• The Star Staff

Democrats fear partisan slant at Postal Service as Trump allies dominate board

By Luke Broadwater, Hailey Fuchs and Kenneth P. Vogel

A powerful but little-known group of Republican donors installed by President Donald Trump to oversee the U.S. Postal Service has helped raise more than $3 million to support him and hundreds of millions more for his party over the past decade, prompting concerns about partisan bias at the agency before the November election.

The largest amount of fundraising has been by groups with connections to Robert M. Duncan, who continues to sit on the boards of two super PACs pushing for Republicans to win in 2020, one of which has spent more than $1 million supporting the president’s reelection. But he is only one of five Republican members Trump has named to the board — most of whom have given generously to the party — who have taken a hands-on role in trying to defend the embattled agency against accusations that it is trying to help the president win a second term by sabotaging voting by mail.

At least one of the governors expressed concerns in an interview like those voiced by the president about possible voter fraud, citing an anonymously sourced news report circulated by the Trump campaign and the president’s son Eric Trump about how mail-in ballots can be manipulated.

“If any doubt is ever raised — like in the New York Post article, or by any other reputable publication — we want to get to the bottom of that,” said John M. Barger, one of the Republican board members named by Trump and a participant in a newly formed election mail task force.

Other governors have done little to hide their loyalty to the president, even as the board meets behind closed doors to plot a strategy for handling what is expected to be a record crush of mail-in ballots this fall.

Hours after Duncan assured lawmakers at a Capitol Hill hearing last month that he was committed to doing his job without partisan bias and according to “the public interest,” he appeared on video at the Republican National Convention, holding up four fingers and smiling as fellow Kentuckians chanted, “Four more years!”

For Democrats who are increasingly concerned that Trump is bent on kneecapping the mail system to bolster his own reelection chances, the juxtaposition was an alarming reminder that the president has stacked the Postal Service board with allies who support him, and who can amplify and act on the concerns he has tried to sow about mail-in voting.

The Postal Service board has long been a landing pad for presidential loyalists of both parties, many of whom have continued to donate prolifically to candidates during their tenures. President Bill Clinton nominated a former member of his transition team who served as national finance chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign while serving on the board. But Trump has been able to shape the Postal Service more than most presidents.

A Postal Service spokesman did not provide specific responses to multiple questions concerning the board of governors, except to say that Duncan’s appearance at the Republican National Convention did not involve government resources and therefore did not violate federal law against partisan activities by federal workers. Duncan did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

The concerns about a partisan bent at the Postal Service were underscored this weekend when DeJoy was accused of cultivating an environment at his former company, New Breed Logistics, that left employees feeling pressured to donate to Republican candidates, and rewarded them with bonuses for doing so.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate minority leader, and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., the chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, called on the Postal Services’ board on Monday to suspend DeJoy while Maloney investigates the matter.

Now members of the board are toiling to respond to new questions about the Postal Service without wading into a political quagmire created by the president who installed them, and the homes of DeJoy and the once low-profile board members have become the sites of protests.

The agency has begun an advertising campaign, including a television spot, intended to assuage concerns about its ability to process the anticipated surge in voting by mail. But some officials there have cautioned against appearing to encourage the practice, which Trump has called fraudulent.

As part of the initiative, the agency is likely to distribute a mailer to households this month to reassure voters that the Postal Service can handle the flood of mail-in ballots and to urge those who choose to cast them to send them early. But the mailer is expected to stop short of explicitly promoting voting by mail.

“We know our lane,” Barger said in the interview. “And that is to let the American people know that the Postal Service will serve this election like it has all others. We are ready.”

But Democrats worry that under Trump, the body has become too politicized to fulfill that role.

“It’s appalling,” said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who has highlighted examples of partisan activity by top postal officials, including $3.2 million in Republican campaign contributions by DeJoy. “The Postal Service is respected and revered because it has a single job: delivering the mail, not serving the partisan interest of whoever happens to be president at the moment.

The concerns among Democrats and government watchdog groups go beyond DeJoy. Five of the board’s seven members have a history of donating to Republicans, though some also have made more limited donations to Democrats. Duncan is a director for American Crossroads, which has spent more than $1.4 million since April on text messages supporting Trump’s reelection effort. He is also a director of the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked to Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader and one of his close allies, that has raised about $129 million. Since 2016, DeJoy has contributed more than $1.2 million in support of Trump’s campaigns.

With DeJoy and Duncan, the three other Republican governors — Barger, Roman Martinez IV and William D. Zollars — make up a majority of the board, while only two members are Democrats. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, helped vet prospective nominees to the board for Trump, recommending candidates who would carry out changes that the administration sought. Mnuchin’s recommendation of Barger, a California lawyer and financial investment adviser, was seen as helpful, because while he had donated more than $90,000 to Republicans since 2010, he had never given to Trump.

The board tapped DeJoy to become postmaster general in June, and he has overseen the removal of hundreds of mail-sorting machines and the limiting of overtime, moves that have coincided with a well-documented slowdown in mail delivery.

Trump entered the White House when not a single board member was in place — Republicans had blocked all of President Barack Obama’s nominees — and as its long-term fiscal viability was increasingly in doubt.

“It’s pretty ominous,” Welch said. “It really is different. It’s not the way it’s always been.”

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