Jon Skolnik

Former Obama-era ethics czar says the Biden administration has a nepotism problem

Shortly after taking office, President Biden, seemingly dead set on departing from the nepotistic tendencies of his predecessor, promised that he would not bring any member of his family into the administration. Biden has held true to this promise for his part – but over the last several months, his top aides have blatantly flouted it.

According to a Friday report from The Washington Post, Biden's aides have brought in at least five of their children to fill various roles in government, sounding alarms amongst government ethics and accountability experts.

Among those hired include J.J. Ricchetti, son of Counselor to the President Steve Ricchetti. On Monday, it was revealed that J.J. Ricchetti, who graduated from college in 2020, would be taking a position as special assistant in the Office of Legislative Affairs, a junior-level position in government. Meanwhile, Shannon Ricchetti, Steve Ricchetti's daughter, is the deputy associate director of the Office of the Social Secretary at the White House, a job she took back in January. Daniel Ricchetti, Steve Ricchetti older son, is also senior adviser in the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

Apart from the four Richettis, Cathy Russell, director of presidential personnel in the White House, has a daughter, Sarah Donilon, who currently works in the White House National Security Council. Donilon graduated from college in 2019. At the same time, Mike Donilon, Sarah's uncle, serves as a senior adviser to the president.

Concerns have also arisen from familial connections in the Biden administration between siblings and spouses.

Stephanie Psaki, the sister of White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, holds the title of Senior Adviser at the Health and Human Services Department as of March. Stephanie has a Ph.D. in public health and previously worked as director of Population Council, a nonprofit NGO that seeks to find health solutions in developing countries.

There's also Monica Medina, the wife of House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, who previously served as general counsel of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration but is now up for consideration as Biden's Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Science affairs.

According to the Post, there is no direct evidence that Biden aides had a hand in their relatives' employment – an exercise of power that would violates federal law. A White House official told the Post those hired for the above roles had adequate experience and were well-qualified

Deputy White House press secretary Andrew Bates said that "the president has instituted the highest ethical standards of anyone to ever hold this office," adding that "he's proud to have staffed the most diverse administration in American history with well-qualified public servants who reflect his values."

However, the latest hirings have not stopped ethics experts from railing against the administration for its apparent hypocrisy.

Walter Shaub, a senior ethics fellow at the Project on Government Oversight and the former director of the United States Office of Government Ethics, called the hirings a "f**k you" to government ethics.

"I'm sorry, I know some folks don't like hearing any criticism of him," he tweeted on Friday. "But this royally sucks. I'm disgusted. A lot of us worked hard to tee him up to restore ethics to government and believed the promises."

He added: "The White House's defense that they had the minimum qualifications is total BS. The issue isn't whether they were qualified (some weren't). It's that a WH that promised diversity is giving these privileged white kids with connected mommies and daddies prime jobs over others!"

Mark Hanis, the co-founder of Inclusive America, a non-profit dedicated to making government more diverse, echoed Shaub's concerns, telling the Post that the administration's apparent nepotism points to a systemic problem. "Unfortunately, with a lot of these political positions, it is relational. It's more about who you know."

Just after his inauguration, Biden had in fact signed a sweeping executive order – formerly rescinded by Trump – aimed at curbing favoritism and personal enrichment. It's now become clear that the pledge did little to prevent family webs from materializing in government.

Potential 2024 candidate Tom Cotton leading GOP charge against "woke ideology" in military

During a Thursday Senate hearing, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. — widely seen as a likely 2024 presidential candidate — confronted Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about the effects of "woke ideology" in the military, which he claimed was causing "plummeting morale" and "growing mistrust." Cotton avoided directing any such questions at Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has also thrown his support behind the military's efforts to improve diversity and inclusion. It may or may not be relevant that Austin is Black and Milley is white.

"Mr. Secretary, we're hearing reports of plummeting morale, growing mistrust between the races and sexes, where none existed just six months ago, and unexpected retirements and separations based on these trainings alone," Cotton said to Austin during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "And again, these are not my words. These are the words of your own troops."

Cotton's concerns come on the heels of a "whistleblower" initiative recently launched by him and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, which involves a tip line for military service members who feel compelled to "expose" attempts to indoctrinate the troops with "woke ideology."

"Enough is enough. We won't let our military fall to woke ideology," tweeted Crenshaw in late May. "We have just launched a whistleblower webpage where you can submit your story. Your complaint will be legally protected, and go to my office and @SenTomCotton."

During the hearing, Cotton noted that he and Crenshaw had heard "hundreds of whistleblower complaints" submitted to their online portal and read some of them before the Senate. Later in the hearing, the senator demanded that Austin answer a number of yes-and-no questions with respect to race and the military.

"Should a member of the organization you lead be treated differently, in violation of the Constitution, I would add, based on their sex or the color of their skin?" the Arkansas senator asked.

Cotton, who earlier this year also crusaded against the use of "critical race theory" in military education, prodded Austin on whether the secretary thought that the military was a fundamentally racist institution.

Austin did not respond with a "yes" or "no" to either question, pointing out that they warranted more complicated answers.

This dispute comes amid a broader conservative push to turn military education and training into a new front in the culture-war. Over the course of the past month, several prominent Republican lawmakers have accused the military of incorporating "leftist" ideology into its training programs. This response stems largely from the military's recent efforts to create a more inclusive atmosphere for women and people of color amid multiple reports of rampant sexism and racism within the services.

Many observers have said that the full scope of bigotry and discrimination within the military — not to mention the scale of military membership in white supremacist or far-right organizations — is difficult to determine and has not been well studied. "It will be damn near impossible for any senior leaders to get their arms around the problem of extremists in the military as long as the Defense Department has so little data on how many service members have ties to domestic terrorist groups," wrote Jeff Schogol in Task & Purpose.

In February, Austin ordered a stand-down across all branches of the military to address the issue of white supremacy within the ranks following revelations that a number of current and former service members .were involved in the Capitol attack on Jan 6. Shortly after that, Austin appointed a senior adviser of human capital, diversity, equity and inclusion.

Those initiatives have been supported by number of current military leaders, including Milley — the supreme commander of all U.S. armed forces — and Maj. Gen. John Evans, commander of the Army Cadet Command.

These efforts to improve diversity and inclusion within the military are not entirely new. Last year, then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper launched a three-pronged initiative to promote equal opportunity for all members of the armed services amid the national wave of protests that followed the murder of George Floyd.

Conservatives indulge in massive what-about-ism after ProPublica reports leaks IRS data on ultra-rich tax cheats

A bombshell report published by ProPublica on Tuesday detailed leaked IRS filings suggesting that some of the wealthiest individuals in the U.S. pay next to nothing in federal taxes, despite reaping hundreds of millions or more in annual income. But now the report itself has become enmeshed in controversy over journalistic ethics and privacy concerns, especially the question of when it's newsworthy to reveal personal financial information of private citizens.

ProPublica's report, which relies on IRS records whose source remains unknown, provides a startling glimpse into the true extent of tax avoidance schemes among the richest one-tenth of the one percent.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, for example, paid zero federal income taxes for both 2007 and 2011. Tesla founder Elon Musk paid nothing for 2018. Investor and liberal philanthropist George Soros also paid zilch over the course of three years.

Other billionaires detailed in the report include former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who paid $70.7 million in federal income taxes in 2017, despite claiming $1.9 billion in personal income. (That represents roughly a 3.7% tax rate, when it arguably should have been around 52%.)

Billionaire investor and businessman Carl Icahn deducted large interest payments on his companies' debts, allowing him to avoid federal income tax payments in 2016 and 2017. That scheme involved taking out large bank loans to invest in the stock market, because the interest paid on those loans is tax-deductible, offsetting investment gains and other income.

Other billionaires lowered their taxable income by claiming they had incurred net losses. In 2011, for example, Bezos alleged he had lost money, although that his wealth of roughly $18 billion held steady from the previous year. He paid no federal income taxes thanks to his "investment losses," which in fact earned him a $4,000 family tax credit.

ProPublica also reports that corporate taxes do not make up for the tax losses resulting from these billionaire tax-avoidance schemes, largely because the corporate tax rate has plummeted in recent years, in the wake of tax cuts enacted by the Republican Congress in 2017 and signed by then-President Trump. Additionally, many companies — such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple — can circumvent a large proportion corporate taxes by claiming that their profits were made abroad.

'Knowingly and willfully': Another Trump ally gets caught by the law in the hush-money case

The tabloid publishing company that owns the National Enquirer will be fined $187,500 by FEC for a hush money payment to a woman with whom Donald Trump had an extramarital affair – a transaction which the FEC argues is in clear violation of campaign finance law.

The transaction occurred back in 2016, when American Media Inc. (presently known as A360 Media LLC) transferred $150,000 to former model Karen McDougal, who in exchange for the funds, relinquished the rights to tell her story about the affair. The transaction was first made public back in 2018 amid the prosecution of ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion and campaign finance violations.

The FEC found that America Media chief executive, David J. Pecker, a Trump ally, "knowingly and willfully" broke campaign finance laws in conjunction with various Trump campaign officials as well as Cohen, who has for years been positioned as Trump's right-hand man in the coverup.

American Media has openly admitted that it routed the money to McDougal, though it disputes it broke any campaign finance laws, claiming that "payments for silence are not contributions or expenditures because silence is not a 'thing of value,'" according to the settlement agreement. Though, back in 2018, America Media had already agreed to a non-prosecution deal in which it acknowledged that hush money was intended to influence the results of the 2016 general election.

"The available information supports the conclusion that AMI's [American Media, Inc.'s] payment constituted an in-kind contribution to Trump and the Trump Committee," the FEC wote in an analysis obtained by Common Cause, a government watchdog group. "AMI and Pecker appear to have violated the Act by making and consenting to making a corporate contribution in the form of a payment from AMI to McDougal. As explained below, the record indicates that there is reason to believe that this violation was knowing and willful."

American Media has openly admitted that it routed the money to McDougal, though it disputes it broke any campaign finance laws, claiming that "payments for silence are not contributions or expenditures because silence is not a 'thing of value,'" according to the settlement agreement. Though, back in 2018, America Media had already agreed to a non-prosecution deal in which it acknowledged that hush money was intended to influence the results of the 2016 general election.

"The available information supports the conclusion that AMI's [American Media, Inc.'s] payment constituted an in-kind contribution to Trump and the Trump Committee," the FEC wote in an analysis obtained by Common Cause, a government watchdog group. "AMI and Pecker appear to have violated the Act by making and consenting to making a corporate contribution in the form of a payment from AMI to McDougal. As explained below, the record indicates that there is reason to believe that this violation was knowing and willful."

Former White House counsel Don McGahn agrees to testify in hearing on Trump, Russia investigation

Donald Trump's former White House counsel, Don McGahn, agreed to provide testimony before the House Judiciary Committee next week about Trump's efforts to impede the Russia investigation.

The announcement, first reported in the New York Times, is part of a controversy dating back to 2019, when McGahn failed to comply with a subpoena from the Judiciary panel as well as the Justice Department, per Trump's instructions. The panel called McGahn to the stand because he was named as a key witness by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Mueller report.

A district judge later ruled that Trump could not deny the House Judiciary Committee the right to call McGahn to the witness stand, arguing that "presidents are not kings."

"We note that this decision does not preclude Congress (or one of its chambers) from ever enforcing a subpoena in federal court," the court said. "It simply precludes it from doing so without first enacting a statute authorizing such a suit."

McGahn's newfound compliance follows a deal that was struck earlier this month, in which House Democrats and the Justice Department agreed to allow committee members to question McGahn on the accuracy of the many incidents detailed in the Mueller report, namely Trump's effort to remove Mueller.

Shortly following the announcement of the deal last month, a Trump lawyer signaled that the former president would attempt to intervene, according to the Times. Former presidents typically reserve the right to invoke executive privilege on cases like these, which would allow Trump to effectively block the proceeding from taking place.

However, in an unexpected turn of events, Patrick Philbin, a former deputy White House counsel to Trump, revealed that the former President had no intention of swaying the course of the proceeding. The Times noted that Trump's sudden change of heart could be accounted for by the fact that Trump would have to front the cost of the legal battle.

Though the future session marks a decisive win for House Democrats finally looking to uncover the details behind McGahn's role in the scandal, McGahn can decline to answer any questions to his own liking. The Justice Department can also invoke executive privilege, meaning that any questions deemed confidential will be dismissed.

Watch: Elizabeth Warren grills Jamie Dimon in heated Senate hearing

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., grilled J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Tuesday, calling claims that the bank helped customers during the pandemic "a bunch of baloney."

"No matter how you try to spin it," Warren declared, "this past year has shown that corporate profits are more important to your bank than offering just a little help to struggling families even when we're in the middle of a worldwide crisis."

Back in December, CNBC reported that, for the year of 2020, banks would rake in $30 billion total in overdraft fees, charges made to account holders when the amount they are withdrawing exceeds their balance. Federal regulators last March called for banks to systematically waive these fees due to the added financial burden of the pandemic.

During the Tuesday hearing, Warren took specific aim at how much money JP Morgan collected in these fees, pressing Dimon for an exact figure. "Do you know the number?" she asked.

"I don't have the number in front of me…," Dimon responded as Warren cut him off.

"Well I actually have the number in front me," Warren shot back. "It's $1.463 billion. Now do you know how much JP Morgan would have been in 2020 if you had followed the recommendation of the regulators and waived overdraft fees to help struggling consumers?"

Dimon claimed that the bank waived fees if customers said they were under Covid-related financial stress, neglecting the fact that the bank still made money on collecting them.

"I appreciate that you want to duck this question," Warren jabbed, then asking him how much the bank's profits would have been if it waived the fees. "The answer is your profits would have been $27.6 billion," she answered.

"So here's the thing. You and your colleagues come in today to talk about how you stepped up and took care of customers during the pandemic," Warren said. "And it's a bunch of baloney. In fact, it's about $4 billion worth of baloney, but you could fix that right now.

During the pandemic, the Fed instituted a policy that lowered the reserve requirement for banks, freeing up capital with which to lend to customers in order to keep the economy afloat. The policy, however, ended this year on March 31. "Over the past year," Warren noted, "you could have passed on the breaks you got from the Fed to your customers, but you didn't do it."

"Mr. Dimon," she asked. "Will you commit, right now, to refund $1.5 billion you took from consumers during the pandemic?"

"No," Dimon responded.

Trump lashes out after reports of a grand jury leak

Former President Trump on Tuesday railed against reports that a special grand jury will convene to hear evidence regarding his business dealings, blasting the jury as part of "greatest Witch Hunt in American history."

"This is purely political, and an affront to the almost 75 million voters who supported me in the Presidential Election, and it's being driven by highly partisan Democrat prosecutors," Trump said in a statement. "Our Country is broken, our elections are rigged, corrupt, and stolen, our prosecutors are politicized, and I will just have to keep on fighting like I have been for the last five years!"

On Tuesday, The Washington Post first reported that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is planning to assemble a panel that will decide whether to formally indict the former president, Trump-affiliated executives, and the Trump Organization itself.

Vance's investigation is reportedly zeroing in on whether the Trump Organization inflated the value of its real estate assets in order to defraud banks and illegally qualify for certain tax benefits. The ambit of the probe also includes the compensation of certain Trump-affiliated executives as well as hush-money payments doled out to various women with whom Trump had alleged extramarital affairs.

Vance's choice to convene a grand jury likely signals the investigation is steadily advancing as sources familiar with the matter told the Washington Post that people are already testifying on the matter. Daniel R. Alonso, a former top deputy to Vance, told NBC News that the district attorney's decision to assemble a special grand jury is a strong indication that "they're going to be presenting charges against someone." Adam S. Miller, who served as deputy bureau chief of the Major Economic Crimes Bureau in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, told the Post that a grand jury in cases like these is typically appropriate.

"It's really for very complicated cases that have a lot of information for a grand jury to digest," Miller added.

In 2019, New York Attorney General Letitia James opened a similar probe into the valuation of the Trump Organization's assets, which may have been inflated by Trump in order to secure low-interest loans from lenders. In some cases, James' and Vance's investigations have reviewed the same documents, namely records related to a piece of New York real estate, for which Trump received a $21 million tax break, and a tower in Chicago, for which lenders relieved Trump of $100 million in debt over.

Last week, James revealed that she had assigned two lawyers to Vance's case because her investigation into Trump's business dealings – which began as a civil one – had turned into a criminal one.

In recent months, Vance's investigation has reportedly put specific focus on Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, according to The New York Times. Investigators are apparently looking into whether Weisselberg paid taxes on benefits he received from the company, including the purchase of various cars and tens of thousands of dollars for at least one of his grandchildren's private school education. Earlier this month, Vance subpoenaed documents that detailed $500,000 in tuition payments for Weisselberg's grandchildren at Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School. In some cases, Weisselberg's tuition checks were signed by Trump himself.

Republicans picked Tim Scott to lead on police reform — but he has little to show for it so far

With Congress now expected to miss a deadline it set to pass a sweeping police reform bill on the anniversary of George Floyd's death, some might say the bill's passage falls largely on the shoulders of rising GOP star Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who has been christened by Republicans as their chief negotiator on the measure.

Bipartisan negotiations around the bill have been unfolding for weeks. However, lawmakers have seemingly reached an impasse with no apparent end in sight, given the wide rift between the progressive and conservative sentiment on police reform.

Scott, who is joined by Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., to lead the negotiations, has presented himself as someone who deeply connects to the grievances many Black Americans have with the police. "I personally understand the pain of being stopped 18 times driving while Black," he said in the '"Face the Nation" interview. "I also have seen the beauty of when officers go door-to-door with me on Christmas morning, delivering presents to kids in the most underserved communities. So I think I bring an equilibrium to the conversation."

Last year, Scott proposed the GOP-backed Justice Act, which sought to ramp up de-escalation training, incentivize a ban on chokeholds, provide grants to police departments for more body cameras, and increase disciplinary transparency between police departments. The Justice Act ultimately failed to garner enough votes from Democrats, who deemed the bill inadequate in solving issues of police misconduct.

While Scott has been painted as a GOP bastion of police reform, he has predictably stood firm against loftier demands from progressives, who have called for measures like an outright ban on chokeholds, abolishing qualified immunity, and defunding the police. Last year, Scott called the Democratic proposition to weaken qualified immunity "the poison pill," largely because it has been a sticking point in bipartisan negotiations, as Vox noted earlier this month.

By comparison, the Democrats' current legislative counterproposal – the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act – imposes a federal ban on chokeholds and no-knock warrants. It also seeks to institute a national record of police misconduct and prohibit certain kinds of military-grade weaponry from being used by police departments.

Some on the left have expressed optimism regarding Scott's potential to broker a deal. "He's a good-faith actor, and he's also a Black man in America and knows a lot of these issues, personally," Booker said. "So if anybody can get it done on his side, he's the right person to be negotiating."

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, told USA TODAY that the South Carolina senator "is the perfect person," adding that he "has a lot invested in this. He's a great spokesman; I have a lot of respect for him for stepping out and doing this."

Others see Scott's role in the negotiating process as more of a symbolic gesture by Republicans to play nice or even stall negotiations. Jason Williams, assistant professor of justice studies at Montclair State University, told USA TODAY that Scott is simply a Trump loyalist who "tends to pander to the right."

"I see him giving absolutely nothing to the cause on this," Williams said, claiming that he will likely stall negotiations until political pressure fizzles out.

During Scott's response to President Biden's first speech to Congress, the GOP lawmaker recounted his experience of being called racially derogatory terms like the N-word and "Uncle Tom." He also mentioned that he personally knew what it felt like "to be pulled over for no reason" and to be "followed around a store while I'm shopping." Scott went on to argue, however, that America is not in fact a racist country.

'So clearly unconstitutional': DeSantis' Big Tech 'censorship' law creates a safe space for conservatives online

Florida enacted a first-of-its-kind law on Monday that allows users of big social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, to fight back against being "unfairly" banned.

The law, S.B. 7072, which was introduced back in February, comes as an act of retaliation against the spate of social media bans on various right-wing individuals – including Donald Trump – following the Capitol riot on January 6. The bill allegedly sets out to prevent Big Tech from unduly "deplatforming" politicians in the state of Florida.

One of the bill's provisions allows the Florida Election Commission to apply fines to companies that permanently ban politicians running for state office positions. It also grants users the right to sue companies they feel instituted bans unfairly.

"We're the first state to hold these Big Tech companies to this standard of transparency and accountability," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said during the law's signing at the Florida International University in Miami. "Their power up to this point has effectively been unchecked."

"This will lead to more speech, not less speech," he added. "Because speech that's inconvenient to the narrative will be protected."

The aforementioned fines will range from $25,000 per day for non-statewide candidates and $250,000 per day for statewide candidates.

The bill also mandates that companies provide clear reasoning for their bans and makes it illegal to ban political candidates for over fourteen days.

The law is part of a broader Republican-led push to crack down on Big Tech for what conservative allege is an anti-conservative bias.

In February, a New York University study found that claims of anti-conservative bias in themselves amount to a form of disinformation. "No trustworthy large-scale studies have determined that conservative content is being removed for ideological reasons or that searches are being manipulated to favor liberal interests," the report stated.

Nevertheless, DeSantis has framed the bill as something of a harbinger to a brave new world for conservative voices. "This session, we took action to ensure that 'We the People' — real Floridians across the Sunshine State — are guaranteed protection against the Silicon Valley elites," DeSantis declared.

According to a New York Times tally from this month, at least 38 states have proposed more than 100 bills designed to address Big Tech's content moderation policies. Many have speculated that the state-wide pushback against Big Tech reflects a dearth of substantial regulation at the federal level.

The bill is likely to be met with myriad challenges from the legal left.

Carl Szabo, the general counsel for NetChoice, a trade group representing big tech companies, said in a statement: "The First Amendment prohibits the government from compelling or controlling speech on private websites. If this law could somehow be enforced, it would allow lawful but awful user posts including pornography, violence, and hate speech that will make it harder for families to safely navigate online."

Adam Kovacevich, the CEO of the Chamber of Progress, a self-described "center-left" tech trade group, echoed: "At a time when many people want to see healthier online communities free of hate and conspiracy theories, this bill ties platforms' hands in the fight against toxic and incendiary content. It would turn Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube into anything-goes sites like 4Chan and Gab. Fortunately, the bill is so clearly unconstitutional that its authors' efforts to turn the Internet into a cesspool of lies and hate should be short-lived."

Florida Democrats also chimed in, calling out the apparent contradiction between the GOP's recent support of S.B. 7072 and the state's sweeping "anti-voting" bill from early May. They said in a statement on Monday:

"If Republicans really cared about protecting our First Amendment rights, they would never have allowed dangerous and anti-American HB 1 to pass through the Florida Legislature and be signed into law. Instead, they're talking out of both sides of their mouths -- muzzling protesters' freedom of speech and right to peacefully assemble while also stripping private businesses from determining what is and is not acceptable on their own platforms. This reaction to Donald Trump's ban from Facebook and Twitter following a dangerous disinformation campaign leading to the insurrection on January 6 is an overreach of government by the very party which claims to fight against such actions."

The bill will no doubt the help paint the Florida governor as a "populist" leader of the right, paving the way for his potential presidential bid in 2024.

Judge orders Betsy DeVos to testify — citing 'exceptional circumstances'

A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will have to testify in a class action lawsuit over her handling of the Education Department's student debt loan forgiveness program.Judge William Alsup said "exceptional circumstances" warrant issuing DeVos a subpoena, a move that goes against both Devos' and the Biden administration's requests to excuse her from providing testimony.

The lawsuit, which has been brought on behalf of about 160,000 borrowers, alleges that the plaintiffs were defrauded by for-profit colleges and then neglected by the federal government.

The controversy dates back to 2018, when the Department of Education unexpectedly stopped making decisions on "student-loan borrower-defense applications," in which students could petition the department to have their debt federally relieved if they believed their colleges had misled them.

After an 18-month halt on the program, the Trump administration began rejecting a disproportionately high number of applications issuing scant explanations as to why, instead citing that the Department needed to mull over its policy on the issue. At the time, Devos claimed that making decisions on these applications was "time-consuming and complex."

DeVos will be pressed in her hearing on the department's inadequate record-keeping of loan forgiveness claims, as well as whether the Trump administration lied about its rationale for the vast number of rejections it issued.

"If the judicial process runs to presidents, it runs to Cabinet secretaries — especially former ones," Alsup wrote in his decision, adducing the subpoena of former President Richard Nixon over the Watergate tapes following Nixon's departure from office. "Extraordinary circumstances warrant the deposition of Secretary DeVos for three hours, excluding breaks."

Over the past several months, four depositions have been conducted with testimony from numerous Education Department officials, all of which have denied responsibility for the sudden discontinuation of the loan relief program, as well as the unexplained wave of rejections. Many pointed to DeVos as a prime suspect.

"Beyond illuminating her involvement, these material gaps at the highest rungs of the Department's decision-making record reveal the necessity of Secretary DeVos's testimony for an independent reason," Alsup argued. "We lack an official and contemporaneous justification for the eighteen-month delay because this suit concerns agency inaction, and not the usual agency action."

Alsup specifically claimed that DeVos appears to have had a personal hand in the department's decision-making process. Lawyers are expected to ask the former official whether she "directed her subordinates to cease issuing student-loan borrower-defense decisions, or whether she tacitly approved of the halt once manifested."

Theresa Sweet, a leading plaintiff in the suit, told Forbes in March: "Nearly 200,000 defrauded students are still waiting for justice, due in no small part to the malicious efforts of Betsy DeVos and the for-profit education lackeys with which she surrounded herself as Secretary of Education. She utterly failed in her duty to protect students from harm and to hold scam schools accountable."

A hearing for the suit had been scheduled for June 3.


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