Kevin Chmielewski knew when he was out at the Environmental Protection Agency. As he told Democratic members of Congress, it was when the former deputy chief of staff refused to retroactively approve a staff member’s first-class travel from Morocco to the United States. Chmielewski, a 38-year-old former Coast Guard member, was placed on administrative leave without pay, later learning from news reports that he had been fired. A staunch Trump supporter, Chmielewski had tangled with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt over spending before: He’d previously dissuaded Pruitt from using EPA funds to contract with a private jet company for $100,000 per month. After his firing, Chmielewski turned whistleblower, meeting with congressional Democrats to detail EPA behaviors that he found to be unethical.
On Friday, in response to a judge’s order, the Department of Justice released data showing the authors, recipients, timing, and subject lines of a group of emails sent to and from the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. They show that in the weeks before the commission issued a controversial letter requesting sweeping voter data from the states, co-chair Kris Kobach and the commission’s staff sought the input of Hans von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams on “present and future” state data collection, and attached a draft of the letter for their review — at a moment when neither had yet been named to the commission. The commission’s letter requesting that data has been by far its most significant action since its formation in May — and was widely considered a fiasco. It sparked bipartisan criticism and multiple lawsuits. Yesterday, a state court blocked the state of Texas from handing over its data due to privacy concerns. The involvement by Adams and von Spakovsky, both Republicans, in drafting the letter even before they were nominated to the commission shows their influence.
On July 20, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke at a closed-door meeting of conservative state legislators and lobbyists, raising questions about his stated goals of transparency in federal government. Zinke, a former Montana congressman, spoke in Denver at the annual meeting for the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry organization backed by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil and devoted to “limited government, free markets and federalism.”
ALEC, whose initiatives include a push for state control over federal lands, provides model bills for state legislatures and influences bills going through Congress. Because of the group’s funding sources and its interest in states holding public lands, conservationists see Zinke’s association with the group as problematic. Throughout his congressional confirmation process for the Department of Interior position, and in the early months of his job, Zinke has reiterated that he does not favor land transfers. “The things that Zinke has claimed he stood for, in terms of public lands, ALEC are the ones driving against that all these years,” says Aaron Weiss, media director at the Center for Western Priorities.
When speaking to a congressional committee more than two decades ago about a bill that would have made sweeping changes to the federal Endangered Species Act, Kathleen Benedetto said the landmark 1973 law was flawed for not taking “into consideration that extinctions are part of that natural process.”
“If you look at the geological record, you can see throughout time that extinctions occurred,” Benedetto said in the 1995 House Committee on Natural Resources hearing. “We’re all aware that the dinosaurs were here for millions of years, and they’re not here any longer, and they disappeared long before man ever emerged as a species.”
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Benedetto co-founded the Women’s Mining Coalition and spoke on behalf of Grassroots ESA Coalition, an anti-regulation group aligned with the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Now, Benedetto is one of the new special assistants to Ryan Zinke, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior. She’s reportedly in the Bureau of Land Management after working on Donald Trump’s transition team and as a Republican legislative staffer for the House Natural Resources Committee. As a GS-15 employee she’ll be earning between $101,630-$132,122 per year.