Firing The Investigators Is How You Prove Everyone Is Innocent
Last weekend, Donald Trump did another of his Friday Night Massacres of inspectors general; virtually all the attention went to the firing of the IG for the State Department, Steve Linick, who seems to have been looking into a whole bunch of dubious doings by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Somewhat less noticed was the other IG removal last Friday, in which Trump demoted the acting inspector general for the Transportation Department, Mitch Behm. Trump replaced him with a political appointee, Howard "Skip" Elliott.
Why would anyone care about a silly inspector general in a Cabinet department nobody even thinks about until a bridge collapses? Could be because Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who's up for reelection this year, and Chao's department sure has been sending a bunch of sweet transportation projects to Kentucky. Probably all just an innocent coincidence, but Behm's office was investigating the alleged favoritism in approving big spending for Kentucky, that well-known transportation hub.
As you might expect, the move has raised the hackles of busybody good government watchdogs, like Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which said the ouster of Behm "calls into question the future of the Chao-McConnell investigation, other critical oversight, and whether the watchdog was dismissed for unearthing damaging information." Three Democratic members of the House of Representatives have already launched an investigation into Behm's removal, too.
The new acting IG, Howard Elliott, definitely fits the profile for Trump's very best people. Where Behm had served in the Office of the Inspector General for 17 years, Elliott doesn't have a background in law enforcement, legal oversight, or even pet detective-ing. As the Washington Post notes,
Elliot had a 40-year career in the railroad industry, serving as an executive at freight company CSX Transportation before joining the Trump administration. The lawmakers questioned what in his professional background qualified him to serve as inspector general.
But wait, there's more! Elliott already works in the Transportation Department, where he's the administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. He'll be staying in that job and also working as acting IG in a "dual-hat arrangement," according to a DOT spokesperson. CREW points out there's just a hell of a big chance of that creating conflicts of interest:
Elliott will potentially oversee audits or investigations into PHMSA, and be responsible for ensuring that the administrator of PHMSA (him) complies with recommendations made by OIG (led by him). It's hard to understate the significance of this conflict of interest. Even if Elliott recuses from OIG matters related to PHMSA, which he absolutely should do, he can still discipline or fire OIG officials working for him, if he doesn't like or agree with their handling of the Chao-McConnell investigation or PHMSA.
And while Elliott would supposedly be "independent" when wearing his acting IG hat, Chao is still his boss when he's wearing his "I ❤️ Laying Pipe" hat as head of PHMSA. Gosh, could that possibly influence his willingness to continue the investigation into his boss's alleged Kentucky shenanigans?
The three House Democrats looking into Trump's funny business with replacing Behm would like some answers please. The group is led by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), chair of the House Transportation Committee, who last year asked the IG to investigate whether Chao was improperly steering grants to Kentucky. The other two are members of the House Oversight committee, Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) and Gerald Connolly (D-Virginia). They sent letters to Chao and Elliott Tuesday calling for Elliott's resignation and Behm's reinstatement. The letter to Elliott requested he turn over a list of ongoing investigations, and asking for details of what exactly Elliott plans to do with the ongoing investigation into Chao and Kentucky. They also warned Chao,
We are concerned that Mr. Behm's removal could be an effort to undermine the progress of this investigation, which we understand is ongoing. Any attempt by you or your office to interfere with the Office of Inspector General's investigation of yourself is illegal and will be thoroughly examined by our Committees.
Chao issued a statement that didn't say beans about the investigation, but reminded us all that Donald Trump is the boss and he can hire and fire anyone he wants, so suck it libs.
Over in the Senate, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois), who serves on a committee overseeing pipeline safety, also said she's concerned Elliott's two hats are covered in slime:
"Acting Inspector General Skip Elliott being charged with auditing and investigating the actions of PHMSA Administrator Skip Elliott makes a mockery of the entire system of Inspectors General," Duckworth said in a statement.
Duckworth also condemned Trump's "haphazard approach to firing and hiring Inspector Generals," which is entirely too kind. It's one of the few areas where he's actually fairly focused on making sure nobody in his administration will ever be held accountable.
In conclusion, the fix is in, yet again, and the only solution is to vote all these fuckers out and salt the ground. Which makes today Thursday, just another day ending in heavy drinking and tears.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.