Bush administration ethics lawyer slams hiring of DeJoy as postmaster

By: - September 15, 2020 12:30 am

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 24: U.S. Postal Service Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies during a hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on August 24, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee is holding a hearing on “Protecting the Timely Delivery of Mail, Medicine, and Mail-in Ballots.” (Photo by Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — A top ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush on Monday decried Louis DeJoy’s appointment to postmaster general and called for a congressional investigation into allegations of criminal activity.

Richard Painter, who served as chief White House ethics lawyer and associate counsel to Bush, said DeJoy should not have been allowed to take control of an agency with which he has large financial ties. He also called on the Postal Service to release documents related to DeJoy’s hiring so the committee can conduct “a proper investigation” into the matter.

In 2014, DeJoy’s former company, New Breed Logistics, based in North Carolina, merged with XPO Logistics, a Postal Service contractor.

DeJoy served on the company’s board of directors until 2018 but still holds a major financial stake in the business, according to The New York Times.

Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota law school, questioned how DeJoy could ethically run the post office while, at the same time, owning millions of dollars in stock in a company that delivers the mail.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Painter said during a House oversight hearing on potential conflicts of interest under DeJoy’s tenure, which began three months ago.

Such a conflict of interest wouldn’t have been tolerated by the Bush administration, said Painter, who was responsible for ensuring that senior appointees in the Bush administration didn’t run afoul of federal laws barring conflicts of interest. That would have been a “no-go.” he said.

David Fineman, former chair of the Postal Service’s board of governors, also questioned the ethics of DeJoy’s appointment. The Postal Service shouldn’t hire people with apparent conflicts of interest, said Fineman, who now heads the board of the Fair Elections Center.

The hearing comes amid Democratic allegations that the Trump administration is trying to suppress votes during a pandemic in which the Postal Service will serve as “election central” because Americans will be reluctant to vote in person for fear of spreading infection.

President Donald Trump told Fox News this summer that he opposes some funding for the Postal Service because he doesn’t want it used for mail-in votes, repeating his claim that it would lead to “fraudulent” results.

DeJoy, a GOP mega donor and Trump ally, has ushered in sweeping changes to the agency since taking the job in June but has called allegations that they were intended to sway the election results “outrageous.”

Instead, he has characterized the slowdown as a temporary service decline and said changes to overtime, retail hours and the location of mail processing machines and blue mailboxes were made to cut costs and streamline operations — not sway the elections.

This summer, DeJoy said he would suspend some of his moves until after the elections to avoid the appearance of impropriety. He also said he wouldn’t close existing mail processing facilities and would use “standby” resources in October to meet mail surges.

But Democrats have said the delays threaten the integrity of the elections and are depriving Americans of timely delivery of medicine, paychecks and other essentials.

Republicans on the committee cried foul, calling Monday’s hearing — the latest of several recently on the Postal Service — a “sham” rooted in conspiracy theories and held to score political points ahead of an election.

It’s “as close to a kangaroo court as anything I’ve seen,” said Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia, the panel’s ranking Republican.

Fred Keller, a Pennsylvania Republican who sits on the committee, said the hearing is “another attempt to attack the postmaster general instead of tackling the real issue of postal reform.”

A Republican for some 30 years, Painter teaches corporate law at the University of Minnesota. He sought the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party’s nomination for U.S. Senate in a special election in 2018 — a point Republican lawmakers used to paint him as a Democratic ally.

Painter responded angrily that he ran as an Independent during what was an open primary because of his “disgust” with the direction of the GOP — and never identified as a Democrat. He said he was also disgusted by questions challenging his political affiliation.

Allegations of pressure on employees

The hearing followed a bombshell report in The Washington Post last week in which anonymous sources accused DeJoy of allegedly pressuring employees of his former business to contribute to Republican candidates in exchange for later reimbursement.

Five unnamed employees of New Breed Logistics accused DeJoy and his aides of urging them to write checks and attend GOP fundraisers at his North Carolina mansion and said they were later reimbursed for their donations via bonuses.

Painter said the arrangement would be in violation of federal law if true and merits a congressional investigation.

Democrats on the panel also pointed to a mailer the Postal Service recently sent out that contained incorrect voting information and reports that DeJoy allegedly forged his brother’s signature in an effort to push him out of his family’s business.

And they questioned why DeJoy’s name was not included on a list submitted to the Postal Service’s board of governors by an outside search firm. Robert Duncan, chair of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors and also a major Republican donor, has defended the selection process, calling DeJoy the “best leader” for the job.

DeJoy has come under heavy fire for withholding information about mail service delays. Democrats on the full House Oversight and Reform Committee pressed him in August over an internal report showing steep declines in on-time mail deliveries since July — challenging GOP claims that Democrats manufactured the crisis.

DeJoy did not share findings from the Aug. 12 report when senators asked for information about the delays in a Senate oversight hearing on the matter. 

Nor did DeJoy share its findings in response to an Aug. 14 letter Democratic leaders sent him requesting information about the delays by Aug. 21, according to Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs the oversight panel.

In August, the U.S. House passed legislation that would infuse $25 billion into the U.S. Postal Service as it prepares for a surge in mail-in ballots and bar it from changing operations or service levels in place at the beginning of the year. The Senate has yet to take up the legislation.

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Allison Stevens
Allison Stevens

Allison Stevens is a Washington D.C. reporter for States Newsroom, a network of state-based nonprofit news outlets that includes the Ohio Capital Journal.