The Continuous Action explores the ongoing labor of democracy through conversations with those who do that work every day.
Join Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, as he talks with journalists, activists, government leaders, and philanthropists about their work — and what it takes to hold our government accountable to the people it serves.
The inspiration for the title “The Continuous Action” comes from the admonition by John Lewis that “freedom is not a state; it is an act.” Speaking of our duty as citizens, he proclaimed: “Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”
The Continuous Action is sponsored by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), hosted by Walt Shaub, and produced by Myron Kaplan.
Stay tuned on the latest from POGO: pogo.org/subscribe
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18:15How did classified records wind up in the homes of former President Trump and two former vice presidents, Joe Biden and Mike Pence? In this week’s episode, The Continuous Action explains how the over-classification of government documents contributed to those news stories. The government has been classifying far too many documents — just about everything its intelligence personnel can get their hands on. One time, the government even classified a mountain. (True story!) In this episode, Walt speaks with Elizabeth Goitein, who is senior director for Liberty and National Security at The Brennan Center. Elizabeth shares an alarming account of just how badly things have gone wrong and how overclassification hurts our democracy. For transcript and show notes, visit: pogo.org/podcasts/the-continuous-action Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
24:05The Supreme Court has an ethics problem. The Project on Government Oversight’s Sarah Turberville and David Janovsky join Walt to discuss the need for a code of conduct for the highest court in the United States.The court’s legitimacy relies on the public’s faith in the institution, and it’s clear the American people believe the court has been politicized. It’s easy to see why. Private, secretive groups spend money on campaigns in support of Supreme Court nominees while justices have accepted lavish gifts from prominent political donors.The ethics lapses don’t stop there: Justices have no clear rules requiring them to recuse from cases in which they have conflicts of interest, and several justices have inappropriately commented on politics.There’s one thing that could go a long way in restoring the public’s trust in the Supreme Court: a code of ethics. Sarah Turberville, the director of The Constitution Project at POGO, and David Janovsky, a policy analyst at POGO, talk with Walt about just how problematic it is for the Supreme Court to operate without a code of ethics, and they propose a path forward.For transcript and show notes, visit: pogo.org/podcasts/the-continuous-action Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
22:53A 2015 membership roll for the Oath Keepers, a violent, anti-government extremist group, included hundreds of current or former employees of the Department of Homeland Security. That’s according to a leaked document reviewed by the Project On Government Oversight. Since the creation of the document, members of the Oath Keepers, including its founder Steward Rhodes, have been convicted of seditious conspiracy and other offenses related to the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. Any connection between this extremist group and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is obviously disturbing — especially considering the department’s role in fighting domestic terrorism. And this list may just be the tip of the proverbial iceberg. An internal study found that “significant gaps” have impeded the department’s ability to “respond to potential threats related to domestic violent extremism within DHS.” On this episode of The Continuous Action, Virginia Heffernan and Walt Shaub sound the alarm. POGO senior investigator Nick Schwellenbach joins them to share the findings of his investigation into the troubling ties between extremists and the government agencies responsible for protecting the public. For transcript and show notes, visit pogo.org/podcasts/the-continuous-action Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
The Authoritarian’s Fist
23:37Imagine a world in which the president had unfettered power to use the massive federal workforce as a weapon against political rivals. In that scenario, federal officials would be forced to serve a political party’s interests instead of the public interest. Your access to federal benefits and services could be slowed or blocked depending on your declared political affiliation. That’s a world that former President Donald Trump tried to make a reality in the final days of his administration. Exploiting a statutory loophole, Trump issued an executive order in October 2020 that could have made tens of thousands of federal employees, maybe hundreds of thousands, fireable at will by political operatives. Public servants could have faced retaliation if they reported corruption or refused to follow unlawful orders. President Joe Biden rescinded the executive order before Trump could implement this new system. But the nation isn’t out of the woods. Congress has failed to close the loophole that made this plan possible. And now, there’s a movement to resurrect it and politicize the civil service. On this episode of The Continuous Action, Virginia Heffernan and Walt Shaub delve into the issue with Rudy Mehrbani, senior director for governance at the Democracy Fund and a former director of the White House’s Office of Presidential Personnel.For transcript and show notes, visit pogo.org/podcasts/the-continuous-action Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
29:31Members of Congress write their own rules — and those rules allow stock trades galore!In this episode of The Continuous Action, host Walt Shaub dives into topic of congressional stock trading, outlining the problems with the practice and asking the question we’re all thinking: How is this legal? He’s joined by a member of Congress who’s leading a bipartisan coalition working to make sure it won’t stay legal for long. The fact is, there’s no way for us to know what our elected representatives learn in closed-door government briefings, or whether they’re profiting from that knowledge. But what we do know is that members of Congress and their immediate families are free to buy and sell stocks while they’re in office, and some of them are turning quite a profit. Even if they’re all following the rules, the lack of adequate guardrails is enough to shake the public’s faith. And it has: at least one poll shows that more than 70% of voters favor banning congressional stock trading. To learn more, Walt talks with Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) about the quest to ban congressional stock trading. Spanberger leads a bipartisan coalition of members, including Representative Chip Roy (R-TX), which is fighting to put a congressional stock trading ban in place. They may not agree on much else, but these dozens of members of Congress agree that time has come to stop the trades. For transcript and show notes, visit pogo.org/podcasts/the-continuous-action ** Special thanks to Caroline Kenney and Jason Linkins, whose voices appear at the top of this episode. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
Banned from Office!
23:19Is Donald Trump constitutionally disqualified from running for president? In this episode of The Continuous Action, Walt Shaub and Virginia Heffernan examine a provision of the Constitution that bans insurrectionists from holding public office. The “disqualification clause” was ratified with the rest of the 14th Amendment just after the Civil War, and it hadn’t been used in the last hundred years — until a recent court case. In 2022, a group of New Mexico citizens filed a suit alleging that a local county commissioner who was involved in the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol should be disqualified from holding office. A state judge agreed, finding that the commissioner’s actions on January 6 qualified as having “engaged in … insurrection.” The judge banned him from ever holding office again. To learn more about the case, and what it might mean for others involved in the events of January 6, Virginia and Walt talk to POGO’s own Liz Hempowicz, who co-authored a report on applications of the disqualification clause. They also catch up with one of the lawyers who tried the Griffin case, Donald Sherman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Listen in to learn more about how this important part of the 14th Amendment works, who it might affect, what happened in the New Mexico case, and what’s coming next for candidate Trump. For transcript and show notes, visit pogo.org/podcasts/the-continuous-action Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
Introducing: Bad Watchdog
3:35The Continuous Action will return for a second season in the spring of 2023. In the meantime, check out the Project On Government Oversight's newest podcast, Bad Watchdog.Bad Watchdog is about what happens when the watchdog tasked with overseeing the most powerful law enforcement agency in the country doesn’t do its job. In a six-part series, host Maren Machles and investigative reporters from the Project On Government Oversight uncover a shocking pattern of misconduct at the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, which resulted in a failure to investigate some of the most troubling events in recent history. Listen to Bad Watchdog wherever you get your podcasts. Learn more at pogo.org/podcasts/bad-watchdog Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
Out of Control
50:28In Episode 5 of The Continuous Action, hosts Walt Shaub and Virginia Heffernan sound a dire warning about the largest law enforcement agency in the country, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). While most people think of the agency as having limited reach, two-thirds of Americans live within CBP jurisdiction. It’s also one of the country’s least transparent — and least accountable — law enforcement agencies. This episode’s guests explain how this highly militarized agency came to prioritize stopping border crossings over protecting human life. They explore the culture of impunity for CBP agents that has led to tragic consequences for civilians they encounter, often far from the eyes of supervisors and witnesses. And, as always, they come with recommendations for action. Vicki Gaubeca, director of the Southern Borders Community Coalition, and Nick Schwellenbach, senior investigator for POGO, help us understand the problem from both outside and within the agency. And Sarah Turberville, director of The Constitution Project at POGO, shares a powerful oversight agenda for reining in this rogue agency. The Continuous Action is sponsored by The Project On Government Oversight. Stay tuned on the latest from POGO: pogo.org/subscribeFor show notes, visit: pogo.org/series-collections/the-continuous-action/ Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
It’s Good To Be The King
53:49Hosts Walt Shaub and Virginia Heffernan investigate the ways presidential power has expanded at the expense of checks and balances. What systems exist to rein in a would-be authoritarian president, and how are they faring in these turbulent times? The hosts talk to historian Matt Dallek, who explains the expansion of presidential power and the dangers of relying on norms and traditions alone to rein in executive power. As Dallek notes, some theorists have flooded the zone with talk of a nearly omnipotent leader who resembles a king more than a president. But law professor Jed Shugerman joins Virginia and Walt to offer listeners a differing view of the executive: that of a faithful servant who is limited by the responsibility to take care in carrying out the laws enacted by Congress. With the nation at a crossroads in the struggle between democracy and a burgeoning authoritarian movement, questions about the president’s power have never seemed more urgent. The episode’s third guest, POGO’s own Liz Hempowicz, wraps up the show by telling our hosts about pending legislation that could add new, crucial checks on a president’s power. The Continuous Action is sponsored by The Project On Government Oversight. Stay tuned on the latest from POGO: pogo.org/subscribe For show notes, visit: pogo.org/series-collections/the-continuous-action/ Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.
Bonus: China’s Surveillance State
39:12This bonus episode features our full interview with Maya Wang, the senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch. As Maya explains, a comprehensive, multi-layered surveillance system blankets much of China with one primary goal: to ensure that the Chinese communist party can rule forever. We included an excerpt of this interview in Episode 3, “The Eyes On Your Face.” But the rest of Wang’s harrowing account of this surveillance system was too compelling to leave on the cutting room floor. Join us for a deeper dive into China’s surveillance state. The Continuous Action is sponsored by The Project On Government Oversight. Stay tuned on the latest from POGO: pogo.org/subscribe For show notes, visit: pogo.org/series-collections/the-continuous-action/ Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.