A Trump Judicial Nominee Helped Betsy DeVos Break the Law to Screw Student Borrowers

A Trump Judicial Nominee Helped Betsy DeVos Break the Law to Screw Student Borrowers

Last month, a federal judge fined Betsy DeVos $100,000 for violating a court order that barred her Department of Education from collecting on the loans of former students at Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit education scam that folded in 2015. On Thursday, a former Department of Education attorney who assisted DeVos’s efforts to squeeze these students, Steven Menashi, was the subject of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing—not because of his alarming role in facilitating the department’s noncompliance with the law, but because President Donald Trump nominated him earlier this year to be a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Menashi served for a period as the Department of Education’s acting general counsel, assisting DeVos’s efforts to roll back an Obama-era initiative to help victims of for-profit colleges. Corinthian students, promised that lucrative careers were merely a loan application away, took on significant debt to earn degrees that proved useless, and yet the secretary was never particularly sympathetic to their plight. “While students should have protections from predatory practices, schools and taxpayers should also be treated fairly as well,” she said in 2017. “Under the previous rules, all one had to do was raise his or her hands to be entitled to so-called free money.” Under her rules, the government that made the loans would get to line its pockets with “free money” instead.

According to the New York Times, Menashi played a key role in implementing the billionaire Republican megadonor’s vision. In a December 2017 memo, he argued that the Department of Education could use borrowers’ income data, obtained from the Social Security Administration, when evaluating applications for debt forgiveness. This was an especially insidious stunt because the reason the department had this data in the first place was to hold the for-profit education companies accountable, by seeing how their claims about glittering post-grad employment prospects actually held up. Menashi, instead, wanted to use it against victims to provide them with as little compensation as possible, arguing that the government could limit relief for those who did manage to find jobs. This is like arguing that fraud only matters if the defrauded person ends up destitute as a result.

In May 2018, a federal judge ruled that Menashi’s scheme ran afoul of the federal Privacy Act, pointedly noting that the government’s stated interest in “[s]aving money does not justify a violation of the law.” Yet this episode, apparently, did not affect the Trump administration’s interest to tap Menashi for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. Nor did his comments as a college student linking affirmative action to Hitler’s Nuremberg race laws, or, as California Democrat Dianne Feinstein noted during today’s hearing, his 2004 characterization of trial lawyers as “cannibals” who “have been feeding on the public for long enough.” As a lawyer in the Trump White House, Menashi has worked closely with senior policy advisor and virulent xenophobe Stephen Miller; in written responses to questions from members of the committee, Menashi acknowledged providing legal advice on, among other things, the administration’s efforts to limit asylum eligibility and to enact regulations that make it more difficult for low-income immigrants to obtain visas and green cards. His role in the Corinthian Colleges scandal is evidently just one aspect of his efforts to punish those who depend on federal financial assistance.

Perhaps aware that senators might find elements of this record objectionable, Menashi was notably reluctant to answer questions during his confirmation hearings in September. When Menashi demurred in response to Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin’s question about whether he had worked on denying protected status to immigrant children receiving treatment for life-threatening illnesses in the United States, even Lindsey Graham, the committee’s chair and a reliably sycophantic defender of Trump’s judicial nominees, seemed surprised. “That’s not an unfair question,” he said, according to the Washington Post. “Did you work on the subject matter?”

Source : Jay Willis Link

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