Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) has withdrawn his nomination to be President Trump's drug czar after an investigation by The Washington Post and "60 Minutes” detailed his years-long efforts to pass a law that critics say allowed the drug industry to profit off people addicted to opioids.
This is the second time in a month that a journalism investigation has cost a Trump administration official his job (or, in Marino's case, his almost-job). Tom Price resigned as health and human services secretary in late September following revelations of an extensive and expensive charter flight habit first reported by Politico.
Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), whose state has been hit particularly hard by the opioid crisis, requested — then more or less demanded — that Trump not give Marino the job. Marino would be confirmed to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy “over my dead body,” Manchin said on CNN on Tuesday morning.
Trump said Monday that he would “look into” the reporting on Marino. With Tuesday's announcement, it seems that he and Marino may have agreed that Marino's ties to the drug industry were too close (or at least too well documented) to take a job overseeing efforts to combat drug law violations. Here's a look at what the investigation revealed about the role Marino played in getting the law championed by the drug industry passed.
The backstory: In April 2016, at the height of the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history, Congress stripped the Drug Enforcement Administration of its most potent weapon to keep prescription narcotics from going straight from major drug companies to the nation's streets.
The law took away the DEA's ability to freeze suspicious shipments from drug companies, shipments the agency was concerned were on their way to the wrong hands. This law was supported by some of the nation's major drug distributors, opposed by the DEA and, according to this investigation, was pushed through Congress and the federal government after its opponents were neutralized or had joined the other side.
Marino's role in all this: It's hard to overstate. According to the investigation:
- Marino wrote the pro-drug industry law that ultimately passed. He spent years pushing versions of it through Congress. He argued that it cracks down on an overly aggressive DEA and protects drug companies from any unfair or misguided use of federal power. His critics, which included prominent DEA officials, said it would gut their ability to stop potentially dangerous opioid shipments from reaching the streets.
- Marino has clear ties to the drug industry. He received nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions from political action committees supporting the industry. And an email from a Justice Department official says that the Marino bill was written by a former top DEA lawyer. (The revolving door is busy between government regulators and the drug industry.) That former DEA lawyer testified in Congress in favor of the legislation that officials believe he wrote.
- Marino asked for (and got) an investigation of a DEA investigator standing in his way. In 2014, Marino staff members met with DEA investigator Joseph T. Rannazzisi to understand why he was so adamantly opposed to their bill. In that meeting, they say Rannazzisi accused them of “trying to support criminals.” A month later, Marino and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked a government watchdog to investigate Rannazzisi's rhetoric about them, accusing him in turn of trying to “intimidate” Congress. Rannazzisi denies their accusations and says the investigation is why he retired after 30 years in drug enforcement. “It destroyed me,” the told The Post.
- He didn't cooperate with the reporters working on the investigation. As The Post and the “60 Minutes” team were trying to report this, they went to Capitol Hill to try to talk to Marino, the bill's sponsor. Marino's staff called Capitol Police as the reporters tried to interview him at his office. This is remarkable, given that reporters routinely swarm lawmakers in Congress.
Marino has not commented publicly on the investigation or his withdrawn nomination.