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The Crazy Little Stuff in Trump’s Washington We Missed This Week

Secret Service on jet-skis, a porn problem at Education, and illegal campaigning were just a few.

Photo courtesy Creative Commons.

This week, Donald Trump’s Ukraine scandal sent Washington into a tizzy, Corey Lewandowski sneered at Congress, and the House held historic hearings to explore making the District the 51st state.

But a lot happened, too, in the deeper crevasses of Trump’s Washington. Each Friday, Washingtonian collates news, sometimes scattered between headlines, about how the Trump administration is affecting the work of our city’s largest industry at the ground level in all its wonky (and occasionally horrifying) specifics.

This week: Trump officials and Russian banks; tough news for space geeks; a new high for lobbyists, and a new low for civil rights enforcement.

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Tech week in Washington. On back-to-back days, Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos spent time in Washington. Zuckerberg joined a huddle of Senate lawmakers for dinner at Ris in Foggy Bottom, while Bezos spoke at the National Press Club to announce Amazon’s new climate pledge.

Fox sued for peddling conspiracies. A federal court ruled that the family of Seth Rich can sue Fox News. The complaint stems from a 2017 article that implied Rich was murdered by confederates of the Democratic National Committee. Judge Guido Calabresi called Fox’s actions “outrageous conduct.”

Betsy DeVos’s porn problem. The website for Public Citizen, a left-leaning advocacy group, was restricted from employee viewing on Education Department computers. The reason: web filters that blocked the website for “adult/mature” content (the department has since adjusted the filter). Public Citizen claims other federal agencies are using the technique to block government employees from accessing advocacy resources.

Emoluments back from the dead. A federal court has revived a corruption lawsuit alleging that President Trump has routinely violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

Secret Service on jet-skis. Documents published this week show that the Secret Service must purchase jet skis to adequately protect Trump’s family, who are “very active in water sports.”

The Military-Resort Complex. Documents show that the Pentagon has spent more than $184,000 at President Trump’s resort in Scotland, weeks after Vice President Mike Pence was forced to explain why he went out of his way to stay in a Trump-owned hotel.

Trump Infallible: Lawyer. President Trump’s personal attorney argued this week in federal court that no prosecutor can investigate a sitting President, arguing such procedures were unconstitutional.

DOJ wants Snowden’s royalties. A new memoir by Edward Snowden is being pillaged from an unlikely foe: The United States government, which argues that it should get some of the proceeds from the book’s sales.

Water everywhere. The EPA defended its decision to drastically roll back the Clean Water Act before Congress. EPA water chief David Ross repeatedly dodged questions about the scientific basis for the deregulation, prompting Rep. Peter DeFazio to offer some useful advice: “maybe before you propose anything, you should go out and get some damn data.”

But Trump can see at least one threat that endangers water quality: homeless people. Days after rolling back water protections, Trump announced that the EPA will fine San Francisco for allowing its homeless population to pollute the water.

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Lobbyists in the Cabinet. Trump has set a record for former lobbyists in a presidential Cabinet in under three years.

Trump hardliner upset about…his dishwasher. The conservative activist pushing for a Department of Energy rule to bring back inefficient dishwashers—a rollback even the manufacturers oppose—is 24-year-old Daniel Savickas. What’s wrong with efficient dishwashers? “The dishwasher in my apartment is absolute garbage,” Savickas complained to the New York Times. “I have to run cycles multiple times.”

Another brick in the wall. While the Interior Department relinquished 560 acres of public lands to build 70 more miles of border wall, an internal National Park Service report found a stretch of the project in Arizona will harm ancient archeological sites.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon urged Congress to fund the $3.6 billion of military projects that were drained to pay for part of a border wall, warning of hazardous living conditions for troops and unsafe schools for military families without the funds. In California and Arizona, the Pentagon is learning that the border wall is more expensive than they thought.

Shutdown cost taxpayers. A Senate report found that the past three government shutdowns cost $4 billion in taxpayer money.

Interior’s relocation to nowhere. The Trump administration’s effort to relocate the Bureau of Land Management out of Washington hit another snag (the bureau’s poor implementation has led some to suggest political motives for breaking up the division). BLM missed a key deadline, hasn’t told nearly 300 DC employees where they’re being reassigned, and has similarly failed to notify state offices.

Obama meets teen activist. Former president Barack Obama personally met with 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg following her trip to Capitol Hill.

Stormy weather at NOAA. Two hundred former administrators and employees of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration excoriated the White House for politicizing the weather.

The White House’s empty cyber chair. Congressional leaders urged the White House to find someone for its cybersecurity czar position. The position has been empty since spring of 2018.

Trump to watchdog: drop dead. The Trump administration has directed lawyers from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to ask the Supreme Court to allow the agency to essentially abolish itself.

Morale at the CFPB has plummeted under director Mick Mulvaney’s efforts to weaken the agency from within. This week, Mulvaney took aim at the agency’s public consumer complaint database—a consumer tool he would have preferred to abolish—by inserting disclaimers that tell consumers not to trust the CFPB’s own data.

Civil rights enforcement at record low. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has launched the fewest probes into civil rights complaints in nearly a decade.

Censoring science. The EPA announced it would move ahead with its new science transparency rules—denounced by longtime EPA officials as the “censoring science” rule—as soon as early next year. Advocates told Washingtonian the move follows the tobacco industry playbook for undermining research.

DOE’s strategy for energy efficiency: starvation. A Senate committee found that the Department of Energy has missed legal deadlines for 25 energy efficiency standards that were mandated by Congress.

Cuccinelli would like more power, please. After steering several high-profile rules this summer, immigration hard-liner Ken Cuccinelli wants to expand his authority to release personal information about refugees to the public. Releasing this information offers a way to alert the public to “crimes relating to national security or that threaten public safety,” Cuccinelli wrote.

Cuccinelli proposed a new rule this week: A proposal that would hike appeal fees for asylum seekers from $110 to nearly $1,000.

Labor deals blow to overtime workers. The Department of Labor is expected to release new rules about overtime pay, reducing the number workers that were eligible to receive overtime in the Obama administration by 3 million people.

Another Trump appointee cited for illegal campaigning. HUD official Lynne Patton—a Trump family loyalist who once planned Eric Trump’s wedding—has been cited for multiple violations of the Hatch Act, the law that prevents government employees from electioneering on the job, using her government Twitter account for political uses and showcasing Trump campaign paraphernalia in her government office.

NASA chained to Trump’s moonshot. Officials from NASA explained as delicately as possible this week that Trump’s edict to return Americans to the moon by 2024 is a long shot at best—not without the $1.6 billion in budget shortfalls NASA needs to complete the mission.

Trump appears to have mixed feelings himself. Following his moon declaration, Trump clarified the situation on Twitter: “For all of the money we are spending, NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon.”

SWAMP BONUS: Russian bank rides again. Vnesheconombank, a Russian state-backed bank that could soon face sanctions, has a new lobbyist in Washington: Former Congressman John Sweeney, one of the most high-ranking officials in the Trump transition team. (Hat tip: Theo Meyer.)

SWAMP BONUS: Thanks but no thanks. Energy Secretary Rick Perry was said to have been offered to lead the Veterans Administration. Perry reportedly turned it down. (Hat tip: Mohana Ravindranath.)

NORM-EROSION READ OF THE WEEK: The life of Trump’s fixer inside the EPA. (EE News)

“You’re just handing candy out to people who come in and ask for it,” Eric Schaeffer, the head of EPA’s enforcement office under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush…”Once you start that, the line outside your door is going to be really long.”

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Mr. Lewandowski, you are about like a fish being cleaned with a spoon.” Rep. Hank Johnson, questioning Corey Lewandowski at a House Judiciary Committee hearing this week.

Benjamin Wofford
Staff Writer

Benjamin Wofford is a staff writer at Washingtonian.