As a candidate, Donald Trump pledged to “drain the swamp.” As president, what he’s done instead is to turn off all the lights so that no one can see who or what is inhabiting the swamp.
So it’s no surprise that Trump’s problems with ethics are much in the news.
The New York Times reports today on an “extraordinary” and “unprecedented” move to block the Office of Government Ethics’ request for information on the status of former lobbyists or lawyers hired by the administration. Ethics rules prohibit former lobbyists or lawyers from taking action affecting their former clients or even the policy issues they formerly dealt with until two years has passed, although the president can approve waivers. The director of the ethics office has requested copies of any waivers issued for lobbyists in the Trump administration, which has now stepped in and questioned their legal authority.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post examines the potential conflicts posed by the business interests of Trump’s son-in-law (“Kushner keeps most of his real estate but offers few clues about potential White House conflicts“).
Meanwhile, from Reuters: “Senator asks ethics office to review Trump hotel payments.”
According to the Reuters story:
Reuters reported on April 26 that public pension funds in at least seven U.S. states periodically send millions of dollars to an investment fund that owns the upscale Trump SoHo Hotel and Condominium in New York City and pays a Trump company to run it, according to a Reuters review of public records.
“Trump may be profiting from the retirement plans of millions of our nation’s public servants,” Senator Patty Murray of Washington state wrote in a letter to Walter Shaub, the director of the Office of Government Ethics, citing the Reuters report.
The Office of Government Ethics is the U.S. agency that oversees conduct within the executive branch and supervises ethics officials to ensure they are preventing conflicts of interest and other violations.
“This looks like exactly the type of monetary flow prohibited by the Constitution,” said the senator.
And then there was this recent story from ThinkProgress: “Trump Jr.’s speech at a Dubai university raises ethics questions.”
Donald Trump Jr.’s paid commencement speech at American University earlier this week in Dubai is latest example of the Trump family potentially mixing business with politics.
But it’s not necessarily just whether or how much he was paid?—?the dollar amount isn’t known, but CBS News reported the university paid former President Bill Clinton $150,000 in 2002?—?it’s that Trump Jr.’s speech could be seen as a way for Dubai’s leaders to curry favor with the White House. CBS reports that Dubai “helped found and holds a continuing stake in the school.”
Ahead of his commencement speech, Trump, Jr. went to Dubai to also discuss real estate opportunities in the country with Emirati billionaire Hussain Sajwani.
These are dangerous times for those of us who have worked for ethics in government at all levels. The Trump administration’s disdain for ethics is sure to start trickling down, and embolden state and local officials who have chafed under restrictions imposed by ethics laws.