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John Walters. Courtesy photo.

The Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank that's been a center for political dialogue and forums for both Democrats and Republicans during the Trump era, has tapped its longtime COO John Walters as its new leader, Axios has learned.

The big picture: While left and center-left think tanks empty to help stock the incoming Biden administration, conservative groups are shuffling their leadership and welcoming back scholars and analysts who worked for President Trump.

Details: Walters, who was drug czar for President George W. Bush, has been serving as Hudson Institute's chief operating officer while also overseeing research and directing its substance abuse policy center. During the Bush administration his focus included countering narcoterrorism in Colombia, Mexico and Afghanistan.

  • Hudson's outgoing president and CEO Ken Weinstein will stay at Hudson as its Walter P. Stern distinguished fellow. He'd stepped down from day-to-day operations last spring in what turned out to be an ill-fated effort to become U.S. ambassador to Japan. His nomination was voted out of committee but never received a vote on the Senate floor.

Flashback: Weinstein is credited with nearly tripling the institute's annual budget, from $7.5m in 2005 to $20m in 2019, with an endowment of more than $60m.

  • “Ken turned Hudson into the policy powerhouse that it is today,” said Sarah May Stern, chair of Hudson's board of trustees. "Under John's leadership, Hudson will continue to build on all that has been accomplished through his shared efforts with Ken."

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OIG: HHS misused millions of dollars intended for public health threats

Vaccine vials. Photo: Punit Paranjpe/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel alerted the White House and Congress on Wednesday of an investigation that found the Department of Health and Human Services misused millions of dollars that were budgeted for vaccine research and public health emergencies for Ebola, Zika and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why it matters: The more than 200-page investigation corroborated claims from a whistleblower, showing the agency's violation of the Purpose Statute spanned both the Obama and Trump administrations and paid for unrelated projects like salaries, news subscriptions and the removal of office furniture.

John Kerry: U.S.-China climate cooperation is a "critical standalone issue"

President Biden's special climate envoy John Kerry said Wednesday that the U.S. must deal with China on climate change as a "critical standalone issue," but stressed that confronting Beijing's human rights and trade abuses "will never be traded" for climate cooperation.

Why it matters: The last few years have brought about a bipartisan consensus on the threat posed by China. But as the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, China will be a vital player if the world is going to come close to reining in emissions on the scale needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals of limiting warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

In cyber espionage, U.S. is both hunted and hunter

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

American outrage over foreign cyber espionage, like Russia's SolarWinds hack, obscures the uncomfortable reality that the U.S. secretly does just the same thing to other countries.

Why it matters: Secrecy is often necessary in cyber spying to protect sources and methods, preserve strategic edges that may stem from purloined information, and prevent diplomatic incidents.