Trump appointee faces complaint over spying on social media to check for loyalty to Trump


A partisan appointee in the Department of Justice is stalking the social media profiles of grant reviewers to make sure they're pro-Trump enough.

A Trump political appointee in the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), which is part of the Department of Justice, has been interfering with the grant award process.

That's according to a new complaint filed by the nation's largest public employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). It alleges that Darlene Hutchinson Biehl, the head of the OVC, has been monitoring social media accounts of grant award reviewers to eliminate those that aren't sufficiently pro-Trump.

The OVC awards grants to nonprofits and local governments engaged in assisting victims of crimes. Awarding grants requires external reviewers — experts who assess the grant applications.


That should be a non-partisan process. Fealty to Trump, or any administration, isn't the criteria by which reviewers should be judged. But, the complaint alleges, Biehl monitored the social media accounts of reviewers to see if they agreed with the administration about immigration and opposed the legalization of prostitution. The complaint alleges that some peer reviewers may have been rejected based on their social media profile.

Before Trump, this was unheard of. Laurie Robinson, a former assistant attorney general, said that she "never once in 10 years selected a peer reviewer" and that the entire point is that "the person who signs grants is not involved in selecting peer reviewers."

Reviewers are neutral. The Trump administration is not.

Trump's political appointees tend to infect nearly everything they touch with the sort of hyper-partisanship Trump himself is famous for. Over at the State Department, for example, career employees were damaged by a Trump political appointee who engaged in "disrespectful and hostile treatment of employees … and harassment of career employees premised on claims that they were ‘disloyal’ based on their perceived political views."

The Office of the Special Counsel (no, not the Robert Mueller portion) issued guidance to employees telling them they would violate the Hatch Act if they displayed any resistance slogans or advocated opposing Trump. This guidance came in spite of the fact White House employees like Kellyanne Conway routinely violate the Hatch Act and suffer no consequences.

The DOJ's inspector general is tasked with investigating the complaint. With luck, that part of the Justice Department isn't entirely beholden to Trump.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.