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Trump's FEMA chief reportedly facing possible criminal probe

The investigation into FEMA chief Brock Long is apparently more serious than we previously realized.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long delivers update on federal actions to support Hurricane Irma response in Washington, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long delivers update on federal actions to support Hurricane Irma response in Washington, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. 

We've known for about a week that FEMA chief Brock Long isn't just dealing with the effects of Hurricane Florence; he's also found himself facing an ethics investigation. The Wall Street Journal  reported overnight that the matter appears to be increasingly serious.

An investigation targeting President Trump's top emergency-management official has been referred to federal prosecutors to determine whether criminal charges should be pursued, according to people familiar with the probe.Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and two other federal employees may have broken as many as six laws as they commuted frequently between Washington and Mr. Long's home in Hickory, N.C., at taxpayers' expense, said one of the people briefed on the investigation.

The Washington Post had a related report, noting that an internal investigation within the Department of Homeland Security has been "referred to U.S. attorneys for prosecution."

Making matters slightly worse for the FEMA director, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) wrote to Long yesterday, "requesting documentation and other information related to his use of government vehicles and about the agency personnel who may have accompanied him on the trips."

For those just joining us, the Trump administration has already been burdened by a series of controversies over top officials misusing public funds for personal travel, though Brock Long appears to offer a rather extreme example of the problem.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal  report, the FEMA chief has often left his agency's office in D.C. on Thursday, using public resources to drive 400 miles -- each way -- to his home in North Carolina.

Long reportedly traveled "with a caravan of federal workers, who stayed in nearby hotels for the long weekend," all at taxpayer expense. In all, after a year on the job, he's reportedly spent "about 150 days" in North Carolina.

Though accounts differ, one official told Politico that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asked Long to consider resigning, though he denies such a conversation took place.

Obviously, if the FEMA administrator faces criminal charges in the matter, it will dramatically escalate the seriousness of the controversy, but in the meantime, Long has appeared eager to flatter Donald Trump publicly, perhaps as part of a strategy to keep his job.

As for the bigger picture, Team Trump probably didn’t need yet another serious investigation into a prominent administration official, but that’s apparently what has happened.

As we recently discussed, NBC News published a list back in April of Trump administration figures “accused of crossing ethical lines,” and the list wasn’t at all short. The president himself, of course, is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation and is accused of ignoring ethics rules, but the list also included familiar controversies involving former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, former HHS Secretary Tom Price, regulatory adviser Carl Icahn, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, former CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.

That’s not even an exhaustive list. As we discussed at the time, by my count, I’d also throw in related controversies surrounding Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and even former VA Secretary David Shulkin.

If you voted for the Republican ticket in 2016 because you hoped to avoid four years of ethics controversies, I have some very bad news for you.