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.”

 

Watchdog One – Week in Review – January 27, 2018

Welcome back to 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 great and / or terrible deal to reopen the government
– Here’s Chirs Cillizza’s take on who won and who lost [CNN]
– Here’s an important follow up on that tiny little language change in the temporary budget that provides a wide berth for intel shenanigans. [Federation of American Scientists]

The Attorney General being interviewed by Mueller’s team
– Here’s Michael S. Schmidt & Maggie Haberman on the first member of Trump’s cabinet to be questioned as part of the Russia probe [NYT]
What, me worry? [CNN]

Trump reportedly failing to fire Mueller last June
– Schmidt & Haberman broke the story, attributing it to “four people told of the matter” [NYT]
– Democrats said they’d try to leverage the budget negotiations to keep Mueller from being fired [NYT]
– Republicans reportedly shrugged it off [Politico]

President Trump attended Klaus Schwab’s little meeting of the minds in Switzerland
“Apocalypse Trump is Unleashed on Davos” [Breitbart]
– “Trump Steals Thunder from Davos Elite” [Infowars]

Some FBI agents’ text messages
Lost [Fox News]
Found [Washington Post]

MEANWHILE…

The Justice Department threatened to subpoena 23 states, cities, and other jurisdictions over info they may be holding back from immigration authorities
The DOJ sent a slew of nastygrams on Wednesday to mayors, chiefs of police, and other local government officials demanding “documents that could show whether each jurisdiction is unlawfully restricting information sharing by its law enforcement officers with federal immigration authorities,” according to a DOJ press release. The letters threatened subpoenas in the event of noncompliance with the request and more specifically 8 U.S.C. 1373, and reminded the recipients that they could be made to return FY2016 grants and be subject to other bureaucratic unpleasantness. It’s hard to imagine the timing was an accident, as the US Conference of Mayors was having its Winter meeting in Washington, DC and a had a meeting on the books with President Trump. A number of the mayors promptly pulled out. Those that attended the meeting with Trump, got a stern talking to according to Citylab, as well as, of course, an assessment of the size of the crowd. “The mayors who choose to boycott this event have put the needs of criminal, illegal immigrants over law-abiding America,” said the president to attendees. “So let me tell you, the vast majority of people showed up.” [Read more at Citylab]

Related: Video of President Trump’s remarks to the US Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting [C-Span]

A video of border patrol agents doing an immigration check on a Greyhound bus in Florida has gotten a bit of attention
The video, shared on Twitter by the Florida Immigrant Coalition, has been viewed more than 2.3mm times, and has prompted a joint statement of outrage at the CPB by members of Congress. But this is not new, reports the L.A. Times. “Customs and Border Protection officials say they are following federal regulations. The Immigration and Nationality Act allows immigration officers to conduct searches, without a warrant, within 100 miles of any U.S. border. The entire state of Florida is within 100 miles of the coast.”  [Read more from the L.A. Times]

ICE will soon be tracking your licence plate
“The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has officially gained agency-wide access to a nationwide license plate recognition database” reports The Verge. “The system gives the agency access to billions of license plate records and new powers of real-time location tracking, raising significant concerns from civil libertarians.” [Read more from The Verge]

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau dropped an investigation into a payday loan company that donated to the guy who’s running the CFPB
The CFPB investigation into World Acceptance Corporation was prompted by a 2013 ProPublica story, which detailed how the company used legal loopholes to conceal the true cost of its installment loans – in some cases having an effective interest rate of 182 percent. On Monday, World issued a press release saying that they’d received a letter from the CFPB letting them know the investigation had been completed. Mick Mulvaney, who currently runs the CFPB as its acting head (something of a side-gig in addition to his Cabinet-level role as the director of the Office of Management and Budget), received donations from the World Acceptance Corporation’s PAC on at least 3 occasions while he was in the US House of Representatives reports the International Business Times. [Read more from IBT]

The CFPB also dropped a lawsuit against four payday lenders [CNN]

Rex Tillerson put pressure on Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons
Visiting Warsaw on Saturday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson continued to hold Russia accountable for the use of chemical weapons inside Syria. Earlier in the week, Tillerson laid out his case in Paris, after signing on to the International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons.

“There is simply no denying that Russia, by shielding its Syrian ally, has breached its commitments to the United States as a framework guarantor. It has betrayed the Chemical Weapons Convention and UN Security Council Resolution 2218, and on these occasions has twice vetoed UN Security Council resolutions to enforce the Joint Investigative Mechanism and continue its mandate,” said Tillerson. “Russia’s failure to resolve the chemical weapons issue in Syria calls into question its relevance to the resolution to the overall crisis.”

Ambassador Nikki Haley also took the argument to the UN on Tuesday. “And we know that for years Russia has looked the other way while their Syrian friends use these despicable weapons of war,” she said. Russia is complicit in the Assad regime’s atrocities. Will the Russian Federation say anything at all today about the suffering caused by Assad’s barbaric tactics? Will they hold Assad to account? Of course not. They never do.” [Read more from USMUN]

The Russian Ambassador to the UN says it’s a strange coincidence the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria occurred just before 29 nations were scheduled to meet on the aforementioned French-led partnership against impunity for such attacks, reports CNN [Read more from CNN]

USAID and Mastercard are teaming up to turn refugee camps into “digital communities”
It’s hard to get more Davos than the announcement of a public-private coalition that will “bring together technology, solutions and experience from multiple sectors to transform refugee settlements into digitally-connected communities,” so that’s just what the United States Agency for International Development and multinational financial services company, Mastercard, did on Thursday. It’s easy to be cynical about this and other attempts at achieving “financial inclusion” as an attempt by Mastercard to keep their stock going up and to the right, but this… doesn’t actually sound too bad. [Read more from Business Wire]

Where in the world is Diego Garcia?
“Is Diego Garcia at risk of slipping from Washington’s grasp?” asked The National Interest last fall. If it is, that hasn’t stopped the DoD from awarding a $240mm construction contract there, with an “expected completion date of January 2023.” [Read more from the DoD]

INVESTIGATIONS & REVELATIONS

SIGAR released a long-awaited report on DoD & State Department funding of Afghan forces known to have committed sexual assault
John Sopko has the distinct honor of being one of the few Inspectors General that people can actually name. As the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) he has been something of a provocateur, and his approach has earned him a fair share of enemies. This week SIGAR made public another report that will make a lot of folks unhappy, this one on child sexual assault by Afghan security forces and how the DoD and State Department skirted a US law designed to prevent money from going to folks who do that sort of thing. According to the Washington Post the Pentagon tried to block the SIGAR assessment, which was requested by members of Congress following a harrowing 2015 New York Times story detailing rampant sexual abuse of young boys by Afghan police forces – forces who were being trained and equipped by the US military. The DoD failed to SIGAR from conducting the assessment, but did manage to keep the report – which was delivered for review last February – classified for nearly a year. The report ever so politely suggests to Congress that it “may want to consider prohibiting DoD from applying the notwithstanding clause to the DoD Leahy law.” The “notwithshanding clause” basically says, “we know there’s a law that prohibits this very thing, but this is war so we’re going to make an exception.” It might be one of the only circumstances under which Afghan forces have ever been considered “exceptional.” [Read more from SIGAR]

The Pentagon has a long list of why they’re unhappy with the F-35
Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio obtained the F-35 portion of an annual report the DoD’s director of operational testing delivered to senior Pentagon officials on Tuesday. It details a swath of problems with America’s costliest weapons system ranging from the diagnostic system detecting “failures” on parts that have not actually failed to, oh you know, the plane only being available when needed around 50 percent of the time. [Read more from Bloomberg]

Rumsfeld’s ‘snowflakes” were finally set free
This week, after a five-year FOIA fight by The George Washington University’s National Security Archive, 59,000 pages of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s mini-memos have been released to the joy of many. The Intercept dug out the fun fact that, two months after the US invaded Afghanistan, Rumsfeld wanted to know which languages are spoken there, while Politico declared that “Donald Rumsfeld’s snowflake poetry is exactly what America needs right now,” and demonstrated the transformative power of a carriage return. Dig in yourself and see what you can find! [Read more from National Security Archive]

Government IT contracts worth billions are actually receiving proper oversight
Just kidding, they’re not. That’s according to a report from the Government Accountability Office. The fine folks at the Project on Government Oversight have broken down the findings for us:

The 22 agencies being evaluated were asked to identify all of their IT contracts while GAO created an independent list of the agencies’ IT contracts. The agency-provided total was 76,599 contracts worth $14 billion for FY 2016, while GAO found 108,092 worth $18.5 billion. That means 31,493 IT contracts worth $4.5 billion were not being flagged for the FITARA oversight process.

Eight of the reviewed agencies—the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Interior, Transportation, and the Treasury, as well as the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the General Services Administration (GSA), and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM)—were the worst offenders, failing to identify over 40 percent of their IT contracts.”

[Read more from POGO]

The US may not be able to make the new nukes the Trump administration wants
As analysts, activists, scientists and pundits weigh in on the implications contained in a leaked draft of the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the outgoing head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Frank Klotz, warns that the agency responsible for oversight of the country’s nuclear weapons is already operating at capacity, Defense News reports. In regards to the NPR’s calls for developing new nukes and modifying others, Klotz said, “We’ve never done more than one life extension program at a time, since the end of the Cold War. We’re now doing essentially four.” [Read more from Defense News]

BITS & BOBS

U.S. Attorney’s Office enters settlement with Rite Aid based on improper sales of meth precursor pseudoephedrine [US DOJ]

Combatting the Opioid Crisis – Exploiting Vulnerabilities in International Mail [US Senate – PDF]

Charities see nail clippers, shovels are North Korean no-nos [Washington Post]

Congress may actually fix music royalties [The Verge]

FLORIDA MAN

The US Attorney’s Office and the US Secret Service made an arrest this week in the case of the guy accused of using fake checks to charter planes to get aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. “According to the complaint, in or around October 2017, Vazquez contacted Miami Air International, a local charter airline. Vazquez again identified himself as Emilio Serralles and claimed to own a company called Puerto Rico Relief Committee. Subsequently, Vazquez chartered multiple flights from Miami to Puerto Rico to purportedly deliver relief supplies. As payment for these flights, Vazquez provided a counterfeit and fraudulent American Express Centurion Bank cashier’s check in the amount of $564,036.05 to Miami Air International, which was rejected as fraudulent by U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private wealth management. [Read more at DOJ – or at the New York Daily News]

 

Watchdog One – Week in Review – January 20, 2018

Welcome back to 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 “shutdown” of the Federal Government
– Here’s a handy chart of who gets sent home as a result [Washington Post]
Here’s what happens to FEMA, coming off a historic (or as we like to say, “an historic”) year of natural disasters. [Washington Post]

FISA passing in the Senate
– Here’s how your favorite Senator voted [US Senate]
– Here’s how US Government-run Voice of America reported it to international audiences [VOA]

A CIA officer who got arrested at JFK for one thing but is “suspected” of others
– The official DOJ press release here. [DOJ]
– “Sources familiar with the case” expand on things here. [NBC News]
– Read the full complaint here. [DOJ]

Bannon getting subpoenaed by Mueller
Here’s Michael Schmidt on the story. [NYT]
Here’s Breitbart on the story, which they apparently got from… Michael Schmidt. [Breitbart]

MEANWHILE…

The House solution to avert the shutdown stands to give Trump new powers
The temporary spending bill that passed in the House Thursday night included language that would give the Trump administration the power to shift intelligence money from one project to another without notifying congress. That’s according to Ryan Grim at The Intercept, who broke the story a day before The Washington Post’s hedgier version of it, which was later corrected to say that, in fact, “the president would still have to notify Congress of any changes made to the budget, and could not operate fully in secret.” Whether that correction is indeed correct is unclear. In any case, it certainly got Senator Wyden’s attention, who Tweeted, “It would be extraordinarily dangerous for the Senate to give this administration new powers to work around Congress, particularly now, with the IC’s vast spying authorities and the most political CIA director in memory.” Keep your eye on any proposed solutions to the current government shutdown to see if this language survives.  [Read more from The Intercept]

The DOJ & DHS exhibited some fuzzy math on terrorism
The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security released a joint report on Tuesday that claimed, among other things, that approximately 73% of individuals convicted of international terrorism charges (emphasis added) in US courts were foreign-born. This is kind of like saying that most Japanese cars are made in Japan. Still, President Trump ran with it, making an official statement that “nearly 3 in 4 individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges are foreign-born” and connected the stat to the need for immigration reform.
– In response to this, the folks over at Lawfare politely pointed out that, “even excluding domestic terrorism cases, it was possible to support the president’s claim only if one counted as foreign-born terrorism suspects people the United States had actively imported in order to prosecute for terrorism or terrorism-related crimes.” [Read more from Lawfare]

The House refused to decide whether the President should be impeached
The House voted 355-66 to table a motion to impeach President Trump. It was the third attempt by Rep. Al Green (D-TX). [Read more from Roll Call]

The math was less fuzzy at the Department of the Interior
More than three out of four individuals on the National Park System Advisory board quit on Wednesday, citing frustration that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke “had refused to meet with them or convene a single meeting last year,” according to The Washington Post. [Read more]

HHS is giving healthcare workers so much religious freedom, their heads will spin
On Thursday, two days after President Trump used his Religious Freedom Day proclamation to call attention to the plight of those who have been threatened with “tax consequences for particular forms of religious speech” or forced to “comply with laws that violate their core religious beliefs,” his administration announced a new civil rights division within the Department of Health and Human Services, designed to protect healthcare workers who refuse services on religious or moral grounds. The Washington Post reports that the division “will consider complaints from doctors, nurses and others who feel they have been pressured by employers to ‘perform, accommodate or assist with’ procedures that violate their beliefs. If a complaint about coercion or retribution is found to be valid, an entity receiving federal dollars could have that funding revoked.” [Read more from The Washington Post]

– Earlier this month, in response to a FOIA request from BuzzFeed News, the HHS quietly posted thousands comments the agency had previously withheld regarding a proposed rule that would remove barriers for religious and faith-based organizations to participate in public programs and receive public funding. The majority of the comments we saw were of the copy and paste variety, beginning with the statement, “The mission of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is to put the health and well-being of the public first. But instead of working to ensure everyone has equal access to comprehensive and nondiscriminatory services, HHS is asking for suggestions on how to expand the use of religious beliefs to discriminate and deny patients health care.” [Read more from BuzzFeed News]

A federal judge heard arguments on the Trump White House’s use of encrypted messaging apps
On Wednesday, US District Court Judge Christopher Cooper heard arguments relating to a lawsuit that charges that President Trump and his staff “seek to evade transparency and government accountability,” particularly through the use of “email messaging applications that destroy the contents of messages as soon as they are read, without regard to whether the messages are presidential records.” Politico’s Josh Gerstein writes, “During a 45-minute hearing, Cooper—an appointee of President Barack Obama—sounded uncomfortable with the government’s claim that the courts have no role at all in enforcing the Presidential Records Act. However, the judge also seemed reluctant to embark on an unbounded, free-range inquiry into whether the Trump White House is policing its staff’s compliance with record keeping obligations. And he appeared even more skeptical about delving into claims that the Trump White House is using executive orders to steer policy decisions out of federal agencies whose records are subject to request under the Freedom of Information Act.” [Read more from Politco]

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will get no money next quarter… kinda
Mick Mulvaney, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget who you’ve seen on TV a lot this week, requested exactly zero dollars for next quarter’s operation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (of which he is the acting director). That headline might be enough to get your blood up, but when you realize that it’s because the bureau has $177mm currently sitting in the bank (read: $32mm more than it needs), it’s a bit less meaningful. That is, until next quarter. Stay tuned. [Read more from Politico]

A former CIA agent, convicted of leaking classified info to a journalist, was released from federal prison
Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA agent convicted of leaking classified material to then New York Times reporter James Risen, was released from prison on Tuesday. “The key evidence that persuaded a jury to convict Sterling on nine felony counts consisted of phone records and emails that showed Sterling and Risen had communicated with each other,” Peter Maass explains at The Intercept. “However, those records did not disclose anything about the content of their conversations. All the government knew, and all the jury knew, is that they had communicated.” [Read more from The Intercept]

INVESTIGATIONS & REVELATIONS

The DNI updated its policy on classified leaks
Steven Aftergood, Director of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, noticed this week that the Director of National Intelligence recently updated its procedures for dealing with leaks of classified information. Most notably, Aftergood points out that, “It presents an expansive definition of an unauthorized disclosure that includes not simply disclosure but also the ‘confirmation’ or ‘acknowledgement’ of classified information to an unauthorized person.” The directive also lays out a three-tiered hierarchy that advises on how and when agencies should engage the DOJ once a leak has occurred.

A US official told Watchdog One that the reason for the update to the original 2007 directive was that this version takes into account the role of the Intelligence Community (IC) Inspector General, a position that did not exist until 2010. The official explained that the directive addresses “how the IC can address an issue in a meaningful, consistent way, when DOJ declines prosecution.”

The official also claimed that the directive did not expand the definition of what the agency considers an unauthorized disclosures, “rather it spells out what is meant [by the term], which includes confirmation or acknowledgment – which would have also fallen under the 2007 version of the directive, though it wasn’t explicitly stated.”

There is, of course, another way of reading the tea leaves on this. Aftergood told Watchdog One that this new directive makes leaks the subject of senior IC attention. “A directive like this sends a message throughout the bureaucracy that dealing with leaks is a priority. That in turn could have implications for how resources are allocated, and how aggressive leak investigations become. The directive may serve a deterrent function all by itself, so that fewer leaks take place, and it may tip the balance in favor of criminal prosecutions, so that more of those also occur.”

The implications for members of the press, who love a good leak, are unclear. “The executive branch, even in the Trump administration, has an interest in being able to communicate candidly with members of the press,” said Aftergood. Sometimes that means going beyond the strict limitations of the classification system and bending the rules a bit. In other words, in real life administration officials are not categorically opposed to all leaks” [Read more from FAS]

Mueller is following the (Russian) money
Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier of BuzzFeed News revealed on Wednesday that Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is examining a number of suspicious banking transactions from Russian diplomatic accounts, including two from former Ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. The Russian foreign ministry responded to the story by calling on the US government to crack down on the leakers. [Read more from BuzzFeed News]

The NSA said it accidentally destroyed Bush-era data
“The NSA sincerely regrets its failure to prevent the deletion of this data.” That’s a snippet of the mea culpa from the Deputy Director of Capabilities of the National Security Agency, in regards to the fact that the agency destroyed surveillance data it was under orders to preserve. The story, which was first reported Friday night by Politico, explains that since 2007, “the NSA has been under court orders to preserve data about certain of its surveillance efforts that came under legal attack following disclosures that President George W. Bush ordered warrantless wiretapping of international communications after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. In addition, the agency has made a series of representations in court over the years about how it is complying with its duties. [Read more from Politico]

Public Citizen detailed the inflow of political money to Trump’s properties during his first year in office
On Tuesday, Public Citizen published a report titled “Presidency for Sale,” documenting “More than 60 trade groups, companies, religious groups, charities, foreign governments, interest groups and political candidates are spending money at President Donald Trump’s properties.” [Read the full report from Public Citizen here]

A DOT audit found that people responsible for sensitive information don’t know what information is sensitive.
The Department of Transportation possesses what its advisory committee once called, “some of the most sensitive and intimately revealing” consumer data, so when a report from the DOT Inspector General on the agency’s protection of privacy information comes in over the transom, it’s worth taking a look at. The auditors determined that 164 of the agency’s 464 computers contain personally identifiable information (PII) about the public and / or DOT employees, and found that there was a “lack of adequate privacy resources in place.” The auditors stated that, “The incomplete privacy plan for a system may result in the inappropriate collection, use, storage, sharing, and/or loss of PII resulting in substantial harm, embarrassment, and inconvenience to individuals and may lead to identity theft or other fraudulent use of the information.” Additionally, they found issues with training regarding privacy: “It became clear in the discussions that the privacy system personnel were not aware of what constitutes sensitive and non-sensitive PII.’ [Read more from the DOT OIG]

Florida Man
U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke sentenced a Florida man to a year in prison for threatening to shoot members of a mosque in Miami Gardens. Gerald Wallace pleaded guilty in October to “one count of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs,” which you now know is a thing. [Read more from Courthouse News]