Joni Ernst tweets about aliens, silent on Trump pushing Ukraine for political gain

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst is among Ukraine’s most vocal supporters in Congress. While in college, she visited the Ukrainian Republic of the USSR as part of an agricultural exchange. Now a member of the bipartisan Senate Ukraine Caucus, she has met with high-level Ukrainian officials in Washington and Kyiv, advocating for the U.S. to “make it clear to Russia that we will stand by Ukraine in the face of unjustified aggression.”

Yet Iowa’s junior senator has been silent this week as multiple news organizations reported that President Donald Trump abused his power to seek political assistance from his Ukrainian counterpart.

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Where are they now? Matt Whitaker edition

Matt Whitaker will become a managing director for the Kansas City-based Clout Public Affairs consulting firm, Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg News was first to report on August 1. Whitaker served as chief of staff for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for a little more than a year before President Donald Trump named him acting attorney general in November 2018, flouting a federal law and a constitutional requirement that anyone holding that position be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Whitaker stepped down as acting attorney general in February, after the Senate confirmed William Barr. He was “counselor in the associate attorney general’s office” for just a few weeks before leaving the Justice Department in early March. Jacobs tweeted on August 1, “There was speculation Trump would appoint Whitaker to another admin job, but the president so far hasn’t made any moves to do so, I’m told.”

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Why was Jerry Foxhoven worried?

Jerry Foxhoven has shed more light on the disagreement that preceded his forced departure as Iowa Department of Human Services director last month. On July 24 he told David Pitt of the Associated Press “that he declined to approve paying the salary of Elizabeth Matney, who left DHS on May 17 to accept a job as Gov. Kim Reynolds’ adviser on health policy.”

Staff for Reynolds disputed Foxhoven’s account, saying he never raised concerns about covering Matney’s salary and wasn’t fired for that reason. They also noted that for many years, state agencies including DHS have occasionally paid employees working in the governor’s office.

Foxhoven’s aware of that precedent, having signed some of the relevant documents himself. So why would he question the legality of this arrangement? The former director’s comments to reporters and records obtained by Bleeding Heartland provide some clues.

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Some county treasurers have flouted Iowa gift law for years

Enforcement of Iowa ethics law is a joke.

Dubuque County Treasurer Eric Stierman and Winneshiek County Treasurer Wayne Walter stayed for free in a vendor’s Florida condo a few months ago, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on March 13. The condo’s owner is Marc Carr, whose company GovTech Services collects local taxes for most of the state’s counties. The officials “denied any wrongdoing, describing Carr as a friend with whom they had previously vacationed in Florida.”

Iowa gift law does not exempt friends or vacations. While Stierman and Walter committed a particularly outrageous violation, their disregard for the code is hardly surprising.

For years, the Iowa State County Treasurer’s Association and the Iowa State Association of Counties have enabled and encouraged gifts to county treasurers from GovTech and SRI Incorporated, which handles online tax auctions. Since 2014, the two companies have paid for scholarships available only to children and grandchildren of county treasurers or their employees.

The mission of the association of counties is “to promote effective and responsible county government.” Yet the group’s top attorney Kristi Harshbarger helped devise a scheme to offer the scholarships despite the apparent gift law problem. Later, Harshbarger pushed back hard against an ethics board opinion that the program did not comply with the statute.

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