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This Week: Trump Makes New Position So Hardliner Can Take Over Agency

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June 13, 2019 4:45 p.m.

This is TPM’s Trump Swamp primer, your weekly roundup of grift and abuse of power in Trump’s Washington. 

President Donald Trump stayed at his International Golf Links & Hotel in Doonbeg, Ireland during his recent sweep through Europe, adding millions to the public tab for his golf excursions and giving his business an international platform and endorsement.

Trump claimed to have stayed at Doonbeg “because it’s convenient,” and because of the “great relationships we have with the U.K.” — though Ireland isn’t in the U.K., and flying from Doonbeg to France and then back, as Trump did, is not exactly convenient.

Repeated Hatch Act violations — government officials can’t use their positions to advance political causes — finally appear to have broken the camel’s back: The Office of Special Counsel, a government watchdog, recommended Thursday that Kellyanne Conway be fired for her “repeat offender” status.

“If Ms. Conway were any other federal employee, her multiple violations of the law would almost certainly result in removal from her federal position by the Merit Systems Protection Board,” the office wrote.

Conway has publicly flaunted the law — “If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work,” she said in late May — and the White House counsel’s office did so again Thursday, calling the OSC’s recommendation “draconian and patently ridiculous.”

Ken Cuccinelli, the immigration hardliner, is just the latest Trump administration official to ascend to the top of an executive branch agency as a result of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, the law that enables Trump’s enthusiasm for “acting,” rather than permanent, agency heads.

One big difference this time? Cuccinelli had no experience at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services before a new, ostensibly second-in-command position was created for him to become its leader. Because the FVRA required he be a member of the agency in order to fill the vacancy at its top, a position was created — principal deputy director — for Cuccinelli’s hiring.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, led by a former attorney for Goldman Sachs, last week released hundreds of pages of new regulations to govern the relationship between stock brokers and their clients, among other things. Rather than hold brokers to a “fiduciary duty,” as financial advisers are, the new rules instead say they must act in their clients’ undefined “best interest.”

In an interview, SEC Chair Jay Clayton lamented how hard things have gotten for brokers, now that day-to-day investors are leaning more on index funds and the like.

“When we all started in this business,” he said, “the drag for a retail investor was 2 to 3 percent a year. If you invest your money in index funds these days, we’re talking 10 bips [slang for “basis points,” measured in 0.01% increments]. People are putting an extra 2.5 percent in their pocket every year.”

Elsewhere in the White House, the climate science denier William Happer recycled phrases from 2015 testimony paid for by a coal company in his written comments in the margins of a State Department analyst’s prepared testimony on the dangers posed by climate change, a TPM analysis found. The White House did not allow the analyst’s testimony, which warned of the “possibly catastrophic” effects of climate change, to be submitted for the congressional record.

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