Trump’s Swamp

Feb 14, 2018
abcnews.go.com
VA secretary improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets during $122,334 European work trip: Report

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin improperly accepted a gift of Wimbledon tickets during a work trip to Europe last summer in which he spent the majority of the time sightseeing, according to a blistering new report released by the VA‘s Office of Inspector General.

The 11-day trip to Copenhagen and London cost taxpayers at least $122,334, the report said. It also alleged that Shulkin’s chief of staff altered a document and misrepresented information to ethics officials that ultimately caused his wife’s airfare to be covered by taxpayer dollars.

Shulkin, his wife Dr. Merle Bari, senior VA leaders and a six-member security detail flew a commercial airline to Copenhagen in July to attend a day-and-a-half of meetings with Danish government and health care officials to discuss veterans issues, but also included a day of tourist stops.

The delegation then flew commercially to London to attend a veterans conference. But over half of the secretary’s six days there were spent sightseeing, including a trip on the London Eye, a river cruise down the Thames, and the Wimbledon tennis tournament, according to the report.

The IG report said that, in the process, a VA employee’s time was “misused as a personal travel concierge to plan tourist activities exceeding that necessary for security arrangements.”

Shulkin called the report “a direct assault on my spouse, my character and my unblemished record of service.”

“If you had properly considered my testimony and recognition of the facts of this case, however, I am confident that you would have concluded that I have conducted myself properly, ethically and inline with how I have always served the Veterans Administration,” he said.

In a thorough 16-page letter responding to the investigation, Shulkin’s attorneys raised “grave concerns” with the IG report, urging the IG not to release it in its current form without significant revisions.

“Your report presents a one-sided account of the circumstances surrounding the Secretary’s trip to Europe. It omits critical facts and pieces of evidence that contradict your chosen narrative and that make clear the Secretary has done nothing wrong,” the letter states, adding, “Your investigators have relied on interrogation techniques that have long since been recognized as unfair, unreliable, and abusive.”

But at least one Republican congressman is already calling for Shulkin’s resignation, saying it is “exactly corruption and abuses like this that doesn’t help our veterans.”

It’s exactly corruption and abuses like this that doesn’t help our veterans. @SecShulkin must RESIGN now. @realDonaldTrump ran on accountability, it starts here. VA chief Shulkin, staff misled ethics officials about Eurotrip, report – The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/veterans-affairs-chief-shulkin-staff-misled-ethics-officials-about-european-trip-report-finds/2018/02/14/f7fbc020-0c3a-11e8-8b0d-891602206fb7_story.html?utm_term=.cd16f0859dec 

Wife’s travel improperly paid for by the government

According to the report, Shulkin’s chief of staff Wright Simpson falsely represented to VA ethics officials the itinerary of the trip in order to have Shulkin’s wife approved as an “invitational traveler” — allowing her expenses to be covered by the VA.

VA ethics officials originally denied the designation for Bari, saying her presence on the trip would not serve a “sufficient government interest.” In response, Simpson said Shulkin would be receiving an award while in Copenhagen, “a criterion that would justify Dr. Bari’s travel at VA expense,” the report said.

When the ethics official reached out to Simpson for additional information about the award, the chief of staff forwarded emails exchanged with a trip coordinator about Shulkin’s itinerary in Denmark.

Those emails originally showed the coordinator telling Simpson, “We’re working on having a dinner at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in honor of SECVA, but that has not been confirmed by U.S. Embassy Copenhagen yet.”

But the IG found Simpson had altered the email forwarded to an ethics official to read, “We’re having a special recognition dinner at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in the honor of SECVA.”

That altered email led Bari to be approved as an “invitational traveler” because Shulkin appeared to be receiving an award. The VA ultimately paid more than $4,000 for her commercial airline ticket.

The IG found that Shulkin was not aware of Simpson’s alteration of official records, but did refer the matter to the Department of Justice, saying Simpson’s actions “may have violated federal criminal statutes.” However, DOJ has decided not to prosecute at this time.

Ultimately, Shulkin never received an award or special recognition during the trip, the report said.

Shulkin’s lawyers said he and his wife were prepared to pay for her travel, as they had done previously, and it was not until staff told the secretary that Bari’s travel could be reimbursed by the VA that he became aware of that possibility.

Secretary improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets

According to the report, Shulkin mischaracterized to VA ethics officials the relationship he and his wife had with the individual who gave them tickets to the ladies’ final tennis match at Wimbledon in London.

According to federal ethics rules, Shulkin could not have received the gift unless it met an exception — in this case, the “personal friendship” exception. But the report said Shulkin never should have characterized the person who gave him the tickets as a friend.

Shulkin and Bari received the tickets from and attended the match with Victoria Gosling, who served as the CEO of the 2016 Invictus Games, an international competition for wounded warriors.

The report stated that, at the time, Shulkin did not seek an opinion from the VA ethics counsel as to whether it was appropriate to accept the gift. It wasn’t until September, after the VA learned The Washington Post was working on a story about his attendance at Wimbledon, that Shulkin directed an expedited ethics review of his acceptance of the tickets.

During that review, Shulkin characterized Gosling as a friend of his wife, saying “there is no business relationship, but purely a social friendship between the two of them.” That response allowed the gift to be greenlit under the “personal friendship” exception by VA ethics officials.

But the report found that the relationship between Gosling and Bari should never have been called a friendship.

The IG attempted to make contact with Gosling at least 19 times between Dec. 15 and Jan. 24. She finally responded to an email on Jan. 30, calling Shulkin and Bari “friends of mine” and saying she offered them Wimbledon tickets “to thank them for their personal support to me whilst I was CEO Invictus Games Orlando.”

In a 26-minute interview with the IG on Feb. 6, Gosling confirmed Shulkin’s account that prior to attending the tennis match, the three individuals had only had contact during three official events in the United States.

Near the end of the interview, the IG investigators asked Gosling if she could recall the first name of Shulkin’s wife.

“After a long pause, Ms. Gosling was unable to recall Dr. Bari’s name, stating, ‘You actually — I think that kept throwing me. I’m actually having a genuine blank here.’ Ms. Gosling was unable to recall Dr. Bari’s name before the interview concluded,” the report said.

After reviewing Shulkin, Bari and Gosling’s relationship, the IG concluded that there was not enough evidence to meet the “personal friendship” exception. A VA ethics official told the IG that had she known this information at the time, she would not have granted a favorable opinion concerning the acceptance of the Wimbledon tickets.

Shulkin’s lawyers argued that the Wimbledon tickets would not violate federal gift restrictions because Gosling was not a “prohibited source” — someone who does business or seeks to do business with an official. The lawyers said Gosling offered Shulkin and Bari the tickets “out of friendship and not because of his official position,” adding that she does not do business with the VA.

They also alleged the IG of improperly questioning Gosling and criticized the report for not including a July inquiry Shulkin made into how much he would owe for using tickets that belonged to Gosling’s sister.

The lawyers also said that the report misrepresented the value of the Wimbledon tickets, citing their re-sale, not original, value.

They also took issue with how the IG prominently featured how Gosling could not remember Bari’s first name, saying it was something “designed to make headlines, not objectively report the facts.”

The lawyers noted that memory lapses happen frequently, citing how Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts forgot the oath of office during President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

Secretary directed VA employee to plan personal sightseeing

The IG found that Shulkin directed a VA employee to work with his wife in planning personal activities for the couple during the trip, resulting in the “misuse” of the employee’s official time.

The IG reviewed emails from the VA employee that showed the individual “made extensive use of official time for planning leisure activities,” effectively acting “as a personal travel concierge to the Secretary and Dr. Bari.”

“Personal activities planned for the Denmark trip included touring Amalienborg Palace for the Changing of the Guard; visiting Christiansborg Palace, Rosenborg Castle, and Frederiksborg Castle; taking a boat tour of Copenhagen from Nyhavn Canal; and shopping in Copenhagen. There was also an unplanned excursion across the border to Malmo, Sweden, for dinner on their last day, July 14,” the report said. “For the London trip, planned tourist activities included excursions to the Churchill War Rooms, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, and Westminster Abbey; a Thames River cruise; and visits to St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London (including the Ceremony of the Keys), Tower Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe, London Eye, and Windsor Castle.”

Shulkin’s lawyers said that emails from the VA employee who planned the tourist activities show he did so “on his own initiative.”

It wasn’t until the employee approached Shulkin with tourist information that he referred that employee to his wife, they said.

The lawyers also pointed out that Shulkin worked on official VA matters during periods of the trip’s itinerary labeled “scheduled leisure,” saying that even as the secretary was touring cultural sites, he took phone calls, answered emails and even gave a radio interview.

Last fall, after The Washington Post reported on details of Shulkin’s European trip, the VA decided to post all of the secretary’s travel itineraries on the VA website in the interest of transparency — making Shulkin the first cabinet secretary to publicly disclose travel details, according to the VA.

Trip cost taxpayers at least $122,334

In total, the 11-day trip cost taxpayers at least $122,334, with “personal conveniences” impacting its overall cost, the report said.

The IG found that the VA paid $1,733 in early hotel check-in fees for six rooms.

The commercial airline travel for the secretary’s chief of staff was modified, increasing the airfare from $1,101 to $4,041. But the IG said records are “insufficient to determine what justification, if any, was provided for this increased ticket price.”

In a response, the secretary’s office said it does not accept the IG’s recommendation that it repay Bari’s $4,312 in travel costs or the cost of the Wimbledon tickets and all other costs associated with that visit. The office says it will consult the VA’s Office of General Counsel to see if they think those costs should be repaid, but said the office needs more time to review the evidence presented by the IG.

In an interview with IG investigators, Shulkin called the European trip “immensely valuable to his work and the VA’s mission,” adding that to suggest it wasn’t “demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the Secretary’s work and the VA’s mission.”

“Secretary Shulkin did nothing wrong in traveling to Europe to meet with, and learn from, America’s allies,” his lawyers said.   Source

Feb 14, 2018
Vanity Fair
WHY JEFF BEZOS IS DUMPING CASH INTO TRUMP’S SWAMP
Amazon’s lobbying spending in D.C. has massively increased in recent years. Now, under Trump, Bezos’s ability to buy friends may be more important than ever.

In the days before Donald Trump’s election, Amazon C.E.O. Jeff Bezos, one of Trump’s many Twitter punching bags, flippantly recommended an easy fix to the polarizing candidate: send him to space. “I have a rocket company,” he joked at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit, referring to Blue Origin. “So the capability is there.” Yet in the intervening months, Bezos has kept a lid on his feistier side while Amazon coordinates the massive P.R. effort that is its search for a city to host its second headquarters—a deal that could be worth 50,000 jobs and a $5 billion regional investment. After the election, Bezos himself attended a summit with Trump and several tech leaders at Trump Tower. And before the inauguration, Bezos promised to hire 100,000 additional workers over the next year and a half.

Amazon has ballooned under Bezos, growing from a small e-commerce platform into an international corporation. As it’s expanded and diversified, Amazon has correspondingly ramped up its lobbying efforts. According to a new report from Bloomberg data, amount of money Amazon has spent on lobbying has increased more than 400 percent over the past five years—a trend that, under Trump, will likely become increasingly prevalent as tech companies fight to remain in Washington’s good graces.

Part of tech’s uptick in lobbying is a natural side effect of the industry’s maturation. As companies like Amazon seek bigger mergers and acquisition deals to stay growing, those deals will necessarily compound regulatory risk. The company has already attracted unwanted attention thanks to its $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods, which sent the stock prices of its brick-and-mortar competitors crashing when it was announced. Legislators like Cory Booker and Ro Khanna took notice of the massive deal: “This consolidation that’s happening all over the country is not a positive trend,” Booker said at the time. As Amazon creeps toward a trillion-dollar valuation, it could easily become an avatar for the trend toward consolidation and gigantism, attracting still more unwanted attention from lawmakers just as their attitude toward Big Tech turns sour.

Amazon’s renewed lobbying efforts began well before Trump, but given the current atmosphere, they’re likely to intensify; the president has made no secret of his dislike of the company— “Amazon is doing great damage to tax paying retailers,” Trump tweeted back in August, adding, “Towns, cities and states throughout the U.S. are being hurt – many jobs being lost!” When the company sought to acquire Whole Foods, observers feared that the president’s personal biases would come into play, as some believe they have in the AT&T-Time Warner deal. “For four days we were freaked out,” Gregg Lemkau, Goldman Sachs’s co-head of investment banking, told the audience at Goldman Sachs Tech and Internet Conference on Tuesday, referring to a rumor that Trump himself would personally intervene to stop the acquisition just before it went through.

Under the businessman president, Bezos’s ability to buy friends—and mansions next to his friends’ favorite daughters—may prove to be his most valuable business asset. Rather than draining the swamp, Trump has made those personal relationships more important than ever.

Source

Oct 24, 2017
nbcnews.com
Rep. Ted Lieu Trump’s Administration Hasn’t Drained the Swamp — It’s Become It

Everywhere you look in Washington today, you find examples of financial mismanagement.

Donald Trump ran for president on a promise to “drain the swamp.” I agreed with that particular statement. Unfortunately, he didn’t mean what he said. The recent actions of Trump and several White House officials prove this administration hasn’t drained the swamp — it has become the swamp.

But that doesn’t mean Congress can’t drain the swamp ourselves.

Everywhere you look in Washington, you can find examples of financial mismanagement. Tom Price resigned as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services at the end of September after racking up a huge bill from taxpayer-funded luxury-jet travel. As first reported by Politico, Price took hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of private jets on the government’s dime, including a $25,000 hour-long flight from D.C. to Philadelphia.

Like Price, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt apparently believe that taxpayer funds can be used for personal travel. Secretary Mnuchin flew with his wife on a government jet to Fort Knox in Kentucky, a trip that was auspiciously — or suspiciously, depending on your viewpoint —timed to the solar eclipse. Pruitt spent over $58,000 of taxpayer funds on noncommercial jet travel even though cheaper commercial options were available.

To stop this abuse, I introduced the Swamp Flyers Act last month, a bill that bans government officials from traveling on government-funded non-commercial planes unless there is a national security justification or no commercial flights are available. Officials would also be required to certify, under penalty of perjury, that no commercial flights were available. My bill protects the fundamental principle that public funds are meant for the public.  Source

Sept 29, 2017
usnews.com
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Also Used Taxpayer Money for Chartered Flights

The Interior Secretary is the fourth member of the Trump administration to use expensive private planes instead of commercial flights

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was found to have used taxpayer funds for expensive, private charter flights even when commercial options were available – the fourth member of the Trump administration identified as having done so.

Zinke and members of his staff flew on two chartered planes round trip from St. Croix and St. Thomas in the Caribbean on March 31, and he flew with several of his flew from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana on June 26, Politico reported Thursday. Read more


Sept 21, 2017
theatlantic.com
Trump Has Filled, Not Drained, the Swamp

There is no campaign promise that Donald Trump has failed to honor more flagrantly than his oft repeated pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C. He has violated the letter of his promise and trampled all over its spirit. His supporters ought to be furious. But few perceive the scale of his betrayal or its brazenness.

Are they skeptics of the Russia investigation?

Forget the Russia investigation. Even if no wrongdoing is proved on that matter, the Trump Administration’s behavior would still be epically swampy. A list of examples is clarifying:

Corey Lewandowski, who worked as Trump’s campaign manager, moved to Washington, D.C., and started a Beltway lobbying firm, where he accepted lots of money from special interests that were trying to influence Trump. Meanwhile, The New York Times reported, “Established K Street firms were grabbing any Trump people they could find: Jim Murphy, Trump’s former political director, joined the lobbying giant BakerHostetler, while another firm, Fidelis Government Relations, struck up a partnership with Bill Smith, Mike Pence’s former chief of staff. All told, close to 20 ex-aides of Trump, friends, and hangers-on had made their way into Washington’s influence business.”

  1. Trump promised that he was putting his sons in charge of his business empire, telling Americans, “I hope at the end of eight years I’ll come back and say, ‘Oh you did a good job.’” But Forbes talked with Eric Trump, who revealed he’d be giving his father at least quarterly updates. And ProPublicadiscovered fine print in the legal arrangements that allows Trump to draw money from his 400 businesses “any time, without disclosing it,” a far cry from a prior statement by Trump’s lawyers that he was “completely isolating himself from his business interests.”
  2. At the same time, “the administration has not been shy about hiring individuals who were once registered as lobbyists with the federal government. Data provided to The Washington Post by the liberal PAC American Bridge details the extent to which former lobbyists have made their way into the administration. Twenty work for the executive office of the president itself, including four ‘super-lobbyists’—ones who represented at least 10 different companies or organizations before coming to work for the government. What’s more, of the 74 lobbyists identified … 49 now work for agencies they used to lobby.”
  3. “A major construction company owned by the Chinese government was hired to work on the latest Trump golf club development in Dubai,” the Sacramento Bee reports, “despite a pledge from Donald Trump that his family business would not engage in any transactions with foreign government entities while he serves as president.”
  4. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is flying on private jets at taxpayer expense. He spent $60,000 in a single week. His predecessors flew commercial.
  5. The U.S. Coast Guard paid Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s exclusive Palm Beach resort, more than $1,000 for a two-night stay in a luxury room. “It is not clear whether the invoice stemmed from a one-time occurrence or represented one of many Mar-a-Lago rooms that have been booked at government expense for presidential aides or other officials since Trump took office,” The Washington Post reported. “Other agencies that likely have had regular presence at the club, such as the Secret Service, have declined to provide the Post information.”
  6. Trump is using money donated to the Republican National Committee to pay his personal lawyers.
  7. “As Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping dined on Dover sole and New York strip steak earlier this month,” The Guardian reports, “thousands of miles away in China a government office quietly approved trademarks that could benefit the U.S. president’s family. On the day the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump met the Chinese leader, China granted preliminary approval for three new trademarks for her namesake brand, covering jewelry, bags, and spa service.”
  8. The Washington Post found “the State Department spent more than $15,000 to book 19 rooms at the new Trump hotel in Vancouver when members of President Trump’s family headlined the grand opening of the tower in late February. The hotel bookings—which were released under a Freedom of Information Act request—reflect the first evidence of State Department expenditures at a Trump-branded property since President Trump took office in January.”
  9. People with business before the federal government are paying for rooms in Trump’s D.C. hotel. Vanity Fair reports examples including “the prime minister of Malaysia, who is the focus of a Justice Department corruption probe; the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry that wants more offshore drilling; an association of candymakers seeking federal help in an enduring dispute with the U.S. sugar industry; and a trade group for vape-shop owners and e-cigarette makers.”
  10. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and a White House adviser, retains a stake in that hotel and receives an income stream from it.
  11. As Politico reported, “In May, Jared Kushner’s sister Nicole Meyer pitched Chinese investors in Beijing on a Kushner development project in Jersey City, telling them that if they put at least $500,000 into the project they would be rewarded with EB-5 investor visas to immigrate to the United States. Kushner, whose role in the White House includes advising on China policy, stopped running his family’s company in January; but Meyer mentioned her brother by name at the Beijing event, reminding guests he was now serving in the White House and adding that the project ‘means a lot to me and my entire family.’”
  12. Despite a pledge to donate all profits from foreign entities to the U.S. Treasury to avoid conflicts of interest, Trump’s businesses now “say it would be ‘impractical,’ to require customers representing foreign nations to identify themselves,” Reuters reports, adding that “The Kuwaiti and Azerbaijani governments have already hosted events at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.”
  13. The BBC reports that “Philippines’ newest trade envoy to the United States is the same man who is building Trump Tower Manila. Like many of Trump’s branding projects, Mr Trump does not own the building himself, but licenses his name to the building in return for regular payments. Trump family members have previously promoted the project. The trade envoy/business partner reportedly flew to U.S. to hold a private meeting with Mr. Trump after the election.”
  14. According to ABC News, “Secretary Steven Mnuchin requested use of a government jet to take him and his wife on their honeymoon in Scotland, France, and Italy earlier this summer, sparking an inquiry by the Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General … Officials familiar with the matter said the highly unusual ask for a U.S. Air Force jet, which according to an Air Force spokesman could cost roughly $25,000 per hour to operate, was put in writing by the secretary’s office but was deemed unnecessary after further consideration.”
  15. Ousted former National Security Adviser “Michael Flynn informed the Trump administration that he was under investigation for secretly lobbying on behalf of Turkish interests—and the president decided to appoint him to one of the most powerful national security posts in the government, anyway,” New York Magazine recounted. “Flynn then used his short time in office to veto a plan for retaking the Islamic State’s de facto capital, despite the plan’s strong support from the Pentagon and Obama administration. The operation would have involved partnership with Syrian Kurdish forces—a prospect vehemently opposed by Turkey’s government.”
  16. Trump still hasn’t released his tax returns.

That list is highly incomplete. But already it is too much for the brain to take in all at once. Every item is a scandal in its own right. And an exhaustive list is all but impossible. To understand why, scroll through the Sunlight Foundation spreadsheet that aggregates Trump’s conflicts of interest. Probing all of them would take months.

Former President Jimmy Carter sold a peanut farm to avoid the appearance of one much less serious conflict. Trump chooses to put his business interests before the country’s interests. Despite repeating “drain the swamp” often, it was always just an opportunistic slogan for him.

“I told people the other day: ‘Drain the swamp,’ I don’t really like that expression,” he admitted to a Las Vegas campaign crowd last October. “I said, I don’t love that expression, so hokey … I hate to use this … it doesn’t work, right. And I said it two weeks ago to a big crowd, and the place went crazy. Then I said it a second time, and the place went even crazier. And then the third time, like you, they started saying it before I said it. All of the sudden, I decided, I love that expression; it’s a great expression.”

Now the emptiness of Trump’s words is borne out by his actions. The evidence is right there on public record, though Trump supporters who rely on Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, or Tucker Carlson for their news haven’t yet gotten the truth about the new swamp. But those who’ve read this far have gotten it. Why aren’t you furious yet? Source

Sept 14, 2017
HuffingtonPost
Steve Mnuchin Asked To Use Government Plane For His European Honeymoon
An Air Force jet could’ve reportedly cost taxpayers $25,000 per hour to operate.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin formally requested to use a government plane for his honeymoon to Scotland, France and Italy earlier this summer.

Travel on such an aircraft could’ve reportedly cost American taxpayers $25,000 per hour to operate.

ABC News was the first media outlet to report Mnuchin’s request, which occurred last month. The request was so unusual it sparked an “inquiry” by the Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General.

A spokesperson for the Treasury Department said Mnuchin’s request to use the plane for his honeymoon was originally made to ensure that the secretary would have a secure line with which to communicate as a member of the National Security Council. Once the department found a different way to ensure secure communication, the request was withdrawn.

“It is imperative that he have access to secure communications, and it is our practice to consider a wide range of options to ensure he has these capabilities during his travel, including the possible use of military aircraft,” a Treasury spokesman said in a statement to The New York Times.

The office is already looking into Mnuchin’s travel on an Air Force jet to Louisville and Fort Knox, Kentucky last month; that trip just happened to coincide with the solar eclipse. Read more

August 24, 2017
breitbart.com
How Charlottesville Helped Drain the Swamp

Donald Trump’s decision to dissolve his two business advisory councils in the face of mass defections of corporate leaders and Wall Street titans was a clarifying moment for his presidency. Just as the president promised, he drained the swamp.
Ironically, the swamp was already draining itself as business leaders decided that they agreed with the mainstream media’s interpretation of Trump’s stance on the violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia. The president had unequivocally condemned racism and white nationalism while adding that ‘alt-left’ violence was also deplorable. In response he was inaccurately accused of equating white supremacists with “protesters.”

The resignations made it clear that many of the “business leaders” could not be counted on for leadership if that involved standing against the wrath of the mainstream media.

And so the swamp was drained. Read more

August 31, 2017
theatlantic.com
What a New Trump Administration Hire Could Mean for For-Profit Colleges

The Trump administration has tapped Julian Schmoke, a former DeVry University administrator, to lead the Education Department’s student-aid enforcement unit. The move provoked complaints from critics who pointed out that DeVry recently settled several claims brought against it by regulators alleging it had engaged in some of the very abuses the unit is charged with eliminating.

Schmoke’s hiring was first reported by Politico on Tuesday evening, citing an internal email announcing the move. Schmoke, who most recently oversaw campus operations at a community college in Georgia, will be in charge of addressing allegations of illegal activities such as fraud by higher-education institutions.

DeVry, a for-profit college, has faced allegations that it was using deceptive recruitment tactics, misleading students about their career prospects, and distorting data provided to the federal government. The institution’s parent company arrived at settlements with several government entities, including the New York attorney general earlier this year and the Federal Trade Commission in late 2016, the latter of which amounted to $100 million. DeVry Education Group, the parent company, subsequently rebranded itself as Adtalem Global Education. Read more

August 30, 2017
The New York Times Magazine
How to Get Rich in
Trump’s Washington
His presidency has changed the rules of influence in the nation’s capital — and spawned a new breed of lobbyist on K Street.

As for so many other people, election night did not pan out quite the way Robert Stryk expected. Stryk began the night slumped in a Morton’s steakhouse in downtown Washington, tuning out the guests at his watch party to type out the campaign announcement of a buddy who — in the wake of Donald J. Trump’s all-but-certain defeat and the Republican Party implosion that was sure to follow — planned to make a long-shot bid for chairman of the Republican National Committee. He ended it by closing down the bar at the Mayflower Hotel, and after the race was called, giddily marching down Connecticut Avenue with his friends as they chanted, ‘‘Make America Great Again!’’

Stryk, who owned a lobbying firm so small it didn’t actually have an office, spent most of his time in California and owned a small vineyard in Oregon, and he had helped out the Trump campaign as a sort of informal West Coast hand. He was still reveling in Trump’s upset win two nights later, over a bottle of wine on the patio of the Four Seasons in Georgetown, when a chocolate Lab padded over to his table to sniff his crotch. Stryk and the dog’s owner got to talking about wine and cigars and finally, like most of the country, about Trump. It turned out that she worked for New Zealand’s Embassy in Washington. New Zealand’s prime minister still hadn’t connected with the new president-elect, she told Stryk — a diplomatic and political embarrassment. Stryk cocked an eye across the table. ‘‘What if I said I could get you the number of someone to call the president?’’ he asked her.

The following afternoon, Stryk found himself in a cab, headed for a meeting with New Zealand’s ambassador to the United States, Tim Groser. Stryk was more than a little nervous. On the way over, he called a friend named Stuart Jolly, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who ran Trump’s field operation during the Republican primary and spent election night with Stryk at Morton’s. Jolly reached out to someone he knew in the Trump high command and delivered a cell number, but Stryk didn’t know if it would actually work. At the embassy, Groser invited him in, uncorked a bottle of pinot noir and called the prime minister to pass along the number. A week later, President-elect Trump was finally able to accept a congratulatory phone call. But even before the call went through, plans and possibilities were blooming in Stryk’s mind. ‘‘I said to myself: ‘This could be very, very interesting,’ ’’ he told me when I first met him this spring. ‘‘ ‘The world’s going to change.’ ’’ Read more

June 1, 2017
Washington Post
Politics Analysis
This is what Trump’s swamp looks like

President Trump readily admits that the whole “drain the swamp” thing wasn’t his idea.

“You know, I told people the other day ‘drain the swamp,’ I said I don’t really like that expression; this was two weeks ago,” Trump said during a campaign stop in Las Vegas in late October. “I said, I don’t love that expression, so hokey. I thought it was hokey. . . . I said I hate to use this, it’s sort of like, it doesn’t work right. And I said it two weeks ago to a big crowd, and I said it, and the place went crazy. Then I said it a second time, and the place went even crazier. And then the third time, like you, they started saying it before I said it. And all of the sudden, I decided I love that expression; it’s a great expression.”

He came to embrace the slogan. He never came to embrace the concept behind it.

Granted, which swamp was being drained was always a little vague. Was it career politicians? Career bureaucrats? Obviously it was lobbyists, given how often Trump disparaged the work of lobbyists, who, he said, he knew well from his work in the private sector. Trump even came up with a pledge that members of his administration would have to sign, aimed at preventing conflicts of interest.

On Wednesday, we learned that 17 members of his administration had been granted waivers allowing them to continue to interact with former clients. Trump isn’t the first president to issue such waivers; Barack Obama also issued 17 waivers — over the course of his two terms in office. Read more

January 2017
Draining the Swamp?
Here’s a look at how swampy Trump’s appointments are based on their lobbying and fundraising

In mid-October, Donald Trump unveiled a major campaign slogans: “Drain the swamp.”

“It’s become the hottest expression,” he said at a rally in New Hampshire.“If we win on November 8th, we are going to Washington, D.C.—when we win, OK—and we are going to drain the swamp.”

Trump used the term broadly to refer to what he called the “entire corrupt Washington Establishment,” including the outsized influence of lobbyists, political rewards for campaign donors and outright corruption.

Since becoming President-elect, however, Trump’s actions haven’t exactly lived up to his rhetoric, especially when it came to stocking his Administration.

While his Cabinet-level picks have been less traditional—a lot more billionaires and retired military officers than usual, for one thing—it’s clear that they are much more swampy as a whole than Trump pledged.

For one, the nominees are far from inexperienced in the ways of lobbying.

Eleven of his 19 Cabinet and Cabinet-level appointments announced so far have sat on the boards of corporations or organizations that have lobbied the federal government, spending a total of $497.5 million. (Most of that comes from Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, who headed ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute and was a member of the Business Roundtable when those groups spent a combined $368.4 million on lobbying.) Read more

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