April 16, 2018
Trump businesses made millions off Republican groups and federal agencies, report says
April 1, 2018
501 Days in Swampland
A constant drip of self-dealing. And this is just what we know so far …
More than at any time in history, the president of the United States is actively using the power and prestige of his office to line his own pockets: landing loans for his businesses, steering wealthy buyers to his condos, securing cheap foreign labor for his resorts, preserving federal subsidies for his housing projects, easing regulations on his golf courses, licensing his name to overseas projects, even peddling coffee mugs and shot glasses bearing the presidential seal. For Trump, whose business revolves around the marketability of his name, there has proved to be no public policy too big, and no private opportunity too crass, to exploit for personal profit.
Nowhere has the self-enrichment been more evident than at his Washington hotel, which quickly filled up with the very lobbyists and swamp creatures Trump had railed against during his campaign. Oil companies, mining interests, insurance executives, foreign diplomats, and defense contractors all rushed to book their annual conferences at Trump’s hotels and resorts, where Cabinet members graciously addressed them. After hiking the nightly rate to $653 — 32 percent higher than other local luxury hotels — Trump collected $2 million in profits from the property during his first three months in office. By last August, the hotel’s bar and restaurant had hauled in another $8 million in revenue. And although Trump has pledged to give away any money his hotels earn from foreign governments, the plan contains a lucrative loophole: Employees at his hotels admit that they make no effort to identify guests who represent other countries, meaning that much of the foreign money spent at Trump’s properties flows directly into his own pockets. On March 28, a federal judge allowed a lawsuit to go forward that charges Trump with violating the Constitution by accepting money from foreign governments at his D.C. hotel.
In fact, although Trump refuses to disclose the details of his myriad business operations, he continues to enjoy access to every dime he makes as president. Instead of setting up a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest, as other presidents have done, Trump put his two grown sons in charge of his more than 500 business entities. His sons regularly brief Trump about how the enterprises are doing, enabling him to personally monitor how his decisions in office affect his bottom line. What’s more, only 15 days after this “eyes wide open” trust was set up, Trump amended the fine print to allow him to take money out of the operation any time he pleases. The loophole, buried on page 161 of the 166-page form, stipulates that any “net income or principal” can be distributed to Trump “at his request.” Far from putting his wealth in a blind trust, Trump asked the public for its blind trust, effectively sticking his money in a piggy bank in Don Jr.’s room that he is free to raid at any hour of the day or night.
Trump’s children are working hard to cash in on his time in office — especially with foreign investors. At taxpayer expense, they have flown to Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, Dubai, and India in search of licensing and real-estate deals, trading on the president’s influence in exchange for investments. But the biggest complication of Trump’s presidency — and the one he works hardest to keep secret — is the way his entire business operation is mired in massive debt. Rather than being independently wealthy, public records show, Trump and the business partnerships in which he is a leading investor owe big banks and foreign governments at least $2.3 billion — far more than his disclosure reports indicate. His largest single loan — for nearly $1 billion — is from a syndicate assembled by Goldman Sachs that includes the state-owned Bank of China. If either Trump or Jared Kushner, who tried to shake down Qatar’s finance minister for a loan, winds up needing to negotiate new terms on his ballooning debt, America could find itself being dictated to by a foreign government — all because the White House, thanks to Trump’s business model, has become a true House of Cards.
What follows is 501 days of official corruption, from small-time graft and brazen influence peddling to full-blown raids on the federal Treasury. Given how little Trump has disclosed about his finances, this timeline of self-dealing is undoubtedly only a fraction of the corruption that will eventually come to light. But as even this initial glimpse makes clear, Trump isn’t draining the swamp — he’s monetizing it. —David Cay Johnston
Trump’s Hotel in D.C.
“The stars have all aligned. I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been.” —Eric Trump, speaking at the hotel
12/7 Diplomats from Bahrain move the country’s National Day celebration from the Ritz-Carlton to the ballroom at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
1/20 A watchdog group calls on the General Services Administration, a federal agency, to stop leasing the Old Post Office to Trump for use as the hotel. The agency’s ethics division, which reports to Trump, rules that the $180 million deal is fine.
1/23 Saudi Arabia holds a bash at the hotel after renting rooms for lobbyists for five months. Trump’s haul: $270,000.
2/25 The Kuwaiti Embassy, reportedly pressured by the Trump Organization, moves its National Day celebration from the Four Seasons to Trump’s hotel.
3/1 The National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association hosts a dinner at the hotel, drenched in Trump-branded coffee and wine.
3/22 The American Petroleum Institute holds its board meeting at Trump’s hotel, where it meets with EPA chief Scott Pruitt. A month later, Pruitt suspends drilling regulations.
5/1 Rates at the hotel jump to $653 per night, a price hike of 60 percent since Trump’s election.
5/21 A Turkish government council holds its annual conference at the hotel. The group’s chair founded the company that paid $530,000 to former national-security adviser Michael Flynn for lobbying work.
7/17 E-cigarette-makers hold their annual conference at the hotel. Ten days later, the FDA announces it will delay federal oversight of e-cigarettes until 2022.
8/11 A federal agency accidentally posts the hotel’s Q1 profits: $2 million.
9/13 Staffers for Linda McMahon, head of the Small Business Administration, try to cover up the fact that she addressed a business lobbying event at the hotel, avoiding images of hotel signs bearing Trump’s name when posting photos of the event on Twitter.
9/28 The Fund for American Studies, a conservative organization, hosts a lunch at the hotel. The keynote speaker, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, thanks Trump’s staff for helping him get confirmed.
10/4 At its annual board meeting, the National Mining Association is addressed by three Cabinet members: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. “Coal is fighting back,” Perry exults over breakfast with the country’s top mining executives. “Clearly the president wants to revive, not revile, this vital resource.” Five days later, the Trump administration announces the repeal of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which would have encouraged states to replace coal with wind and solar energy. The plan would have cut climate-warming pollution from coal plants by a third and saved taxpayers and consumers as much as $93 billion a year. The venue for the mining board’s meeting: the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
10/5 A commercial real-estate trade association hosts an awards gala at Trump’s hotel, sponsored by a roster of prominent lobbying agents.
10/11 The American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful conservative lobbying group with ties to the Koch brothers, announces that the venue for its 45th-anniversary gala will be Trump’s hotel. The group requests corporate sponsorships of up to $100,000.
3/5 The Independent Petroleum Association of America holds a three-day lobbying event at the hotel.
3/28 A federal judge declines to stop a lawsuit that accuses Trump of violating the Constitution by accepting money from foreign governments at his hotel.
“The ornate Jazz Age house was designed with Old-World Spanish, Venetian, and Portuguese influences.” —From a state department promo online
12/31 Mar-a-Lago hosts a New Year’s Eve party with Trump, priced at $525 a ticket. His take for the night: $400,000.
1/1 The resort quietly doubles its initiation fee to $200,000 — a potential haul of $2 million. In return, club members get access to the president on a par with White House officials.
4/4 The State Department runs an online promotion for Mar-a-Lago, which is also picked up by embassy websites in England and Albania.
4/6 Trump and Ivanka meet with Chinese president Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago. That same day, China approves trademarks for three of Ivanka’s brands.
6/16 Financial-disclosure filings show that Trump’s revenues from the resort soared by 25 percent during his presidential run.
7/17 The administration increases the allotment of H2-B visas for foreign workers. Within days, Mar-a-Lago applies for 76 of the new visas — even though a local jobs agency has 5,100 applicants qualified to fill the openings.
11/10 The Republican Attorneys General Association, which has spent more than $75,000 at Trump’s properties in five months, holds a reception at Mar-a-Lago. It later forms a “working group” to partner with the Trump administration to roll back environmental protections.
12/9 Oxbow Carbon, a major energy company that would benefit from the Keystone XL pipeline, holds its annual holiday gala at Mar-a-Lago.
12/31 Trump boosts ticket prices for his New Year’s Eve bash to $750. Taxpayers foot the $26,000 bill for lights, generators, and tent rental.
1/9 The Trump administration opens offshore drilling in all but one state: Florida, where oil and gas exploration could hurt business at Mar-a-Lago.
2/18 Reports reveal that Trump regularly solicits input from Mar-a-Lago members on everything from gun control to Jared Kushner’s favorability. Unlike other politicians, who are limited to asking the wealthy for campaign contributions, Trump has found a way to personally profit from selling access to the president.
2/26 An Israel-focused charity, the Truth About Israel, relocates its gala to Mar-a-Lago in appreciation of the president’s support for Israel.
Trump’s Other Properties & Investments
“The Clintons have turned the politics of personal enrichment into an art form for themselves. They’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars selling access, selling favors, selling government contracts.” —Donald Trump
11/14 In a call with Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, Trump reportedly pushes for approval to build a Trump Tower in downtown Buenos Aires. Ivanka Trump, who oversees the family business with her brothers, sits in on the call.
1/24 Trump signs an executive order to fast-track the Dakota Access Pipeline. He claims to have sold the stock he owns in the pipeline’s builders — as much as $300,000 — but offers no proof.
1/27 Trump issues the travel ban but leaves off Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt — countries where he has significant business interests. His company was paid as much as $10 million for use of his name on a tower in Istanbul, and he registered eight new businesses in Saudi Arabia during his campaign.
2/3 Trump, who owned as much as $5 million in bank stocks in 2016, orders the Treasury secretary to consider ways to roll back regulations on banks. The value of bank stocks soars nearly 30 percent during his first year in office.
2/14 Trump, who owned stock in large oil companies, allows oil companies to hide the payments they make to foreign governments in exchange for extraction rights. The move comes only two months after ExxonMobil, which lobbied for the concession, donated $500,000 to Trump’s inauguration.
2/21 Angela Chen, a consultant with ties to China’s ruling elite, buys a $16 million penthouse in a Trump-owned property.
2/28 Trump, who owns 12 golf courses in the U.S., rolls back a rule that limits water pollution by golf courses.
4/29 Overriding diplomatic concerns, Trump invites Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte to the White House. To gain favor with Trump, Duterte had appointed the president’s partner on the Trump Tower in Manila as his economic envoy to the U.S.
5/7 The Metals Service Center Institute, which is pushing the Commerce Department for steel tariffs, holds its annual conference at Trump’s resort in Miami.
5/16 The Republican Governors Association holds a conference at Trump’s golf club in Miami, where members strategize with corporate executives over how to persuade the new administration to dismantle environmental regulations and enact other business-friendly moves. Trump’s take for the conference: $400,000.
5/19 Trump proposes slashing HUD’s budget — but retains a subsidythat has poured more than $490 million into a housing complex in Brooklyn where Trump has a financial stake.
6/16 Lynne Patton, an event planner and friend of the Trump family with no experience in housing, is put in charge of the HUD region covering New York and New Jersey — giving her a senior position in the agency that disburses federal subsidies to a Brooklyn housing complex from which Trump made $5 million in 2016. (Patton recused herself from matters involving the complex, after a congressional committee sent a letter to HUD.)*
8/2 Activists protest against JPMorgan Chase, which lobbied to slash the corporate tax rate while paying Trump $1.5 million a year in rent at one of his office buildings.
9/19 Report reveals that the Pentagon spends $130,000 a month in rent at Trump Tower — more than twice as much as other tenants.
10/9 Trump International Hotel in Chicago hosts a two-day conference for the manufacturing industry.
10/10 An insurance-industry trade association holds its four-day annual conference at Trump’s resort in Miami.
10/16 GEO Group, the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, holds its annual conference at the Trump National Doral. The company poured $450,000 into Trump’s campaign and inauguration after Obama announced plans to end all federal contracts with private prisons. GEO also hired two of Jeff Sessions’s former aides, plus a former Trump Organization employee, as lobbyists. The investment paid off: A month after Trump took office, he ended the ban on private prisons. GEO received a $110 million contract to build a new immigration jail in Texas, plus $44 million a year to operate it. Earlier this year, the federal Bureau of Prisons announced it would slash some 6,000 jobs and transfer more inmates to private facilities.
10/18 Defense contractor L3 Technologies holds its annual meeting at Trump National Doral. L3 depends on government largesse for 84 percent of its revenue.
10/19 In a break with tradition, Trump personally interviews candidates for U.S. attorney in the districts that cover most of his business dealings. For the New York position, he ultimately chooses one of his campaign donors.
11/7 Trump hawks his golf course during a major speech to South Korea’s legislature.
11/8 A payday-lender lobbying group announces it will hold its 2018 annual conference at the Trump National Doral. Two months later, the administration announces it is considering scrapping a rule that requires payday lenders to stop taking advantage of clients who cannot pay off their loans.
1/2 A judge rules that Starrett City, a housing complex in Brooklyn that Trump owns a stake in, can be sold to private developers. The sale is expected to net Trump $14 million after the administration approves it.*
2/21 Mississippi awards $6 million in tax breaks to a new Trump-branded hotel.
Family & Friends
“The company and policy and government are completely separated. We have built an unbelievable wall in between the two.” —Eric Trump
11/13 While appearing on 60 Minutes to discuss her father’s election, Ivanka Trump wears a $10,800 bracelet from her jewelry company. After the interview, the company sends out a “style alert”promoting the bracelet to reporters.
12/6 Firm founded by Melania Trump’s friend and adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff receives $26 million for helping plan the inauguration.
1/5 Eric Trump jets to Uruguay to check on an unfinished Trump condo tower. The trip costs taxpayers $97,830.
2/5 Eric Trump spends $200,000 in taxpayer money to jet to the Dominican Republic to push for a Trump-branded project. The deal — which would put Trump’s name on 17 high-rises — violates a Dominican height limit for new resorts. It also breaks Trump’s vow not to seek overseas deals during his presidency. The Dominican president personally approves the high-rises. “Here in the palace, the president’s thoughts are that this U.S. president is angry and we better not get in his way,” a former Dominican ambassador explains. “We don’t want to cross him.”
2/6 Melania’s lawyers, suing a British paper for libel, argue its reporting ruined her “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to monetize her position as First Lady by cashing in on “multi-million-dollar business relationships.”
2/9 Kellyanne Conway offers “free commercial” for Ivanka’s clothing line on Fox News: “Go buy it today, everybody.” Trump refuses to discipline her, defying recommendation of his own ethics agency.
2/18 Taxpayers pay $16,000 to provide security for Eric Trump and Donald Jr. during their trip to open a Trump-branded golf course in Dubai. The event is invitation-only.
3/3 Jared Kushner meets with the CEO of Citigroup, which is lobbying to loosen financial regulations. Citigroup subsequently lends Kushner’s company $325 million to develop a group of office buildings in Brooklyn.
3/9 Kushner fails to disclose his ownership of Cadre, a real-estate start-up. The firm’s value shot up by millions of dollars after he entered the White House.
3/20 Eric’s wife posts a photo on Instagram of the family’s weeklong ski vacation in Aspen. Taxpayers were charged $330,000 for security details and another $200,000 for luxury lodgings.
3/20 Ivanka, refusing to place her assets in a blind trust, sets up shop in the West Wing.
4/24 Kushner’s family tries to broker funding for his real-estate ventures with Qatar’s finance minister. The minister declines. A month later, Kushner supports diplomatic actions against Qatar.
5/4 State Department and Voice of America promote Ivanka’s book Women Who Work.
5/5 Trump extends fast-track visas for foreigners who invest $500,000 in U.S. properties. The next day, Kushner’s sister promises visas to Chinese investors if they put $500,000 into the family’s properties in New Jersey.
5/17 Kushner’s company is subpoenaed by federal prosecutors and the SEC for its promotion of the investment-for-visa program.
7/21 CNN finds that even after his family business apologizes for name-dropping Kushner at a marketing event in Beijing, it highlights his White House role in an online sales pitch to Chinese investors.
10/3 Kushner fined $200 for missing a disclosure deadline. To date, he has been forced to change his disclosure form 39 times for failing to mention potential conflicts of interest.
10/4 ProPublica investigation reveals that after Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance dropped a criminal investigation against Donald Jr. and Ivanka, their attorney arranged a fund-raiser on Vance’s behalf, donating $32,000 himself and raising at least $9,000 more.
11/1 Apollo Global Management lends Kushner’s real-estate company $184 million — triple the size of its average loan — after meeting with him in the White House. Six weeks later, the SEC drops investigation into Apollo’s finances.
12/3 Kushner is exposed for failing to disclose that his family’s foundation — which he led for nine years — funded an illegal Israeli settlement on the West Bank. Just before Trump took office, Kushner tried to sway a U.N. vote against an anti-settlement resolution.
2/20 Donald Jr. tours India to sell Trump-branded homes; several newspapers run an ad promising a “conversation and dinner” with him — for an additional fee of $30,000.
Officials & Their Pals
“We are going to send the special interests packing.” —Donald Trump
1/19 During his confirmation as Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin fails to disclose a hedge fund he registered in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying federal taxes — the very thing he is supposed to collect as Treasury secretary.
1/24 During his confirmation as secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price fails to disclose an insider deal he got on $520,000 in stock in a biotech company. As secretary, he will be in a position to approve a drug the company has developed.
2/9 Reports reveal that a top White House aide, Chris Liddell, participated in meetings between Trump and the CEOs of 18 companies in which he held large amounts of stock — a possible criminal offense. The companies included Lockheed Martin, Walmart, JPMorgan Chase, and Dow Chemical.
3/16 Congressional investigators reveal that Trump’s former national-security adviser Michael Flynn — who wanted to “rip up” American sanctions on Russia — failed to report $45,000 in fees he received from the Russian state media outlet RT.
4/14 The White House stops releasing logs of visitors, concealing trips made by lobbyists and corporate executives. In Trump’s first two months alone, by one estimate, more than 500 executives and foreign leaders made unrecorded visits to the White House.
6/29 HUD Secretary Ben Carson tours Baltimore — accompanied by prospective business associates being courted by his son. One administrator on the tour later offers Carson’s daughter-in-law a contract worth $500,000.
11/5 New reports reveal that during his confirmation hearings, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross failed to disclose that a shipping firm he owns a stake in has close ties to Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law. His new job puts him in charge of American trade policy with Russia.
12/18 Under pressure from watchdogs, EPA chief Scott Pruitt terminates a $120,000 contract for a firm he has worked with in the past to dig up information on EPA staffers who had criticized him or his policies.
12/22 “You all just got a lot richer,” Trump tells wealthy patrons at Mar-a-Lago hours after signing a massive tax giveway to the superrich. The bill saved Trump $15 million in taxes and Jared Kushner $12 milion. It also enriched much of Trump’s inner circle — including Linda McMahon, Betsy DeVos, Steven Mnuchin, and Rex Tillerson.
1/12 Performant Financial is one of only two companies awarded $400 million in contracts from the Education Department to collect on defaulted student loans. One notable former investor in Performant: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
1/31 CDC chief Brenda Fitzgerald is forced to resign over her purchase of stock in one of the world’s largest tobacco companies. She bought the shares a month after taking over the agency tasked with reducing tobacco use.
2/1 William Emanuel, a Trump appointee to the National Labor Relations Board, is investigated for a possible ethics violation after he votes on a case involving his former law firm. His tie-breaking vote would have made it harder for employees at franchises like McDonald’s to hold their parent companies accountable for labor-law violations, but the decision is thrown out because of his conflict of interest.
3/29 ABC News reports that EPA chief Pruitt spent much of his first year in Washington living in a townhouse co-owned by the wife of J. Steven Hart, a top energy lobbyist. Hart lobbied the EPA on several policies last year, including coal regulations and limits on air pollution.
Lobbyist & Other Sleaze
“We’re going to end the government corruption, and we’re going to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.” —Donald Trump
1/17 Scott Mason, a key member of Trump’s transition team, returns to lobbying — one of nine transition-team members to violate Trump’s pledge that he would bar such revolving-door moves for at least six months. One of Mason’s clients, Peabody Energy, later helps dream up a coal-industry bailout promoted by Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
1/23 Trump appoints Jeffrey Wood, a lobbyist for a coal polluter, to prosecute environmental crimes like coal pollution.
2/6 Lauren Maddox, who guided Betsy DeVos through her confirmation process for Education secretary, is hired by a for-profit law school to help restore its access to federal student loans. After paying $130,000 in lobbying fees, the school gets its wish: The Education Department agrees to reconsider its eligiblity for millions in loans.
2/27 Billionaire Carl Icahn, an unpaid adviser to Trump, submits a regulatory proposal that would raise the value of his investment in an oil refinery. During Trump’s first six weeks in office, Icahn makes an extra $60 million on the deal.
4/12 Marcus Peacock, a policy expert in Trump’s budget office, takes a job lobbying the budget office for the Business Roundtable, which represents 200 of America’s largest corporations. Trump makes no move to enforce the five-year moratorium he vowed to place on such revolving-door moves.
5/19 Trump nominates K. T. McFarland, adviser who once siphoned off $14,000 in campaign funds for “personal use,” as ambassador to Singapore.
8/1 A top aide to EPA chief Scott Pruitt, who oversees federal grants worth hundreds of millions of dollars, receives permission to work as a consultant for private clients. Despite his influence over public policy, the identities of his clients will be kept secret.
8/15 Two Trump campaign operatives register a new lobbying firm, Turnberry Solutions, named after the Scottish town where Trump owns a golf club. Its first client, Elio Motors, hires it to help obtain government handouts.
10/17 Whitefish Energy, a Montana firm that employed the son of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, is awarded $300 million in a no-bid federal contract to restore storm-battered Puerto Rico.
10/26 Trump nominates J. Steven Gardner, a coal-industry consultant, to oversee enforcement of strip-mining regulations. The Senate winds up rejecting the nomination.
11/8 Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump’s pick to head the Department of Homeland Security, was guided through her confirmation by a lobbyist whose clients compete for DHS contracts. Privatizing the “sherpa” role in confirmations — work long performed by government staffers — opens up a brazen new frontier in corruption. The lobbyist, Thad Bingel, oversaw the drafting of official policy memos and was included on emails between the DHS and the White House, enabling him to exploit internal information for private gain. Among Bingel’s clients is an Israeli defense contractor being paid $145 million by DHS to build part of Trump’s “virtual wall” along the Mexican border.
12/6 A photographer at the Department of Energy is fired after leaking a photo that shows Rick Perry receiving a confidential “action plan” from a coal magnate in March. The plan is a blueprint for the coal-industry bailout that Perry announced in September.
1/12 Trump gives Kenneth Allen, a former mining executive who still profits from coal sales to the Tennessee Valley Authority, a seat on the TVA board.
1/29 Alex Azar, a former lobbyist who worked his way up to the presidency of a drug company, is sworn in as secretary of Health and Human Services. Azar, whose company hiked the price of insulin and other drugs under his watch, is now in charge of making drugs more affordable.
2/12 Carl Icahn, who served as an unpaid adviser to Trump, sells $30 million in steel stocks just before Trump announces tariffs on steel imports.
2/18 Dina Powell, who advised Trump on foreign policy, returns to Goldman Sachs only two months after leaving the White House. At Goldman, she will focus on “enhancing the firm’s relationships” with some of the same foreign governments she advised Trump on.
3/2 Trump nominates Peter Wright, an attorney for Dow Chemical, to lead the EPA’s regulation of chemical spills. Dow has 100 polluted sites that Wright would be in charge of cleaning up.
“We are going to ask every department head to provide a list of wasteful spending projects we can eliminate.” —Donald Trump
2/28 The State Department spends $15,000 in taxpayer money for the grand opening of a Trump hotel in Vancouver, an event attended by Eric, Tiffany, and Donald Jr.
4/14 Trump jets to Mar-a-Lago via Air Force One at a cost to taxpayers of $142,380 per hour. For years, Trump heckled President Obama for taking vacations and golfing trips at government expense. If elected, he vowed, he would “rarely leave the White House, because there’s so much work to be done.” In fact, during his first three months in office, Trump’s taxpayer-funded flights to his private properties exceeded $20 million — on track to quickly surpass the amount Obama spent on travel during his eight years in office. Trump made more than 90 visits to his golf courses and played almost twice as much golf as Obama. His family joined in, requiring Secret Service agents to rack up an extra 4,054 days of taxpayer-funded travel to keep up.
5/16 Rick Perry and his staffers take a private jet to a small-business forum in Kansas City, at a cost to taxpayers of $35,000, rather than taking a nonstop flight to the airport 45 minutes away from the event.
6/2 David Shulkin’s chief of staff falsifies an email to suggest that the VA secretary needed to travel to Europe to receive an award. Shulkin’s 11-day trip with his wife, most of which was devoted to sightseeing, cost taxpayers $122,344.
6/7 Scott Pruitt, the EPA chief, spends $36,000 in taxpayer money to take a military plane to New York.
6/24 Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin marries Louise Linton and requests a military plane for their honeymoon to Europe — at a cost to taxpayers of $25,000 per hour.
6/26 Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spends $12,375 in taxpayer money to fly home aboard a private flight from Las Vegas, where he hung out with a hockey team owned by his biggest campaign donor.
7/7 Zinke uses $6,250 in taxpayer money for a helicopter flight from Virginia to Washington, D.C. — a three-hour car ride — for a horse-riding date with Mike Pence.
8/4 HHS Secretary Tom Price takes a private jet at taxpayer expense to St. Simons Island, an exclusive resort where he owns land. The trip, like many of the 26 flights Price took on corporate jets, could have been accomplished with a routine commercial flight.
8/21 Mnuchin and his wife travel to Kentucky aboard a government plane, at a cost to taxpayers of $33,000, to watch the solar eclipse.
8/30 EPA chief Pruitt spends $43,000 to build a soundproof phone booth in his office, enabling him to hold secret conversations with lobbyists and corporate executives. The Government Accountability Office is investigating whether the move violated agency spending rules.
9/29 HHS Secretary Price is forced to resign over the nearly $1 million in taxpayer money he spent taking military planes and private jets, often to visit family and friends.
2/27 HUD Secretary Ben Carson spends $196,000 on a dinette set and lounge furniture, exceeding the $5,000 legal limit for office improvements.
3/7 Zinke spends $139,000 to renovate his office doors at Interior.
*This story has been updated to clarify Lynne Patton’s authority within HUD, and the pending status of the sale of the Starrett City housing complex. Source
April 16, 2018
Judge OKs Cohen’s request for review of documents seized in raid
(CNN)A US judge said President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen could review materials seized when the FBI raided his home, office and hotel room last week for any communications with the President, but held off on deciding how prosecutors will ultimately be able to use the evidence.
April 4, 2018
A Running List of Wild Shit Scott Pruitt Hasn’t Been Fired For (Yet) [Updating]
We will update this post as more scandals surface.
Scott Pruitt is a busy man. He’s incisively worked to undermine U.S. climate policies and implement rules favoring the industries he’s supposed to be regulating from his perch as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. He has also managed to squeeze an overwhelming number of deeply swampy scandals into his short tenure. Some have been one-offs, while others have metastasized into uber scandals
In an effort to catalog the growing hurricane of impropriety surrounding Pruitt, Earther has made you, dear reader and lover of government accountability, a handy list. None have been all-encompassing enough to get Pruitt fired—yet—but that may be because he’s so good at what he was brought in to do. And let’s not lose sight of that.
While the details of these scandals may induce rage, they’re only accoutrements to Pruitt’s systematic effort to dismantle environmentalregulations designed to protect human health and the environment. They don’t include his asinine views on climate change, filling advisory boards with industry insiders, or his stupid climate science “debate”. Put it all together, and it’s clear why there’s a first-of-its-kind campaign to oust him.
The round-the-clock security
In the first three months as EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt racked up $832,735.40 in costs for his 24/7 security detail. That’s more than double what his predecessors, Gina McCarthy and Lisa Jackson, spent in their first three months on the job according to E&E News, which adds up since Pruitt is the first EPA administrator to ever request a permanent security detail.
Of course Pruitt deserves to be protected, but his requests have at times appeared excessive. According to a letter from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) obtained by CNN, his detail traveled with Pruitt to the Rose Bowl to watch his beloved Sooners get whupped, and Disneyland. During a six-week period, Pruitt pulled up to 36 agents into protecting him, according to the letter. Those agents would normally be working on cases involving pollution and EPA-related crime.
I guess with the regulatory rollbacks, maybe there’s less work for them?
The luxury travel
In an administration rife with luxury travel scandals, Pruitt has still managed to stand out. He’s made the American public pony up $160,000 for travel internationally, including to promote natural gas in Morocco, which isn’t even his job. He’s also regularly charged the public thousands of dollars for first class flights across the U.S., including flight ranging from $1,172 up to $3,610 to attend conferences put on by the fossil fuel and chemical industries, which again, he is supposed to regulating.
Pruitt has claimed he has to fly first class because of “a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment.” Indeed, a fellow traveler reportedly approached him in an airport and told him to “you’re fucking up the environment.” Which to be fair, yes.
But rather than answering for his policy choices to the public, he’s decided to seal himself off in first class. Oh, and his security detail often flew first class with him. 🙃
In early March, Pruitt said he would fly coach “on my very next flight.” No word on subsequent flights.
The private jet
Sometimes first class travel just isn’t luxurious, er safe, enough. Scott Pruitt’s team explored the possibility of leasing a private jet by the month at a cost of nearly $100,000 per month according to a report from theWashington Post. The idea nixed by advisers. Probably a good call.
The sweetheart condo deal
On the occasions when Pruitt wasn’t jet setting, he spent his first six months renting a bedroom for $50 per night—well below market rate for Capitol Hill—from a fossil fuel lobbyist’s wife. The scandal has exploded and includes such lurid details as Pruitt’s daughter crashing there during her summer internship, and Republican fundraisers held in the building. But the most damning part of the whole thing is the EPA signed off on a pipeline expansion for a company that was connected with the lobbyist linked with the condo.
If you think this looks like bribery, you’re not alone. Democrats have asked the EPA’s inspector general to investigate the arrangement and Republicans have called on Pruitt to step down. Even the White House has started an inquiry.
Update: It’s getting even sketchier. The original lease Pruitt had listed Steve Hart, the lobbyist, as the landlord. It was crossed out and his wife’s name was inked in according to the AP, which viewed the documents. (You can see for yourself over at the Washington Post.)
Oh, and Pruitt frequently fell behind on his whopping $50 per night payments according to Politico.
Oh, and the EPA official who said it was above the board has now said, yeah, maybe not so much.
Oh, and one more thing. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) lived in the condo building at one point. She said rent runs $5,000 so yeah, that $50 per night thing is a sweet deal. In an interview with E&E News, she said, “This is not a petty story, this is a full-blown scandal.”
The soundproof room
Sweeping for bugs and installing biometric locks
Also totally normal to spend thousands of dollars sweeping said office for bugs and purchasing biometric locks.
Refusing to release his schedule
Pruitt’s schedule has also been shrouded in secrecy, again representing a break from his predecessors. News organizations have gotten copies of it through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and it’s clear why Pruitt would want to keep it under wraps. His days are largely spent meeting with industry representatives and traveling to and from his home in Oklahoma. He started releasing a schedule late last year, due in part to an overwhelming number of FOIA requests.
Tons of unanswered FOIA requests
About those FOIA requests. There have been a lot of them. The EPA saw a 400 percent increase in FOIA requests last year compared to 2016, according to an analysis by the Project on Government Oversight. That same analysis showed Pruitt’s office has been particularly slow to respond, with 83 percent of cases still open vs. 21 percent agency-wide.
Giving out $120,000 for press opposition research
Pruitt has largely avoided the press outside of friendly, conservative outlets. But that hasn’t stopped him from trying to keep track of journalists. His office signed a $120,000 no-bid contract with a firm with a president billed as a “a master of opposition research” and senior vice president who took part in a campaign to shape negative opinions around Senator Elizabeth Warren through “scathing op-eds and online hot takes.” The news, first reported by Mother Jones, and ensuing firestorm around it caused the EPA to cancel the contract.
General press hostility
Even without an opposition research firm, Pruitt has largely fought against allowing the free press to cover him. The EPA press office attacked an AP journalist after he reported on Superfund sites flooded in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. And more recently, CNN reports Pruitt attempted to only allow Fox News to air his press conference on rolling back clean car rules.
Trickle down corruption is real. The EPA has granted a waiver to John Konkus, one of Pruitt’s top aides, to freelance as a media consultant. The agency won’t say who his clients are, though.
Pruitt also gave two favored aids huge salary bumps of $56,765 and $28, 130 through a backdoor provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act after the White House told him not to. The Atlantic, which first reported the raises, quoted an anonymous EPA official as saying “this whole thing has completely gutted any morales I had left to put up with this place.” Which of course may just be the point.
And in a scandal that likely would’ve disqualified Pruitt from being nominated in any other administration, he once took fossil fuel industry talking points about fracking and slapped them right on Oklahoma state letterhead.
Devon Energy’s response? “Outstanding!”
Using sirens to get to dinner
Pruitt reportedly asked EPA officials to use the sirens and flashing lights to expedite his travel through Washington, D.C. traffic, a perk normally only afforded the president. This included on trips to the airport (where remember, he boarded first class flights) and dinner at Le Diplomate, which to be fair, has four stars and 2,351 reviews on Yelp. Sometimes you get hangry, I guess. And lest you think this was all necessary because he left more than enough time to get to dinner, the New York Times also helpfully notes “he often ran late.”
Reassigning or demoting officials who told him “no”
Do not say to no to Scott Pruitt if you like your job. During his reign at the EPA, he has pushed at least five officials aside who have said no to things on this insane list of scandals you are reading. The New York Times has an exhaustive report, and the list includes his former head of security who put the kibosh on the whole siren thing (transferred), a Trump appointee who pushed back on the $100,000 private jet lease (asked to resign), and another official who questioned other spending habits (on leave). The whole Times story is completely nuts and you should go read it now.
Bulletproof desk (wait wut?)
Admittedly, there is a lot of gun violence in America. But after installing biometric locks and getting 24/7 security, Pruitt didn’t feel safe enough, so he tried to get a bulletproof desk. Cost (along with another desk outside his office): $70,000. Instead he had a settle for a stand-up desk (gotta keep it healthy!) and a sitting desk that “employees gawked at the size and grandeur of…with some comparing it to the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.” Like I said, you need to read that Times story, which broke the news.
So many new things in a salacious letter
Kevin Chmielewsi, one of the staffers that Pruitt pushed aside for calling him out for his lavish spending, spoke with five Congressional Democrats about his experience with the administrator because, in his own words, what’s “right is right, and wrong is wrong.” The five Democrats sent letters to President Trump and Pruitt outlining what came out of those discussions. They corroborate much of what’s in this post and add new details. You should seriously read them in their entirety.
The new details include allegations that the sketchy raises were “100 percent Pruitt himself,” that the administrator frequently used the EPA as a travel agent to book events in places he wanted to visit, and that he spent well over the legal limit of $5,000 redecorating his office, including framing an 8×10 American flag. Oh, and that Pruitt let one of his favored aides book a first class ticket for the ill-fated Morocco trip for no reason, and then tried to get it retroactively approved. When Chmielewsi—serving as the deputy chief of staff for operations—resisted signing off in hindsight, he said Pruitt’s chief of staff asked him to resign or Pruitt would fire him. Oh, and Pruitt’s chief of staff also allegedly told Chmielewsi that “the nightmare is now yours” when he started his position. Prescient.
Having three (yes, three!) secret EPA email accounts
The Trump campaign? Very concerned about email transparency. The Trump administration? The Washington Post reports that Scott Pruitt had multiple, unlisted email accounts. That raises concerns that emails may have slipped through the cracks when answering Freedom of Information Act requests. The emails include standard EPA account—as well as esp7@ , adm14pruitt@ and sooners7@ . Because I dunno if you’ve heard, but Pruitt loves him some University of Oklahoma sports.
Democrats are asking for a thorough review. I’m sure Republicans, who raised a ruckus over Obama’s first EPA administrator having two accounts and made Hillary Clinton’s emails a central part of the presidential race, will be down to get to the bottom of it. Source
April 6, 2018
Christian Science Monitor
Is Trump draining the swamp – or is the water rising?
So far, the president’s efforts to ‘drain the swamp’ seem more focused on deregulation and shrinking the federal workforce than making sure his team adheres to the norms and rules of ethical behavior for government officials.
WASHINGTON—Donald Trump first uttered the rallying cry “drain the swamp!” just three weeks before the 2016 election. Promising to “make our government honest once again,” Candidate Trump unveiled a five-point proposal aimed at reining in the influence of lobbyists.
“Drain the swamp!” quickly became one of Mr. Trump’s central campaign promises – and one of the most popular chants at his rallies.
Today, experts on government ethics say, President Trump is presiding over one of the most ethically challenged administrations in modern history, especially this early on. Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is only the latest example of a cabinet member operating under a storm cloud. Most recently, Mr. Pruitt has been accused of an improper housing set-up connected to an energy lobbyist, unconventional pay raises to favored political appointees, and reassignment or demotion of senior staff who questioned his spending. His job reportedly hangs in the balance, amid mixed signals from Trump and his spokespeople.
Other Trump cabinet members have already gotten the heave-ho, after questionable spending came to light. Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, fired last week, had faced criticism over travel expenses for a trip to Europe, including airfare for his wife, which he says he repaid. Mr. Shulkin, who had also served as an under secretary in the Obama administration, maintains he was let go because he resisted pressure from the Trump White House to privatize veterans’ health care.
All presidents deal to some extent with alleged wrongdoing by senior appointees, but “I have never seen anything like this,” says Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan government watchdog group.
Why is this happening, especially under an outsider president who swooped into Washington promising to change the way the capital operates?
One answer may center on what, exactly, Trump meant by “drain the swamp.”
Focus on deregulation
“We thought he was saying, ‘Hey, there’s going to be a new sheriff in town,’ and that he would do things differently with the revolving door [between government service and lobbying] and cleaning up ethics laws and regulations,” says Mr. Amey.
But so far, draining the swamp has been more about deregulation and shrinking the federal workforce, and less about strengthening or even adhering to the norms and rules of ethical behavior for government officials. Trump’s attacks on the media and on entrenched members of Congress – of both parties – have also tended to label them as members of the “swamp.”
Of the proposals in Trump’s original five-point plan, only one is fully in place: an executive order barring executive branch officials from lobbying for foreign governments or parties after they leave the administration.
The president’s own behavior has been important in setting the tone for his team, political analysts say.
Trump has yet to release his tax returns, defying the customary practice of modern presidents. He faces multiple lawsuits over his businesses and whether the income he derives from them violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which forbids the receipt of gifts from foreign countries. A federal judge ruled last week that one of the lawsuits can proceed. Trump’s business dealings are also under scrutiny as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether the president colluded with the Russians or engaged in obstruction of justice.
Besides Pruitt and Shulkin, multiple Trump cabinet secretaries have found themselves in hot water: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have all faced questions about their use of taxpayer money. In addition, Trump’s first secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, was fired after just seven months on the job, following reports that he had spent $1 million in federal funds on private jet travel.
Not that members of the federal bureaucracy are above reproach. Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe was fired last month after the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility found he had leaked to the media and “lacked candor” under oath, charges he denies.
Question of experience
But the swarm of ethics allegations facing Trump’s team is unusual. It may well reflect the fact that Trump is new to public service and came into office under his own ethical cloud, says Mickey Edwards, a Republican from Oklahoma who served in Congress from 1977 to 1993, including a stint in the leadership.
“I think some of [Trump’s appointees] came in with a sense of, ‘We’re now the bosses, and we can get away with whatever,’ ” says Mr. Edwards, now a vice president at the Aspen Institute and author of the book “The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans.”
Like Trump, some appointees entered the cabinet with no prior experience in public office. Secretary Carson, at HUD, was a renowned surgeon, and ran briefly for president in 2016, before becoming a prominent defender of Trump and then a cabinet secretary. The purchase of a $31,000 dining set for Carson’s HUD office set off an uproar last month; he has testified that he was not involved in the purchase, and canceled it.
Secretary Mnuchin, a former investment banker and film producer, faced criticism last fall when the Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General found that seven flights he had taken on military aircraft had cost the federal government more than $800,000. The report stated that no laws were broken, but criticized the use of federal funds all the same.
But other Trump appointees came to the administration with extensive experience in government, either as members of Congress or in state government. All have previous experience working under governmental ethics rules. Before coming to Washington, Pruitt was attorney general of Oklahoma and before that, a state senator.
Kind words for Pruitt, but …
Both Carson and Mnuchin seem to have weathered their storms. But Pruitt may not. Trump still praises him publicly – he’s doing a “great job,” the president tweeted on Friday – but such kind words are no guarantee of job security. According to news reports, chief of staff John Kelly advised Trump last week to fire Pruitt, though Trump wasn’t ready to let him go at that point. Friday morning, Trump and Pruitt met.
The dilemma for Trump is that, as head of the EPA, Pruitt is doing exactly what the president wants – rolling back environmental regulations that he says have been holding back economic growth. Three Republican members of the House have called for Pruitt’s resignation. But prominent conservatives have defended him, including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Senator Paul tweeted Thursday that Pruitt is “likely the bravest and most conservative member of Trump’s cabinet” and is needed to help Trump “drain the regulatory swamp.” Senator Cruz, in a tweet, blamed “Obama and his media cronies” for wanting to drive Pruitt out.
Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh opened his show Thursday with a full-throated defense of Pruitt, blaming the liberal “deep state” for attacking the embattled EPA administrator. Mr. Limbaugh, with millions of listeners, has broad power to influence public discourse among Trump supporters. Source
March 13, 2018 (To his credit – he left the swamp)
ICE Spokesman Resigns, Saying He Could No Longer Spread Falsehoods for Trump Administration
A spokesman for United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement has resigned, saying that he could no longer “bear the burden” of spreading falsehoods on behalf of the Trump administration.
The spokesman, James Schwab, who had worked for the agency’s San Francisco Division, told news outlets Monday that his decision was prompted by false statements made by the agency on Feb. 27 and repeated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week.
The statements criticized the mayor of Oakland, Libby Schaaf, for her decision last month to warn city residents that a raid by federal immigration agents targeting roughly 1,000 people was imminent. The agency’s deputy director, Thomas D. Homan, said that Ms. Schaaf’s warning had helped “864 criminal aliens and public safety threats” to evade capture in the raid.
Mr. Sessions, in a visit to California last week, condemned Ms. Schaaf, a Democrat, and echoed the agency, asserting that her actions had allowed hundreds to escape.
“I asked them to change the information,” he told The Chronicle, referring to the 864 people to whom the statement alluded. “I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn’t agree with that. Then I took some time and I quit.”
He explained that the enforcement agency would have been unlikely to capture all of the roughly 1,000 undocumented immigrants in the area that it had targeted, and that it was incorrect to identify those who were not detained as threats to public safety.
“We were never going to pick up that many people,” he said. “To say that 100 percent are dangerous criminals on the street, or that those people weren’t picked up because of the misguided actions of the mayor, is just wrong.”
Mr. Schwab did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. He resigned last week, according to CNN.
“I just couldn’t bear the burden — continuing on as a representative of the agency and charged with upholding integrity, knowing that information was false,” he told CNN, adding that in his 16 years of experience in government he had never been asked to deflect when he knew something was inaccurate.
In a statement, Ms. Schaaf, whom President Trump criticized last week for alerting residents to the raid, praised Mr. Schwab “for speaking the truth while under intense pressure to lie.”
“Our democracy depends on public servants who act with integrity and hold transparency in the highest regard,” she added.
An official at the Department of Homeland Security, which includes ICE, briefed on the plans for the raid said last month that agents find only about 30 percent of their targets on average during large sweeps.
Mr. Schwab told CNN that he thought Ms. Schaaf’s actions were “misguided,” but that blaming her “for 800 dangerous people out there is just false.”
ICE responded to Mr. Schwab’s comments in a statement, saying, “Even one criminal alien on the street can put public safety at risk.”
“As Director Homan stated, while we can’t put a number on how many targets avoided arrest due to the mayor’s warning, it clearly had an impact,” the statement said. “While we disagree with Mr. Schwab on this issue, we appreciate his service and wish him well.”
“If anyone wants to have a public argument over precisely how many dangerous criminal aliens eluded arrest because of the mayor’s irresponsible actions, we are happy to have that debate,” Sarah Isgur Flores, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said in a statement.
In a 2016 interview, Mr. Schwab told The Marion Press, his hometown paper in Michigan, that he joined the Army after high school and was deployed to Korea for four years. His service lasted until 2005, according to his LinkedIn page, and he later joined the Department of Defense, where he became a public affairs specialist in 2011. He also worked at NASA for several years before joining ICE. Source
Feb 27, 2018
Ben Carson spent $31K on dining set for his office
The purchase included a custom hardwood table, chairs and a hutch. Officials bought the furniture a short time after a HUD staff member filed a complaint that Carson’s wife, Candy, pushed to redecorate the department’s offices.
Helen Foster, who filed the whistleblower complaint, claimed she was replaced in her role because she refused to fund a redecoration of Carson’s office. She alleged in the complaint that she was told to “find money” for the redecoration, despite it exceeding budgetary limits.
A HUD spokesman told the Times that Carson “didn’t know the table had been purchased” but does not intend to return it.
“In general, the secretary does want to be as fiscally prudent as possible with the taxpayers’ money,” HUD spokesman Raffi Williams told the newspaper.
HUD officials reportedly did not request congressional approval for the purchase. The Times noted that federal law requires approval from lawmakers “to furnish or redecorate the office of a department head” if it exceeds $5,000.
Meanwhile, HUD’s inspector general is reviewing the involvement of Carson’s family at the agency after some officials expressed concerns.
The officials reportedly expressed concerns that Ben Carson Jr., who is a local businessman, was inviting potential business associates to a HUD event, which “gave the appearance that the secretary may be using his position for his son’s private gain.”
The elder Carson has denied any conflicts of interest, but asked for an inspector general investigation following the report. Source
Feb 14, 2018
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
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.
Oct 24, 2017
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
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
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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- “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.”
- 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.
- 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.”
- Trump is using money donated to the Republican National Committee to pay his personal lawyers.
- “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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and a White House adviser, retains a stake in that hotel and receives an income stream from it.
- 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.’”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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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