Weekly News Roundup: Iowa GOP Activists Lobbied for Saudi Arabia vs. 9/11 Victims, Lawsuit vs. Rastetter Dismissed

The Informer’s weekly news roundup, presented in partnership with KHOI community radio.

GOP State Employees Lobbied Against 9/11 Victims for Saudi Arabia

Republican activists and state executive branch employees Connie and Kim Schmett are under fire for hoodwinking veterans while lobbying on behalf of Saudi Arabia to oppose a law that’s allowed victims of the 9/11 terror attacks to sue the kingdom for allegedly supporting the hijackers. The Associated Press reported that disclosure forms Connie Schmett previously failed to file show that the couple took $101,500 from a Saudi-funded campaign that recruited US veterans to warn Congress that the allowing the ongoing lawsuit would harm service members overseas. When an Air Force veteran named Dustin DeMoss who was recruited for the campaign discovered the Saudi connection, he confronted Connie Schmett about it on Facebook. She replied, “PLEASE don’t share it. I’ll be in BIG trouble.”

Sam Clovis Withdraws from USDA Nomination, Remains Tied to Russia Probe

Last week, former Morningside College professor and talk radio host Sam Clovis withdrew his nomination by President Trump to be the US Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist over revelations about his connections to special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 election. According to an unsealed plea agreement for George Papadopoulos, a former Trump foreign policy adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his attempts to connect the campaign with Russian officials, Clovis encouraged Papadopoulos to make a trip to meet with Russian officials, “if feasible.” Clovis is represented by Victoria Toensing, a high-profile and partisan Washington attorney who has previously gone after the Clintons over the Monica Lewinsky affair and Benghazi. He was unqualified for the USDA post under the 2008 Farm Bill, which requires the position to be filled “from among distinguished scientists with specialized or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.” Clovis is a senior White House adviser with the USDA but is not a scientist and had no previous relevant experience.

One of Three Private Medicaid Providers Leaves State

In an exclusive report, the Des Moines Register revealed that AmeriHealth Caritas cancelled its contract as a private Medicaid provider in Iowa because it claimed the state failed to provide information it used to set payment rates for the program, which former Gov. Terry Branstad recently privatized in a controversial move that has resulted in lost or reduced coverage for many at-risk Iowans. The company’s decisions leaves Iowa with only two Medicaid providers. Matt Highland, a spokesperson with the Iowa Department of Human Services, said the state would provide an additional $60 million for continued coverage through new contracts with those two companies.

Harreld Hiring Lawsuit vs. Board of Regents Dismissed

A lawsuit that accused five former and current Board of Regents members, including former board President Bruce Rastetter, of violating the state’s open meetings law has been dismissed by a district court judge. In July 2015, Rastetter held a series of meetings between regents and eventual University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld, skirting the state’s open meetings law in the process by avoiding a requirement for public notice of the meetings because a majority of the board’s members were not present for any of them. “It may have looked problematic in the way Rastetter organized the recruitment of Bruce Harreld, but ultimately, the Board lacked the numbers needed for a meeting throughout the recruitment process,” District Court Judge William Kelly ruled. A former IBM executive with scant academic experience, Harreld’s preferential treatment during the search process and selection as president was deeply unpopular with university faculty. A similar lawsuit against the university’s 21-member presidential search committee has yet to go to trial.

Alleged Killer of Transgender Teen Found Guilty

On Friday, a jury found 23-year-old Jorge Sanders-Galvez guilty of the March 2016 murder of Kedarie Johnson, a transgender Burlington High School student. In an unusual move last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions personally sent a federal hate crimes lawyer to Iowa to investigate the murder as a possible federal hate crime. The move has given the case national exposure, which Des Moines County Attorney Amy Beavers credited with helping lead to the conviction in the murder trial.

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.