesson of 2017: Political campaign season truly never ends [Center for Public Integrity]

Administration’s Syria Policy Envisions Continued U.S. Presence [Congressional Research Service]

INTERNET OF THINGS: Enhanced Assessments and Guidance Are Needed to Address Security Risks in DOD [GAO]

The THIRTY-EIGHTH quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction [SIGAR]

BITS & BOBS

Pentagon to expand GITMO after Trump orders it remain open [Inside Defense]

Husband of former Trump household aide scores government job [Politico]

Trump appointee tells coal industry that his job is to be ‘an advocate’ for coal [Think Progress}

Why the CDC director had to resign [Politico]

Congressman’s Bill Would Force Trump Administration to Fulfill Pledge to Study Racial Disparities in Auto Insurance Pricing [ProPublica]

Amid low morale, highest-ranked career official at State to step down [Politico]

US Mission to the UN dissed Russia on Twitter [Politico]

FLORIDA MAN

This week, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Benjamin G. Greenberg, sentenced a Florida man with two concurrent two-month sentences for “intimidating a flight attendant of an aircraft in flight in the United States.” According to a DOJ press release, Michael Anthony Minko, 36, of White Springs, Florida took Xanax (or its generic equivalent) and “drank an excessive amount of whiskey from a bottle in his possession,” while onboard a Spirit airlines flight. He then “cursed, used abusive language, made verbal threats and exhibited threatening actions.” In a rare moment of solidarity between employees of a budget airline and the people who fly it, “a flight attendant and three passengers used plastic flex cuffs to secure Minko’s hands behind his back.”