RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week

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RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week 
Aug. 25 to Aug. 31, 2019 

Featured Investigation:
U.S. Intel Gatekeeper Dragging Feet
on Trump-Russia Files, Insiders Say

Months after President Trump granted Attorney General William Barr unprecedented power to declassify files, key U.S. intelligence agencies are still withholding documents related to the Trump-Russia affair, say people with direct knowledge of White House discussions on the subject. Paul Sperry reports for RealClearInvestigations that the logjam is the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, where, sources say, “establishment” officials  are dragging their heels. Sources tell Sperry that the documents, detailed further in a sidebar article, include: 

  • Evidence that President Obama’s CIA, FBI and Justice Department eavesdropped on the Trump campaign without a lawful basis to do so. Sources who have seen the documents say these cases go beyond the FISA court-approved surveillance of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.  
  • Transcripts of 53 closed-door interviews of FBI and Justice Department officials and other witnesses conducted by the House Intelligence Committee.  
  • Confidential source reports summarizing briefings between FBI agents and the informants and assets they jointly handled with the CIA, including Christopher Steele, Felix Sater, Azra Turk and ex-Cambridge professor Stefan Halper, who's said to have lured Trump aides George Papadopoulos and Carter Page overseas, where he secretly tape-recorded them. 
  • An August 2016 briefing former CIA Director John Brennan hand-delivered in a sealed envelope to President Obama containing information from what Brennan claimed was "a critical informant close to Putin." That informant is believed to have actually been a Russian source recycled from a largely debunked dossier compiled by ex-British agent Steele for the Hillary Clinton campaign. 

Sperry reports that intelligence officials don’t appear to be in legal trouble – yet. Barr has requested but not demanded the documents, hoping for their cooperation, his sources say. 

The resistance comes amid Trump’s efforts to shake up the intelligence office following the resignation of its director, Dan Coats, earlier this month. Candidates to succeed Coats include Peter Hoekstra, former head of the House Intelligence Committee, and Fred Fleitz, the panel’s former staff director, who has the support of National Security Adviser John Bolton. 

Read Full Article 

See Expanded List of Documents 

What Do Federal Watchdogs Actually Do Most of the Time? 
RealClearInvestigations 
Federal inspectors general usually only get attention when they release a blockbuster report such as the Justice Department’s just-released one on former FBI Director James Comey’s transgressions. But what are IGs doing when they aren’t investigating hot-button issues? That is, what bang for the buck are taxpayers getting from all 73 IG offices, sprawling across the vast federal bureaucracy at a cost of $2.5 billion per year? 

The answer, as Max Diamond reports for RealClearInvestigations, is often not much of consequence. Legions of IG minions run down daily humdrum complaints, often anonymous tips full of sound and fury -- typically  signifying no big whoop. Although not always. Cases include: 

  • A claim that a top National Park Service honcho pretended to pee against a wall while talking to someone in an office hallway. 
  • A report about a White House staffer having sex on a government rooftop. 
  • A tip that a federal employee was lying about her cancer diagnosis. 
  • Some guy compromising national security by looking at Ukrainian porn on a government computer. 

Tens of thousands people avail themselves of IG complaint hotlines, often frivolously. Between October and March 2019 the Social Security Administration’s IG got 161,000 beefs. All of those have to be screened and vetted before a full-fledged investigation can be green-lit. Not many are.

Because many tips are hard to verify – “he said/she said” situations, for example – some think it’s too easy to lodge bogus complaints that sap government resources. Yet experts say the many investigations that come up empty shouldn’t be a big concern. “If every OIG investigation turned up something wrong, it would probably suggest that an IG is only taking the slam-dunk cases,”  said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The Trump Investigations: Top Articles

Inspector General Issues Scathing Report on Comey Memo Abuses, Fox News
IG Report Details Comey Plan to Brief Trump on Moscow Sex, Examiner 
Emails Show Nellie Ohr Pushed Reams of GPS Oppo Work, Examiner 
Prosecutors Near Decision on Indicting McCabe, New York Times 

The Jeffrey Epstein Investigation: Top Articles

How Epstein's Ring of Female Recruiters Allegedly Operated, New York Times 
The 2 Young Sisters Who Blew the Whistle on Epstein in the '90s, NY Times 
My Night With Epstein Pal Brunel and His Terrified Models, Daily Beast 
On Epstein’s 'Little St. Jeff's' Island, Money Bought Power, NY Times 
Some Video Outside Epstein Cell Called Unusable, Washington Post 


Other Noteworthy Articles and Series

Small Towns Are Dangerously Dependent on Fines and Fees 
Governing.com 
Municipal governance got you stumped? Anti-tax voter backlash got you down? Poor constituents giving you a headache? Then consider the miracle cure sweeping the country ... fines! Yes, fines are boosting vim and vigor and putting a spring in the step of budgets across the land. They account for more than 10 percent of general fund revenues in nearly 600 U.S. jurisdictions, though they are far more common in the South.  

Insurance Companies Fueling a Rise in Ransomware Attacks 
ProPublica 
Ransomware is proliferating across America, disabling computer systems of corporations, city governments, schools and police departments. This month, attackers seeking millions of dollars encrypted the files of 22 Texas municipalities. Overlooked in the ransomware spree is the role of an industry that is both fueling and benefiting from it: insurance. In recent years, cyber insurance sold by domestic and foreign companies has grown into an estimated $7 billion to $8 billion-a-year market in the U.S. alone. While insurers do not release information about ransom payments, ProPublica has found that they often accommodate attackers’ demands, even when alternatives such as saved backup files may be available. 

1 Gun, 9 Murders: How U.S. Firearms Cause Carnage Abroad 
New York Times 
An outbreak of violence is afflicting Jamaica, born of small-time gangs, warring criminals and neighborhood feuds that go back generations; it's hand-me-down hatred fueled by pride. This year, the government sent the military into the streets to fight it. Over 80 percent of homicides in Jamaica are committed with firearms, compared with 32 percent worldwide. Source of most of the guns: the United States, whose loose gun laws facilitate the carnage. 

The Unchecked Power of Judges Is Hurting Poor Texans 
Texas Monthly 
In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that every person accused of a crime deserves a lawyer. It didn’t say how to pay for it. As a result, local policymakers facing other costs—for schools, roads, law enforcement—consistently shortchange indigent defense. This is why public defender’s offices are chronically understaffed. It’s also why court-appointed private lawyers are overloaded: the fees they’re paid are often so low that they are forced to take on a multitude of cases just to make a living. Some overburdened lawyers, in turn, contribute to so-called plea mills, in which, critics say, they encourage defendants to plead guilty because they are either too swamped to investigate claims or incentivized not to. This article reports that problem is further exacerbated in states like Texas where judges are elected officials so that they have an incentive to put people behind bars, cheaply. 

Divorce Filing Alleges Ilhan Omar Adultery 
Minneapolis Star Tribune 
Rep. Ilhan Omar's love life keeps getting in the way of her efforts to transform America. For years she has been dogged by allegations that while she was living with and filing joint tax returns with one man, she was married to another – who might have been her brother. She denies that. This week a Washington, D.C., physician alleged in divorce filings that her husband, a national political consultant named Tim Mynett, left her after becoming romantically involved with Omar, a client of his fundraising business. In addition, a conservative government watchdog says Omar may have violated campaign finance laws because her campaign spent $21,547 on travel for the E Street Group, which is run by Mynett. That would be a violation if the travel funds were actually for personal use. In an interview, Omar denied that she is separated or dating outside her marriage.

How Elon Musk Fooled Investors, Bilked Taxpayers for SolarCity 
Vanity Fair 
In 2016, Elon Musk of Tesla made a high-stakes move to dominate America’s growing market for solar energy by purchasing a company called SolarCity for almost $5 billion. The plan, in true Muskian hyperbole, was to turn the company’s plant in Buffalo into the largest manufacturing facility of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. SolarCity would build 10,000 solar panels per day and install them on homes and businesses across the country. In the process, it would create 5,000 jobs in an area that very much needed them. Three years later, this article reports, there are serious doubts as to whether the plant will ever fulfill its promises. A potentially costly lawsuit alleges that Tesla acquired SolarCity at the expense of its own shareholders. And former employees want to know what happened to the $750 million subsidy Tesla received from New York State.   

Campaigning, Biden's Telling a Bogus War Story 
Washington Post 
Another day, another doozy from Joe Biden. This one involves a story he recently told at a campaign rally in New Hampshire about flying to Afghanistan in 2011 to honor a hero. Biden says his advisers told him the trip was too risky, but he brushed off their concerns. "We can lose a vice president," he said. "We can't lose many more of these kids. Not a joke." Biden said the Navy captain he wanted to honor had rappelled down a 60-foot ravine under fire and retrieved the body of an American comrade, carrying him on his back. Now the service wanted Biden to pin a Silver Star on the American hero who, despite his bravery, felt like a failure. "He said, 'Sir, I don't want the damn thing!' " Biden said, his jaw clenched and his voice rising to a shout. "'Do not pin it on me, Sir! Please, Sir. Do not do that! He died. He died!' " The room was silent. "This is the God's truth," Biden had said as he told the story. "My word as a Biden." Except, this article reports, “almost every detail in the story appears to be incorrect.” 

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