While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced his intention to rush a vote on President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee despite the fact that the general election is already underway in several states, the nomination of the man who would investigate McConnell’s wife is slowly making its way through the confirmation process in McConnell’s Senate.
As Department of Transportation Inspector General, Eric Soskin would be tasked with continuing an ethics investigation into whether Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao granted favors to McConnell’s political allies during his re-election campaign. A Trump political appointee previously vetted by McConnell is currently leading DOT’s Office of Inspector General after a Trump shake-up. McConnell promised to “leave no vacancy behind” when it comes to federal judges, but apparently this standard does not apply to the top watchdog for the agency his wife runs.
McConnell has made no secret that filling court vacancies is his priority, reshaping the federal judiciary for years to come. On Friday, just over an hour after the Supreme Court announced Justice Ginsburg’s passing, McConnell eagerly announced that he will work to confirm Trump’s pick to fill the high court vacancy, despite the fact that Americans in several states are already voting, and despite his position in 2016 that a Supreme Court seat should remain vacant for months because it was an election year. Since the 1970’s, filling a Supreme Court vacancy has taken an average of 68 days, so replacing Justice Ginsburg before the election would be abnormally fast.
Meanwhile, it has been more than eight months since DOT has had a permanent IG. Inspector General Calvin Scovell, III retired in January, and his principal deputy, Mitch Behm, assumed leadership of the office. At the time, Transportation’s OIG had already confirmed that it was investigating alleged favoritism towards Kentucky and McConnell allies by Chao and her senior leadership team. In May, President Trump sidelined Behm and installed a political appointee from with the agency, Howard “Skip” Elliott, to serve as Acting IG, while maintaining his administration post as well. Documents obtained by CREW reveal that Trump’s abrupt move was met with shock and concern from Behm’s colleagues.
Trump announced his intention to nominate Soskin on the same day he replaced Behm with Elliott and fired the State Department IG investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. More than three months later, Soskin’s nomination just cleared the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee along party lines after facing significant questions about his independence and political interference with DOT OIG. Soskin will now be vetted by the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which has 20 days to consider the nomination. It’s unclear how high a priority this nomination is for committee chairman Senator Ron Johnson, who is expending much of HSGAC’s resources on a partisan and illegitimate investigation of Joe Biden and Burisma. If and when Soskin clears HSGAC, it is up to Leader McConnell to determine when the nomination will get a vote by the full Senate.
Under McConnell’s leadership, the Senate has taken numerous steps to speed up the process from nomination to confirmation of Trump appointees, but none of them seem to have expedited filling the vacant position at DOT IG. Currently, there is no clear timetable for when Soskin might be confirmed. Maybe that’s because President Trump already put the person McConnell wanted in charge of the Chao investigation in place months ago. Or because he considers both the acting IG and the nominee to be loyal to the president.
McConnell’s action to push through a Supreme Court nomination while Americans are already voting to potentially replace the president — and soon will begin voting on whether to replace McConnell — is an abuse of his office. The fact that this urgency stands in direct contrast to McConnell’s approach regarding a vacancy that could potentially impact his wife and his re-election bid is suspect at best — and massively corrupt at worst.