House Dems: Trump’s federal ‘gag orders’ likely illegal

House Dems: Trump’s federal ‘gag orders’ likely illegal
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Two House Democrats say President Trump’s “gag orders” on federal employees appear to violate federal laws.

Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) outlined their allegations in a letter Thursday to White House counsel Donald McGahn, asking him to investigate the matter.

Also on Thursday, five Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee subpanel with authority over the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wrote to Trump with their concerns about the communication blackout and officials' decision to temporarily stop some grant and contract payments.

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The letters came less than a week after Trump’s inauguration as administration officials restrict social media and contacting the press at agencies including the EPA, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Pallone and Cummings take issue specifically with the restrictions on communicating with Congress.

That appears to violate multiple laws meant to protect whistleblowers who want to tell Congress about wrongdoing in the federal government, like the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act and appropriations legislation.

Cummings has been active in fighting the restrictions. In a Wednesday appearance on MSNBC, he said that federal employees can still talk to Congress and urged them to call him if they need to.

The lawmakers quoted from a recent memo circulated at the Department of Health and Human Services restricting communications with Congress.

“This memo appears to violate all of these laws, and it creates the impression that the Trump administration intends to muzzle whistleblowers,” the lawmakers wrote.

“For more than a century, Congress has protected the rights of federal employees to communicate with Congress about waste, fraud and abuse in the executive branch."

Pallone and Cummings asked that McGahn investigate the memos and ask Trump to issue an official statement to clarify that whistleblowers will be protected.

The letter from appropriators, led by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), expresses concern regarding the EPA’s restrictions on grants and contracts as well, arguing that stopping those payments runs counter to Congress’s intent when it appropriated those funds.

“The administration failed to notify Congress and the state environmental agencies of its freeze on EPA grant and contract funds and has refused to respond to state agency inquiries,” the five Democrats wrote.