Category Archives: Ethics

Trump seems to be a model for questionable ethics

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.

NY Times: “White House Moves to Block Ethics Inquiry Into Ex-Lobbyists on Payroll.”

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.

A hollow ethics threat by former HPD Chief Kealoha

Civil Beat reports that an attorney representing former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha has demanded Police Commissioner Loretta Sheehan recuse herself from taking part in the deliberations on whether the city should pay to Kealoha’s legal bills relating to possible federal charges.

“It is clear from her past conduct that she cannot be neutral or unbiased in this matter,” attorney Kevin Sumida wrote in a letter to the commission.

Sumida threatened to file an ethics complaint against Sheehan and the commission if she does not step aside (Civil Beat: “Kealoha Threatens Police Commissioner With Ethics Complaint”).

Apparently the evidence of “bias” is that Sheehan previously voted against positions favored by Kealoha.

This certainly sounds like a very empty threat aimed simply at clouding the public’s understanding of what’s going on.

Frankly, a quick look at the applicable provisions of the city’s ethics law suggests there are no grounds for the threatened complaint.

The ethics provisions are found in Article XI of the Revised Charter of Honolulu.

First, there are provisions prohibiting conflicts of interest, including soliciting or accepting gifts intended to influence official decisions, having financial or business interests that conflict with an official’s public duties, or accepting pay from third parties for doing one’s city job.

None of those appear to apply.

Then there is a separate provision for “fair and equal treatment,” which provides:

Elected or appointed officers or employees shall not use their official positions to secure or grant special consideration, treatment, advantage, privilege or exemption to themselves or any person beyond that which is available to every other person.

It’s hard to see that being critical of the former chief would fall under this law.

So it seems to me the commission has proceeded properly by asking Sumida to detail his “bias” complaint, presumably with some objective evidence, so that it can be duly considered.

In the meantime, the public shouldn’t be confused by all the smoke and mirrors.

Trump budget to signal huge retreat from world affairs

Foreign Policy magazine is reporting that the Trump administration is going to propose slashing more than half of what the U.S. spends annually for United Nations’ programs (“White House Seeks to Cut Billions in Funding for United Nations“).

And it’s not just the U.N. facing big cuts, but funding for other types of foreign assistance and even the State Department itself.

FP says the moves signal “an unprecedented retreat by President Donald Trump’s administration from international operations that keep the peace, provide vaccines for children, monitor rogue nuclear weapons programs, and promote peace talks from Syria to Yemen, according to three sources.”

And what will this mean?

Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said cuts of this magnitude would create “chaos.”

This is a single-minded selfishness of a sick billionaire’s view of the world that, if actuallly pursued, is going to come back to bite us right you-know-where.

Even without dealing with what this says about the lack of simple human empathy or caring about others, the president’s people seem blissfully unaware that the U.S. is less than 5% of the world’s population, and chaos elsewhere in the world can’t be contained or made to work in our favor.

FP cites observers who predict that Congress will not agree to cuts of this magnitude and that this part of the president’s budget, at least, is unlikely to pass.

I’m not sure that’s really comforting…

Interesting look at the ABA evaluation of federal judicial nominees

An article in the Wall Street Journal last week examines the procedures used by the American Bar Association to review and rate the qualifications of those nominated to serve as federal judges, from federal district court judges up to members of the Supreme Court (“The Data That Goes Into Judging Judges/In some cases, hundreds of confidential interviews are conducted to assess candidates’ credentials“).

The ABA has a 15-member committee with members–all lawyers–serving staggered terms. The committee works independent of the ABA’s hierarchy when doing their assessments.

Among those who may be interviewed, according to a spokesman for the ABA, are federal, state and administrative judges before whom the nominee has appeared; lawyers who have been co-counsel or opposing counsel in cases handled by the candidate; and, if the candidate is a former or sitting judge, other judges who have served with the nominee.

Interviews also may be conducted with law school professors and deans; legal services and public interest lawyers; representatives of professional legal organizations; and community leaders and others who have information concerning the nominee’s professional qualifications.

In addition, two reading groups, one with law professors, the other with ?practitioners, examine the nominee’s legal writings for quality, clarity, analytical ability and knowledge of law.

The committee rates nominees it considers to be preeminent members of the profession with outstanding legal ability and exceptional experience as well qualified. It rates those it considers fully equipped to serve as qualified. And those who fall short in one or more areas as not qualified.

Since 1999, the group has rated 1,074 nominees, concluding that nine weren’t qualified, 369 were qualified and 696 were well qualified.

That’s a very robust process, for sure.

I’ll have to go looking for a description of the Hawaii Bar Association’s evaluation process.

Meanwhile, there’s also a possible comparison to the Hawaii’s Judicial Selection Commission, with its nine members. No more than four are lawyers. Two members each are appointed by the Governor, the Hawaii Bar Association, the Senate President, and the House Speaker. The Chief Justice appoints a single member.

The rules of the commission are long on procedures and short on substance. Here’s the brief section regarding information gathering on judicial nominees.

Rule 9. INTERVIEWS AND INVESTIGATIONS

The commission may interview applicants and petitioners and conduct investigations into their backgrounds and qualifications. The chairperson may designate one or more commissioners to interview and investigate applicants and petitioners. Using the commission’s form of application or petition or as the case may be, as a starting point, the designees may obtain as much information on the applicant or petitioner as possible from available sources. The commission may retain such services as it deems necessary and appropriate to conduct investigations.

Exactly what does that translate to in terms of evaluating a nominees abilities? We don’t know, because the process is secret.