What’s the correct spell to create a buried lead? Aparecium mediatus? The New York Times offers this report on the operation of Consumer Protection Financial Bureau (CFPB) under the command of interim director Mick Mulvaney, with the clear intention to sound the alarm on the bureau’s sharp change in direction. Buried deep in the article, however, is the real news — that a group of bureaucrats have decided to hijack the CFPB as much as possible and operate in secret to defy Mulvaney.
Please note the reflection of the maturity of these employees in their choice of self-aggrandizement, too:
Agency employees said they were scrutinizing every comment and memo from their new leader for hints about their future.
Some employees, including a few of the bureau’s top officials, have welcomed their new leader. Others, pointing to Mr. Mulvaney’s earlier hostility toward the agency and its mission, are quietly resisting. One small group calls itself “Dumbledore’s Army,” according to two of the people who were familiar with their discussions. The name is a reference to a secret resistance force in the “Harry Potter” books.
An atmosphere of intense anxiety has taken hold, several employees said. In some cases, conversations between staff that used to take place by phone or text now happen almost exclusively in person or through encrypted messaging apps.
Ahem. This is not the story of a plucky band of teenage wizards fighting against an evil sorcerer from the pages of a children’s novel. It’s the story of a federal agency whose employees appear to be violating the Federal Records Act, bypassing transparency, and undermining the lawful authority of the elected president and his team. Even the CFPB’s general counsel concluded that the president had the authority to appoint Mulvaney to the post, an argument with which a federal court agreed immediately.
Elections have consequences, and among those consequences are the priorities and agendas of new presidential administrations. It was no secret that Republicans planned to change the direction of the CFPB if they won the election; Richard Cordray’s performance as director was an explicit issue raised during the Trump campaign. The GOP also contended that its powers were overbroad and its structure unconstitutional and that its rulings unnecessarily, arbitrarily and unfairly burdened credit businesses.
The DC Court of Appeals agreed on the constitutional point last October, ruling that Cordray should have never been invested with so much personal power in the first place. That case has gone back for an en banc review, but the solution ordered by the original ruling was that the president could treat the CFPB director as any other political appointee that serves at his/her pleasure rather than requiring cause for removal. Cordray resigned before that question got fully resolved and tried setting up his chief of staff as his successor in order to maintain a self-perpetuating bureaucracy.
“Dumbledore’s Army” is attempting the exact same thing — the creation of unelected bureaucrats as their own authority, without any accountability to voters or the people they elect to govern. It’s a palace revolt by self-important functionaries and, based on their choice of appellation, callow functionaries suffering from cases of arrested adolescence as well. They should be embarrassed by this revelation, and the New York Times should have at least offered some insight into how these secret communications and actions might violate the federal law these government employees are supposed to uphold.
It’s now cliché to say “this is how you got Trump,” but … this is precisely the vision of the “swamp” which voters angrily rejected in 2016. This is also how the CFPB got Mulvaney, too, and this little anecdote will go a long way in legitimizing Mulvaney’s attempts to dismantle the CFPB. As long as these kinds of stories keep emerging, we’ll continue to see populists like Trump gain strength from them and use them to take a wrecking ball to federal agencies. Keep waving those wands, wizards — you’re working magic, but just not the kind you think.