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PA House Majority Leader refers probe of Wolf admin over COVID-19 nursing home deaths

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The majority leader in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives, state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R), announced Monday that he has formally referred an investigation of Gov. Tom Wolf‘s (D) administration’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic to the House Government Oversight Committee, in light of speculation surrounding COVID-related deaths at those facilities. Calls for an investigation have especially been mounting during the past month.

This move comes as the governor in neighboring New York, Andrew Cuomo (D), is facing growing scrutiny over reports and accusations that his administration covered up nursing home COVID-19 death data to downplay the role a March 25, 2020 directive forcing nursing homes to accept COVID-positive patients had in the thousands of COVID-related deaths from those homes. Significantly, New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) came out with a report in January saying that COVID-related nursing home deaths “may have been undercounted by as much as 50%”.

RELATED: NY AG releases report showing COVID-19 nursing home deaths ‘may have been undercounted by as much as 50%’

Cuomo is currently being investigated by federal authorities for his handling of nursing homes and the alleged cover-up of the death data.

MORE ON CUOMO: Report: Cuomo advisers altered report on COVID-19 nursing home deaths

In a statement from Benninghoff posted Monday to the Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus’s Facebook page, the commonwealth’s house majority leader began by saying, “While we are hopeful that an end to this pandemic may be in sight, we cannot stop asking questions about the government’s role in containing the spread of the virus.”

“More than 12,700 Pennsylvanians died in nursing homes—over half of Pennsylvania’s virus-related deaths—and, to date, families across the Commonwealth have not received answers as to why and whether or not government orders contributed to the spread of the virus in these facilities,” he continued, with the attached referral letter citing the state Department of Health’s (DOH) Long-Term Care Facilities data webpage reporting more than 12,700 COVID-19 deaths associated with nursing homes and personal care homes in Pennsylvania as of Thursday.

“Even a year after the pandemic began, data reported about deaths in Pennsylvania’s nursing homes remains incomplete and, in some cases, contradictory,” Benninghoff added.

“This non-partisan investigation should focus on getting answers and producing results,” he concluded. “Political maneuvering or obstruction should not interfere with finally answering the questions of so many Pennsylvania families whose vulnerable loved ones have been especially devastated by this virus.”

As the nursing home situation has grown more dire for Cuomo and has garnered more national media attention, alongside the sexual harassment allegations levied against him, Wolf has come under increased questioning from state GOP lawmakers wondering if Wolf followed his New York counterpart’s lead when it came to counting death data from nursing homes.

Wolf’s office has rebuked this speculation. “Pennsylvania did not discuss or coordinate reporting data or process with any other state including New York,” Lyndsey Kensinger, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said per The York Daily Record.

Like Cuomo, Wolf also issued a directive in the spring of last year ordering nursing homes to not turn away COVID-positive patients.

The March 18, 2020 Pennsylvania DOH directive stated: “Nursing care facilities must continue to accept new admissions and receive admissions for current residents who have been discharged from the hospital who are stable to alleviate the increasing burden in the acute care settings. This may include stable patients who have had the COVID-19 virus.”

As The York Daily Record noted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did say nursing homes could accept COVID-19 patients returning from hospitals, and Wolf and some other governors utilized that option to free up hospital beds. An accusation toward Wolf from Republicans, according to the newspaper, is that he made that CDC’s optional guidance mandatory.

According to the PHRC’s Facebook post, Wolf on February 23, 2021 said he would welcome a review of his administration’s handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes. “I want to be as transparent and open [as possible],” the governor reportedly said. “If there is something we can learn from anybody taking a look at what we’re doing, including the press, we’d welcome that.”

Also cited in the post is that House Democrats on March 1, 2021 saying they will be participating in the investigation. “House Democrats will work with the bipartisan oversight committee to review what happened in 2020,” they reportedly say. “It’s important not only to identify any missteps but also to highlight the many things that were done right. This fact-finding process will be guided by the truth and not by any false claims.”

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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Is the FBI ‘purging’ agents with Conservative views?

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On Thursday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan formally requested that the Justice Department’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, open an investigation into the FBI’s alleged use of political litmus tests to sideline or remove agents and employees with conservative viewpoints. This request also included a direct warning to FBI Director Christopher Wray about these practices.

Jordan’s action follows a report by Just the News detailing how an FBI security clearance review involved inquiries about an employee’s political beliefs. Specifically, the review asked whether the employee had expressed support for former President Donald Trump, attended a Second Amendment rally, or voiced skepticism about COVID-19 vaccines.

In a letter to Director Wray, Jordan expressed wrote, “The FBI appears to be purging itself of employees who do not share its preferred political views.” He emphasized the troubling nature of these practices, especially when they impinge on fundamental liberties and constitutional rights.

Speaking on the “John Solomon Reports” podcast, Jordan highlighted the severity of the situation: “Particularly when they’re asking about fundamental liberties, your constitutional rights, I mean, that is that is frightening stuff.” He further noted the retaliatory actions taken against whistleblowers who bring such issues to light, adding, “You put all that together, and you talk about politics driving what happens there.”

Jordan’s inquiry into the political weaponization of law enforcement has been ongoing, with a particular focus on the FBI’s conduct. In his communication with Inspector General Horowitz, Jordan underscored that the targeting of an employee’s political beliefs and First Amendment activities was deeply concerning and seemingly unrelated to legitimate security risk assessments. “These actions only serve to further erode the dwindling public trust in the FBI and reinforce the Committee and Select Subcommittee’s concerns about political bias within the FBI,” he wrote.

Jordan also referenced evidence uncovered by Judicial Watch, which suggested political retaliation against FBI whistleblowers aiding Congress. He pointed out that an FBI official allegedly disclosed nonpublic information about these whistleblowers to a Democrat member of the Select Subcommittee, ostensibly to discredit their testimonies about FBI misconduct. “It appears from the documents that the FBI sought to selectively disclose this nonpublic information so that it would be used to impugn the credibility of the whistleblowers,” Jordan stated.

In his separate letter to Wray, Jordan questioned the relevance of political viewpoints to security clearance determinations. He argued that while assessing the legality of employees’ actions is legitimate, questions about political beliefs are “completely irrelevant to any legitimate security risk determination” and infringe upon First Amendment rights.

Following the release of internal FBI memos showing that bureau officials had inquired about an employee’s support for Trump, stance on COVID-19 vaccines, and participation in a Second Amendment rally, concerns about political bias have intensified. These memos indicated that the employee’s security clearance was revoked months after confirming his conservative views and vaccine skepticism.

Tristan Leavitt, the lawyer representing the affected FBI employee, commended the congressional oversight, stating, “It’s good to see Congress holding the FBI’s feet to the fire.” He emphasized the need for a thorough investigation into how these questions were used to justify purging conservative employees from the FBI.

 Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton echoed this sentiment on the “Just the News, No Noise” TV show, predicting that the FBI would attempt to deflect criticism despite clear evidence of misconduct. “I’m sure we’ll get some distraction and noise from Chris Wray and a reaffirmation that the FBI never does anything wrong, even when it’s caught red-handed,” Fitton remarked.

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