In it, but not of it. TPM DC

A congressional ethics watchdog released a report Thursday that found Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) may have broken ethics rules and federal law with actions he took as a board member of the biotech firm Innate Immunotherapeutics.

The independent Office for Congressional Ethics (OCE), which may investigate allegations against lawmakers and refer its findings to the House Ethics Committee, found there is “substantial reason to believe” Collins shared nonpublic information about the purchase of Innate stock with investors and that he took official actions to help Innate: two National Institutes of Health employees told OCE that Collins asked an NIH employee to help Innate with a clinical trial.

It asked that the House Ethics Committee further review those two actions. The watchdog said it did not find substantial reason to believe that Collins purchased discounted stock, however.

The House Ethics panel said Thursday that it was again extending a review of the allegations against Collins.

The committee first extended its review following a report that Collins purchased Innate stock while the Food and Drug Administration was considering whether to approve a drug made by the company. Collins also introduced an amendment to a House bill related to FDA drug approval that would impact Innate, according to the Daily Beast’s reporting.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price did not cooperate with the OCE investigation, according to the watchdog’s report. The watchdog recommended the House Ethics Committee subpoena Price, who said in his confirmation hearing that he purchased Innate stock after hearing about it from Collins.

Correction: The initial version of this post incorrectly referred to the Food and Drug Administration as the Federal Drug Administration.

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President Trump signed an executive order Thursday taking aim at the Affordable Care Act, after Congress’ failure to pass a bill to repeal it.

The order is vague — it mainly directs certain agencies to relax a few key health care regulations imposed under President Obama — so it’s hard to assess its potential impact or the shape of the legal battle that will likely meet it. Its main goal appears to allow the purchase in certain scenarios of cheaper but more barebones plans, at the risk of diverting healthy people away from the more comprehensive policies mandated by the ACA and raising premiums for those reliant on the more generous plans.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the order is that it does not go as far as Obamacare supporters had feared it could have in undermining the 2010 health care legislation.

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President Trump’s latest threat against NBC for negative coverage was classic Trump: a frightening broadside against essential American freedoms that nonetheless ignores — almost comically—the basic workings of the government.

Telecommunications law experts and veterans of the Federal Communications Commission told TPM Wednesday that Trump’s suggestion for how NBC could be punished for “Fake News” is a long shot, legally speaking, but also troubling in its implications.

“When the President is attacking the media criticism and threatening legal action, because he doesn’t like what they’re broadcasting, it’s obviously a great concern and raises serious questions of First Amendment values and relationships with the free press. But as a legal matter, it’s an empty threat,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, an expert in telecommunications law at Georgetown University Law Center.

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Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore was privately guaranteed a yearly salary of $180,000 from a charity he started, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Moore became president of the group, Foundation for Moral Law, in 2007, after having used it as a platform “to advance himself on any possible front, whether it was political or oratorical,” one University of Alabama professor emeritus of political science told the Post.

TPM recently reported on one significant donor to Moore’s group during that time: The Confederate sympathizer Michael Anthony Peroutka, who, mostly via donations from his wife’s Elizabeth Stroub Peroutka Foundation, gave $249,000 from 2006 through 2014 to Foundation for Moral Law.

Foundation for Moral Law received tax exempt status only after another group, the Roy Moore Legal Defense Fund, was rejected for that classification in 2004. In 2003, Moore was removed from office for refusing to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments he had installed at the courthouse, defying a federal judge’s order. That act of defiance launched the career of a nationwide conservative celebrity.

Meanwhile, Moore collected more than $1 million from Foundation for Moral Law between 2007 and 2012, when he was again elected as Alabama’s chief justice, the Post reported based on internal and IRS documents.

The salary was taken in part from speaking fees and donations to “Project Jeremiah,” an outreach program to pastors and preachers, the Post reported. When those funds didn’t reach the $180,000 mark, the charity paid Moore out of its own coffers, according to the Post.

For those years when there wasn’t enough cash on hand to pay Moore his promised salary, the Post reported, Foundation for Moral Law gave Moore a promissory note backed by a second mortgage on its building: For $393,000 in 2011, at first. In December of that year, the sum was increased to $498,000, and then to $540,000 in 2012. The Post reported the sums from the group’s mortgage documents.

The man who oversaw the debt to Moore, Alabama Circuit Court Judge John Bentley — the former chairman of the group’s board and still a member of it — stumbled when he tried to explain the differences between Moore’s publicly reported income and the amounts he had truly received over the years.

“That’s my fault,” he told the Post. “I should have been a lot more active than I was.”

He added: “I can understand why that would raise some concerns.”

The IRS in February concluded an audit of the Foundation for Moral Law’s 2013 records and said that the group “did not identify its special fundraising activities” and that its filings “did not reflect those recorded on your books of account,” the Post reported.

Read the Post’s full report here.

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In a blistering letter to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Wednesday, several prominent conservative groups called on the Senate majority leader to step down from his role, calling him and his leadership team “abject failures.”

“2017 has been a disappointing year for millions of Americans who fully expected, and had every right to expect real change in Washington, Republicans were given full control of the federal government. They — you — have done nothing,” the groups began in their letter.

After listing grievances with McConnell and his leadership team, the six conservative group leaders called on the majority leader to step down.

“It is time for you and your leadership team to step aside, for new leadership that is committed to the promises made to the American people. America is too good for you lead it,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by Ken Cuccinelli, president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which backed McConnell’s primary challenger a few years ago; Brent Bozell, a tea party activist and conservative columnist; Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots; David Bozell, president of the conservative group For America; Adam Brandon, president of the Tea Party group FreedomWorks; and Richard Viguerie, an established GOP political consultant who has backed President Donald Trump and his allies.

Missing from the letter were representatives from other prominent conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth.

In the letter, the group leaders outlined issues that Republicans in the Senate have yet to move forward with, such as curbing illegal immigration, reducing the size of government and spending, and enacting tax reform. They also placed a lot of emphasis on the Senate’s failure to pass a bill repealing Obamacare.

“Perhaps the the greatest betrayal —and that is what it is — is your failure to repeal Obamacare, the single most devastating piece of legislation against freedom ever crafted,” they wrote, adding that the House and Trump did their part.

They said that the legislative failures “come on top of your vicious, continuous, merciless attacks on grassroots Republicans, but most especially conservatives.” The conservative leaders also accused McConnell of blackballing certain GOP candidates.

“You and your leadership team — Senators John Cornyn, Roy Blunt, John Thune and John Barrasso — have made war with your own grassroots while cynically refusing to honor one solemn pledge to the American people,” they wrote.

Read the letter below:

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pushed back on comments made by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicating that the top Senate Republican would like to eliminate the last tool Democrats have to block President Trump’s judicial nominees.

“The Senate has fewer and fewer mechanisms that create bipartisanship and bring people to an agreement. The blue slips are one of them,” Schumer said Wednesday in a statement, referring to the Senate tradition that a judicial nominee not move forward until both home state senators return the so-called “blue slip” approving their nomination.

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Office of Government Ethics acting Director David Apol, who oversees ethics in the executive branch, sent a memo to the heads of federal agencies last week admonishing some Cabinet officials for their actions and encouraging a greater focus on ethics.

The memo came as several Cabinet chiefs have come under scrutiny for their taxpayer-funded travel habits, although Apol did not explicitly mention officials’ use of non-commercial flights in his memo.

“I am deeply concerned that the actions of some in Government leadership have harmed perceptions about the importance of ethics and what conduct is, and is not, permissible,” he wrote.

Apol encouraged agency heads to “re-double” their commitment to ethics, telling Cabinet officials that it is “essential to the success of our republic that citizens can trust that your decisions and decisions made by your agency are motivated by the public good and not by personal interests.”

He then listed ways in which Cabinet officials could go about strengthening their focus on ethics. He told leaders to act with a “‘Should I do it?’ mentality,” as opposed to a “‘Can I do it?’ mentality.” He also encouraged agency chiefs to talk more about ethics at their departments, learn more about ethics policies and include ethics officials in more meetings.

Several Cabinet officials are under investigation by their departments’ inspectors general due to their use of non-commercial planes for official travel, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Tom Price recently resigned as health and human services secretary due to his use of private planes.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was also under review. The Treasury Department inspector general’s office found that his non-commercial air travel was legal, but warned Mnuchin to provide a more robust justification for those flights in the future.

Read Apol’s memo below:

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After waging a war of words against NFL players for several weeks, President Donald Trump on Wednesday morning celebrated the news that the NFL will consider requiring players to stand for the national anthem.

Trump claimed in an early-morning tweet that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is “demanding” that players stand for the national anthem, but the league has not yet decided on an official change to its policy.

The league will meet next week to discuss possible changes to its policy on the national anthem.

Trump began his feud with NFL players during a September rally in Alabama, where he said that any “son of a bitch” who kneels during the national anthem at an NFL game should be fired. The protests began as a way for players to protest police treatment of minorities.

The President has since continuously escalated his attacks on NFL players, regularly firing off tweets as more players join in on the protests. On Tuesday morning, Trump threatened the NFL’s tax breaks, even though the league gave up its tax-exempt status a couple of years ago.

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President Trump pointed to the premium hikes a guest of his at the White House Tuesday was facing as his reason to “do something” about the Affordable Care Act — a move that may come in an executive order as soon as this week.

Never mind that the guest Trump cited was former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who is 94 years old and thus eligible for Medicare. It is unlikely that Kissinger is getting his insurance from Obamacare’s individual market, yet Trump claimed that he did not want to “pay 116 percent increase in his premiums.”

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President Donald Trump on Saturday afternoon again asserted that diplomacy will not prevent North Korea from becoming a nuclear power and appeared to suggest that war with the country is only solution.

Trump made the comments in a series of tweets upon returning to the White House after spending several hours at his golf course in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

This is far from the first time that Trump has dismissed diplomatic efforts — the President periodically sends tweets threatening North Korea and bashing talks carried out by his own state department.

Last weekend, Trump tweeted that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with” North Korea. The tweet came after Tillerson revealed that the state department has direct communications channels with North Korea for diplomatic talks.

In September, Trump warned North Korea that he is prepared to take military action against the country if leader Kim Jong Un continues to test missiles and progress in its efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon.

The President also published a tweet in August arguing that “talking is not the answer” with North Korea, prompting Defense Secretary James Mattis to follow up and tell reporters that the U.S. is “never out of diplomatic solutions.”

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