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Union says Trump appointee may be improperly influencing Justice Department crime victim grants

A unit of the largest U.S. public employees union has filed a complaint with the Justice Department’s Inspector General alleging that an appointee of President Donald Trump may be improperly using political criteria gleaned from social media to remove people who have expressed views contrary to Trump’s from participating in the process of awarding grants to organizations that provide services to victims of crime.

The confidential complaint focuses on Darlene Hutchinson Biehl, a Republican from Alabama, according to a union official who described it to Reuters.

Hutchinson Biehl was appointed by Trump in 2017 as director of the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), a part of the Justice Department which compensates victims of crime and awards grants to local governments, nonprofits and other organizations that assist victims of crimes such as human trafficking. Most of the money for the grants comes from funds collected from convicted felons, although grants to help provide services to human trafficking victims come from taxpayer funds.

The complaint alleges that Hutchinson Biehl has been scrutinizing the social media accounts of peer reviewers – paid experts who make non-binding recommendations to help ensure that the competitive grants are awarded in a fair and impartial manner - to see if their views were aligned with the Trump administration’s policies on immigration, or if they openly supported the legalization of prostitution. Hutchinson Biehl is then using that information to determine who should serve as reviewer, according to the complaint.

5th September 2019

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