100+ Examples Of Donald Trump’s Corruption
There’s a vast literature on Donald Trump and the corruption that surrounds virtually everything he touches. The goal of this article is to provide an overview of the corruption, contextualize it a bit, and to argue that it is not normal: not only is it not normal, it is so remarkably beyond the norm as to require revulsion. It’s an easy argument to make, even if 30% of our population doesn’t believe it.
A further purpose is to link the corruption to its impacts. What happens because that corruption was allowed or accepted? We must see the connection of corrupt acts to their harmful results. Is it only that someone gets richer and the rest of us are virtually unaffected? No. When we pull back the curtain, we realize that we are hurt. The impacts can truly harm our lives, our families, our communities, our nation, and our life on earth.
What Is Corruption?
Political corruption is exchanging public goods for personal gain. A corrupt actor may do good things for decent motives. But the good things for proper motives are only what is expected, what we pay for, what we hire when we vote for someone. This article visits Trump administration corruption 1) when there is reasonable public evidence, and 2) when corruption seems a more plausible explanation than anything else.
Investopedia offers this definition of corruption: “Corruption is dishonest behavior by those in positions of power, such as managers or government officials. Corruption can include giving or accepting bribes or inappropriate gifts, double-dealing, under-the-table transactions, manipulating elections, diverting funds, laundering money, and defrauding investors.”
The FBI, in essence, says corruption is public enemy number 1:
Public corruption, the FBI’s top criminal investigative priority, poses a fundamental threat to our national security and way of life. It can affect everything from how well our borders are secured and our neighborhoods protected to how verdicts are handed down in courts to how public infrastructure such as roads and schools are built. It also takes a significant toll on the public’s pocketbooks by siphoning off tax dollars—it is estimated that public corruption costs the U.S. government and the public billions of dollars each year. The FBI is uniquely situated to combat corruption, with the skills and capabilities to run complex undercover operations and surveillance.
In selecting examples of the corruption of Trump and his Administration, we can assume not all actions had corrupt intent, but two realities are clear:
- Trump is transactional – he expects something for something.
- Trump is a narcissist – so the something he expects is for himself more than for others or for the United States.
These two factors are inextricably linked, so much of what he does has corrupt intent.
Corrupt actors may have any or all of multiple interests:
- Becoming wealthy or wealthier;
- Becoming more untouchable;
- Having or attaining power;
- Having or attaining fame, glory, praise, worship;
- Rewarding those who help them attain those aims;
- Feathering the nest of allies, family, like minds who will bring them other feathers. I butter your bread; you will butter mine;
- Avoiding censure, exposure, or legal action that could disrupt any of these objectives.
This does not mean that only corrupt actors seek some of these ends as wealth and influence or authority are highly prized in society.
The corruptors seek to wear us down, to normalize what they do, so that we believe that it is what it is, and there’s nothing we can do about it, and if it was not them it would be someone else. So, shut-up, get out of the way unless you want to get stomped on; don’t even think about it for what’s the use? Don’t imagine something different because it’s never different. This is the corruptors playbook.
The following 100 cases of Trump corruption is a bare-bones look with links to sources. Recall that Trump never stops talking about one false case where he alleges Biden corruption. It’s a distraction.
There are 8 sections:
- Trump’s Corruption Before He Was President
- Trump’s Profiteering Presidency And Conflicts Of Interest
- Trump’s Best People/Corrupt Associates
- Trump’s Corrupt Cabinet And White House Team
- The Lobbyists
- Intentional Acts Of Cruelty To Maintain Power
- Corruption Of Justice And The Justice Department
- Corruption Of The Norms Of A Decent Democratic Society
Trump’s Corruption Before He Was President
This first section includes Trump corruption and appearance of corruption that happened or at least started before the Presidency. They are important for several reasons:
- They give a window into his soul – a troubling sightline. What kind of person is Donald Trump? He has spent his life telling us outright, as well as leaving a trail of clues.
- His frauds highlight how he views people as pawns for his personal gains.
- His countries of operation can leave biases toward or against various countries based on his personal and business experience. Given his temperament, those biases could overrule other US national political, economic, and security interests.
- Former partners and various countries may have dirt on Trump that can be or has been leveraged.
- He may slant US policy and action based on his interest in promoting Trump business in a country in the future.
Let’s dive in:
- Money laundering 1. The Trump organization sold a Trump International Hotel & Tower apartment to the daughter of the Republic of Congo’s President Sassou-Nguesso, for $7+ million, in an alleged money-laundering scheme.
- Money laundering 2. The Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama appears to have been useful for criminal enterprises to launder tens of millions of dollars – which could not have been unknown to the Trump organization. Russians accounted for up to 50% of the buyers.
- Trump debt. Trump owes more than $400 million, as he confirmed in his town hall with Savannah Guthrie, October 14, 2020, to Deutsche Bank, New York-based Ladder Capital Finance, and other entities. According to Forbes, his debt is as high as $1 billion. Can this put him in a vulnerable position?
- Russian banks. Trump continued to pursue a Trump Moscow deal during his Presidential campaign, long after he said they had nothing going on in Russia. Donald Trump said, “I have nothing to do with Russia – no deals, no loans, no nothing.” Perhaps not. But Russians have a lot to do with Trump. Don Jr. said, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” And Eric said, “Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”
- India partners. The Trump organization has five active India projects, estimated at $1.5 billion with, as elsewhere, questionable partners. Investigators find “a long history of lawsuits, police inquiries, and government investigations that contain evidence of potential bribery, fraud, intimidation, illegal land acquisition, tax evasion, and money laundering.”
- Chinese buyers. A Chinese couple from Vancouver bought 11 units in the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, co-owned by Trump and billionaire Phil Ruffin, for $3.1 million. Chinese buyers’ purchase of numerous units in the Trump International Hotel and Tower Vancouver was part of a counterintelligence review when Ivanka Trump sought security clearance.
- Federal income taxes. The New York Times obtained Donald Trump’s taxes for 18 years. Trump paid no federal income taxes for 11 of those years, and then only $750 in 2016 and $750 in 2017. Tax avoidance is not tax evasion – unless it is. Tax evasion – if it is – is criminal. Seeking and winning a tax refund of $72.9 million in 2010, resulted in Trump’s annual average taxes for the 18 years being $1.4 million – which for most of us is certainly a lot. However, the Times points out, the average American in the top .001% (1 out of one hundred thousand) of income paid about $25 million annually in federal taxes during those 18 years. The tax refund is the subject of the Federal audit – going on since 2011.
- Tax deductions. Trump and the Trump companies have exploited tax loopholes and made broad deduction claims. A 200-acre estate in Bedford NY used personally by the family has been claimed as investment property – $2.2 million written off. Styling Trump’s hair for The Apprentice – $70,000 written off. On and on. Sycophants may argue this just shows he is smart. It also shows that the people who accept such maneuvers are triply not smart: 1) excusing such behavior, 2) not being so grasping themselves, and 3) having to pay more in taxes because those who should pay more aren’t.
- Trump University. Ronald Schnackenberg, a Trump University salesman, said in his affidavit, “Based upon my personal experience and employment, I believe that Trump University was a fraudulent scheme, and that it preyed upon the elderly and uneducated to separate them from their money.” Trump University was a Massive Scam is the title of a 2016 article in the leading US conservative magazine, National Review. The scam was operational 2005-2010. Trump paid $25 million, a settlement with the State of New York, to the scam’s victims in 2016 – though Trump did not admit they were victims.
- Trump Institute (2005-2009) was a seminar series licensed by Trump to use his name, and promoted by a Trump infomercial, “I put all of my concepts that have worked so well for me, new and old, into our seminar. I’m teaching what I’ve learned.” In reality he contributed nothing to the Institute curriculum, which was, rather, plagiarized from a 1995 Success magazine book.
- The Driver. Noel Cintron, who was a driver for the Trump family for more than 20 years, is suing the Trump Organization for unpaid time-and-a-half overtime wages he believes he is owed under New York state law.
- The Curtain Guy. Trump Ruffin Commercial LLC ordered bedspreads, curtains and pillow covers for Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, a $700,000 order that grew to $1.2 million from Larry Walters. Trump Ruffin paid $553,000. Walters stopped delivery of material. Sheriff’s deputies took the material from Walter’s factory. Eventually Walters settled for $823,000, about $380,000 less than the agreed $1.2 million. Walters went out of business. The Wall Street Journal reported, “A review of Las Vegas court records showed no other legal disputes over payments involving [Larry Walters].”
- Donald J. Trump Foundation. The Foundation agreed to dissolve in December 2018 in a settlement with New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood. Among the Foundation’s questionable operations: Trump used his charity’s money to buy 3 portraits of himself at different events, including paying $60,000 through a phony bidder at an Art Hamptons auction; raised $5.6 million for veterans that was still not distributed 4 months later and then only when press interest was unrelenting; coordinated with his political campaign; failed to maintain proper governance; used $258,000 Foundation money to settle Trump business legal claims; gave a $25,000 donation to a political committee for Florida’s Attorney General; gave grants to political allies’ pet projects;Trump himself gave no money to the foundation since 2008, but represented Foundation donations as from himself. The New York Attorney General’s Office sought restitution of $2.8 million raised by the charity, and ultimately directed that funds be disbursed under supervision.
- Trump and contractors. A USA Today investigation in 2016 reported on “hundreds of people – carpenters, dishwashers, painters, even his own lawyers – who say he didn’t pay them for their work.”
- Donald Trump has been involved in “more than 3,500 lawsuits over the past three decades” involving plasterers, glass companies, air conditioning, and heating companies, carpet companies, waiters, hourly workers, etc. Accusing contractors of doing inferior work was, in a manner of speaking, a Trump business plan over decades.
- Contractors would be faced with accepting a sometimes greatly reduced payment or going into litigation against Trump with his massive resources. Some companies went bankrupt; others were never paid. On just one project, the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, 253 subcontractors were owed a total of $69.5 million. Real estate broker Rana Williams after more than decades selling Trump properties, had to sue for $735,212 commissions. A judge in another case ordered Trump to pay broker Jennifer McGovern $298,274 in commissions due but not paid by the Trump Mortgage LLC. USA Today compared the number of Trump lawsuits to five other top real-estate executives. Trump had more lawsuits than the other five combined.
- Licensing his name without responsibility. Trump sold/licensed his name to condo developers who used his name to get buyers. Trump cut connections with projects that went bad in Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, and Baja, Mexico, and took no responsibility for the buyers’ losses. It was a Trump property until it wasn’t.
- Buying up his own books. During the Presidential campaign in 2016 Trump used $55,000 campaign donor funds to purchase his book Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again. That’s fine. But he was not permitted by the Federal Election Commission to receive any part of that income personally. Neither the Trump campaign nor Simon and Shuster, the publisher, would answer if Trump took the royalties. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice… the Republican National Committee bought Don Jr.’s book – spending almost $100,000 in 2019, and “rocketing” it to the best seller’s list.
- Cheated family members. Mary Trump, Donald Trump’s niece and author of the new bestseller, Too Much and Never Enough, filed a lawsuit in New York alleging that Donald Trump cheated her out of millions of dollars due her from the estate of her grandfather Fred Trump Sr. that should have come to her and her brother as the children of Fred Trump Jr. The suit alleges inhumane pressure on her family to accept what was presented, and fraudulent accounting and financial statements on the value of the estate.
- Weaponizing racism. Part of Trump’s rise as a political force were two legs of racism: birtherism and the Central Park Five. Long before he was a famous personality, though, he’d come to the attention of the government and the press. Trump was President of Trump Management, of which his father Fred Trump was chairman. Activists and organizations documented racial housing discrimination, 1973-1975, in Trump properties. Frontpage coverage was Trump’s introduction to celebrity. Perhaps that is prologue to his embracing birtherism, accusing the President of being illegally President because, claimed the conspiracy theory, he was not born in this country. In hectoring President Obama he energized a racist part of the population that wanted to be free to speak and act on their racism. The Central Park Five refers to the case of a woman who was raped while jogging in New York Central Park in 1989. Five young men were arrested and under duress said they were guilty. On May 1, 1989 Trump ran full-page inflammatory ads in four New York newspapers calling for the restoration of the death penalty. More than 25 years later, after the five men were fully exonerated and New York City and New York state paid significant damages to them, Trump continued to assert they were guilty and the exoneration was a fraud. By the way, their story is told – it’s a 2019 production, When They See Us – on Netflix, in the Black Lives Matter Collection.
Many other parts of Trump’s story, as presented in a 2017 article in The Atlantic and other sources, indicate what kind of person he is, including potential misdemeanors and felonies. We’re not going into more detail or numbering them now:
- Multiple sexual assault allegations between the 1970s and 2005.
- Beauty pageant scandals and lawsuits 1992-present.
- Mafia ties – “inevitable for a guy in the construction and casino businesses at the time.” 1970s- ?
- Tenant intimidation, 1982-1986.
- Four (or 6?) bankruptcies, 1991, 1992, 2004, 2009.
- Undocumented Polish workers, New York City, 1980.
- Making a donation to then-Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi before she dropped an investigation into Trump University.
- Alleged marital rape, 1989.
- Casino violating anti-discrimination rules.
- Trump casinos money laundering, a $10 million fine.
- Antitrust violations, New Jersey, 1986.
- Suing journalist Tim O’Brien for libel, 2006-2009.
- Undocumented models, 1999-?
- Violating the Cuba embargo, 1998-?
- Cheating on his three wives.
Trump’s Profiteering Presidency And Conflicts Of Interest
This section includes ways that the Presidency has been directly leveraged to channel income to Donald Trump and the Trump Organization. There has been nothing remotely similar in the 44 previous Presidencies.
- Trump International Hotel. The $270,000 spent by Saudi lobbyists in one six-month period at Trump International, noted above, is only the tip of the sand dune. Per New York Times reporting, the National Shooting Sports Foundation spent $62,000 or more in 2018, the National Automobile Dealers Association approximately $80,000. Other patrons included the Philippine Embassy, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the Vietnamese conglomerate FLC Group – and pretty much anything Republican.
- Access to the President is worth its weight in – contracts and favors. Devastating investigative reporting by The New York Times revealed that “Just 60 customers with interests at stake before the Trump administration brought his family business nearly $12 million during the first two years of his presidency… Almost all saw their interests advanced, in some fashion, by Mr. Trump or his government.” More than 70 advocacy groups, businesses and foreign governments had events at Trump properties. “Mr. Trump attended 34 fund-raisers held at his hotels and resorts, events that brought his properties another $3 million in revenue. Sometimes, he lined up his donors to ask what they needed from the government.” Is this just one case of corruption – or more than 150 cases?
- The US pays Trump. Between January 20, 2016 and October 10, 2020, Trump spent more than 400 days at Trump properties – which charged market or above market rates for Secret Service traveling with him, and during which time he held 34 fundraisers. Because Trump spends a lot of time at his properties, business people, lobbyists, and foreign embassies become members ($200,000 membership fee) and spend time at Mar-a-Lago hoping to get Trump face time. Media pays attention, so lots of free publicity for his properties. The government spends money on rooms, food and amenities for him, for his aides and Secret Service details, etc., but so do all the others who hang out at Trump properties to cultivate a relationship with Trump. The Secret Service pays for rooms even when Trump is not at Mar-a-Lago so rooms near the President are available even when he makes a last-minute decision to go there. Through August 2020, Trump had visited his own properties as President 271 times, according to The Washington Post.
- Taxpayer-funded security costs (Eric), unlike every previous President, goes directly into Trump’s properties. More than $13,000 was spent for Eric Trump’s security – at Trump properties – while Eric was working on developing and opening Trump’s Turnberry golf resort in Scotland. In all Eric and his wife Lara cost taxpayers about $151,000 for their stays at Trump properties.
- Taxpayer-funded security (Jared and Ivanka). Trips by the President’s adult children to Trump properties have cost the taxpayer at least $238,000 paid to the Trump Organization by October 2020. Ivanka had 13 private trips to the Bedminster New Jersey property, mid-March to mid-June 2020, when no other guests could be there, and New Jersey and D.C. were under lock-down. The Washington Post kindly recalls for us Ivanka Trump’s Instagram travel advice, March 29, “For those lucky enough to be in a position to stay at home, please, please, do so. Each and every one of us plays a role in slowing the spread.”
- Weekends at the club. Between late 2015 and mid-2018 ProPublica figures that the Trump campaign, Republican groups, and government agencies spent more than $16.1 million at Trump-managed and Trump-branded hotels, golf courses, and restaurants. In the same period, President Trump’s trips to his own properties cost American taxpayers more than $69 million, more than 151 days visiting his properties. One hour of Air Force One flight time costs taxpayers more than $142,000. March 2017, for example, with two trips to Mar-a-Lago cost taxpayers $1.2 million: two round-trips, hotel rooms for staff, Secret Service, etc.
- High-value Americans. Trump spent $66 million of his own money on the 2016 campaign – after promising to be self-funding – of a total $564 million spent. In 2020 Trump is not funding his campaign. The Washington Post reports that he counted instead on four years of fundraisers with very well-heeled donors who could give unlimited amounts of money to the Republican National Committee. These events were transactional. They deliver for Trump – he delivers for them.
- U.S. Airforce pays Trump. The U.S. Air Force (taxpayer-funded by the way) has been making refueling stops at Prestwick Airport, a Scottish commercial airport which happens to be near Trump Turnberry. Flight crews have passed their overnight stays at Trump Turnberry, costing about $185,000 from August 2017 to July 2019. The Air Force contends it was normal and appropriate.
- Jamal Khashoggi. Practically every American political figure of any standing condemned the Saudi government’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi – except Trump. In August 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Trump hotel stay in New York “helped boost the hotel’s quarterly revenue by 13 percent”. According to Bob Woodward, Trump justified his standing up for bin Salman citing Saudi arms purchases from the US. In Washington, meanwhile, during one six-month period, Saudi lobbyists spent $270,000 at Trump International Hotel.
- Trump’s Chinese bank account does not appear on his public financial disclosures. The account is a Trump International Hotels Management LLC account. According to The New York Times, the LLC reported $17.5 million revenue in 2017, more than the total of the preceding five years. Trump withdrew $15.1 million from that company’s account. It is not reported if there was anything more involved than a questionable appearance. Where does the $15.1 million come from? What’s it for? If Trump cannot explain it, is it criminal?
- A Dominican Republic deal is or was being sought despite Trump pledges he would not seek new foreign deals while President.
- Business and autocracy. The three countries with the largest Trump business footprint have three autocratic leaders that Trump goes out of his way to please: India’s Narendra Modi, Turkey’s Recept Tayyip Erdoğan, and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte. Of course, Trump has some of his best cash flow from Russians, and significant business with China. What do these two countries have in common with the prior three? Strong-arm autocratic leaders (with terrible human rights records) – and Trump needs their money to stay out of bankruptcy and maintain his winner persona.
- China paying Trump rent. China’s largest state-controlled bank, Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., rents space in Trump Tower New York, three floors until 2019. In 2012, at least, it was paying more per square foot than any other major office tenant in Trump Tower.
- Chinese trademarks. As The New York Times reported, Trump received six trademarks in June 2017 from the Chinese government. Trump now has “at least 123 registered and provisionally approved” Chinese trademarks.
- FBI headquarters. The FBI’s long-sought approval to build a new headquarters in the DC suburbs to replace the antiquated and insecure downtown headquarters was canceled by the Trump administration in July 2017. They seek to rebuild at the current site – which will cost taxpayers more. The prime downtown real estate that would have been freed up could have become anything – including a competing hotel only a block from Trump International Hotel. This factor might explain why not moving the FBI building was a major preoccupation of the President. The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General initiated a review of the decision more than a year ago, which is not yet completed.
- Ante up. Brian Ballard, a prominent Florida lobbyist, who enjoyed access to the President, was informed “The president’s wishes had been made clear to him – and he needed to ante up.” He had to buy the Mar-a-Lago membership which was doubled to $200,000 after Trump was elected. It seems to have worked out for Ballard: since 2017 his lobbying firm made $58.8 million in lobbying fees.
- Mar-a-Lago pays off. Were government contracts affected by Mar-a-Lago stays? Was David Storch’s company AAR Inc. benefitted by him meeting and playing golf with the President-elect? He already had one contract with the State Department. AAR has 10 new federal contracts since then. A Tennessee real estate developer approached Trump at Mar-a-Lago about government loans. The President called over Michael Cohen and told him, “Get it done.”
- GEO, a private prison company, donated to a pro-Trump super PAC, gave $250,000 to his inauguration, hired a Trump-connected lobbyist, and moved its 2017 annual leadership conference to Trump’s Doral property. GEO paid at least $32,100 to Mar-a-Lago in 2017-18 while operating migrant family detention centers under federal contract. GEO contracts with the federal government have grown from around $500 million in 2016 to about $900 million in its most recent fiscal year. “GEO-associated executives and entities” donated $350,000 to Trump and other Republican campaigns. GEO’s stock value doubled.
- Property developer Franklin Haney was seeking $5 billion in Energy Department loans to develop an unfinished Alabama nuclear power plant. He gave the Trump inauguration $1 million. At Mar-a-Lago, Haney approached Trump with his Energy Department problem. Trump called Michael Cohen, still his man then, to his table, and put them together, saying of Cohen, “He’s my man.” Cohen’s contract to help Haney was a $150,000/month retainer, a $10 million success fee, and a share of future profits. When Cohen and the President parted ways, Haney hired another lobbyist well-connected to the Trump inauguration and the Trump super PAC America First.
- Embry-Riddle. President Trump removed a federal restriction on land owned by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The University had spent $75,000+ at Trump International Hotel in DC. (Nothing to see here, folks.)
- Evangelical groups appreciate the divine atmosphere at the Trump International, and certainly, there is not a hint of connection between judicial appointments and their hotel spending: Summit Ministries $180,834 donor conference; Billy Graham Evangelistic Association $397,602 for its 2017 World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians; Museum of the Bible $278,290; the Museum, again in 2018 $252,334. The Christian Broadcasting Network’s 2018 and 2019 events spent about $170,00 at Mar-a-Lago. (If this is corruption – is it one case or five?)
Trump’s Best People/Corrupt Associates
Trump famously promised to have the best people in his administration. This report divides the people involved in Trump world into two sections. The section includes his immediate circle (appointees, campaign people, and allies ) who have been indicted, imprisoned, or left under a cloud. These are the ones already afoul of the law.
- Paul Manafort, former Trump’s campaign chairman, is serving 7½ years for financial crimes.
- Rick Gates, Deputy Campaign Chairman and Manafort partner, made a plea deal, and served prison time.
- Michael Flynn, appointed National Security Advisor by Trump despite strong warnings from the Justice Department and the Obama Administration, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
- Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime lawyer and former fixer, pleaded guilty to 8 counts: tax and bank charges, campaign finance violations (which implicated Trump), and lying to Congress.
- Roger Stone, Trump’s long-time friend, and advisor, was convicted on seven counts of lying to Congress, and witness tampering.
- Steve Bannon, Trump’s 2016 campaign CEO, and the President’s chief strategist during the first seven months of his Presidency, with co-defendants, was indicted August 20, 2020, for mail fraud and money laundering because they, “orchestrated a scheme to defraud hundreds of thousands of donors, including donors in the Southern District of New York, in connection with an online crowdfunding campaign ultimately known as ‘We Build the Wall’ that raised more than $25,000,000 to build a wall along the southern border of the United States,” according to the indictment.
- George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor, pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI.
- Elliott Broidy. The vice-chair of Trump’s 2016 campaign fundraising committee, Elliott Broidy is not unfamiliar with legal trouble. Broidy was convicted in 2009 in a New York public corruption and bribery case. In 2020 Broidy pled guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent. Broidy hoped to be paid $80 million if he succeeded in ending US investigation of a multi-billion dollar embezzlement from a Malaysian state investment fund. Michael Cohen in 2018 helped Broidy pay $1.6 million to a former Playboy model for her silence about an affair and her terminated pregnancy.
- Scott Pruitt, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator. Apparently, 16 investigations were enough for Mr. Trump to accept Scott Pruitt’s “resignation”. The damage was already done.
- Tom Price, former Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. The HHS’s Inspector General called Secretary Tom Price’s air travel – $341,000 on jet travel – “extravagant, careless, or needless”. Price was out.
- Ryan Zinke, former Secretary Department of Interior. Ryan Zinke was also forced to resign for using public funds for non-public purposes, one of 18 federal investigations of Mr. Zinke’s work. His exit was not before he gutted or reduced regulations on trophy hunting, habitat management, fired or forced out 4,000 Interior Department employees, blamed California wildfires on “environmental terrorist groups”, etc.
- Rep. Chris Collins, R-NY, the first member of Congress to endorse candidate Trump, got a 2½ years prison sentence for securities fraud and false statements.
- Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-CA, was the second member of Congress to endorse Trump for the Presidency. He pleaded guilty having been caught using campaign funds for five extramarital affairs.
- Rudy Giuliani is reportedly under investigation for his dealings in Ukraine.
- Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. Lev and Igor were associates of Giuliani in his efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine on the Bidens. They were charged with campaign finance violations, after being arrested at Dulles International Airport with one-way tickets out.
Trump’s Corrupt Cabinet And White House Team
This section looks at the people Trump chose to run the government, including some members of the wealthiest Cabinet in history, heads of major agencies, and close advisors. Corruption can have a variety of variants such as: using the office directly for personal enrichment; cavalierly using taxpayers’ money for excessive perks; using the power of agencies for the enrichment of self, family, friends and allies; and thwarting the lawfully established actions or objectives of an agency.
A businessperson such as Donald Trump may honestly (or dishonestly) argue that successful business people in a field will know that field best so will be excellent for the Cabinet. A counter-argument is that such people know the business from a particular perspective. They will be biased toward the biases of that industry. That means that all the power of the government and of that industry are likely on one side of an issue. For simplicity, that can be called the money side. Add to that the possibility of corrupt intent – and the citizen faces a vastly unequal challenge: Who represents the interests of citizens, taxpayers, labor, environment, etc. when their interests diverge from that of the industry? Our system works better when all interests that have a stake have influence in the outcome.
- William Barr, Attorney General of the United States. These Barr actions since becoming Attorney General on February 14, 2019, might all be separate incidences of corruption:
- He did not recuse himself from the Mueller investigation.
- When the Mueller Report was submitted to Barr, he wrote a brief summary of findings to Congress, which Robert Mueller said did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of the Special Counsel investigation. After the full but redacted report was released, news media and fact-checkers said that Barr’s summary was a deliberate mischaracterization of the report. It was particularly noted that Barr seemed to say the report exonerated Trump whereas the report said he could be subject to indictment after he left office.
- Whereas Barr claimed the White House fully cooperated with the investigation the opposite was true: the President did not make himself or staff available for interviews and actively impeded the investigation in multiple ways.
- Barr reportedly attempted to undermine the conviction of Trump then consigliere Michael Cohen.
- Barr interfered in regard to the sentencing of Trump friend and advisor Roger Stone. Justice Department prosecutors resigned from the case, and one from the department, over that. 2000 former Justice Department employees signed a call for Barr’s resignation.
- Barr dropped charges against former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to crimes.
- Barr fired Geoffrey Berman, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who was investigating Trump, the Trump Organization, and Trump associates. The New York Bar Association among others called for Barr’s resignation in response.
- Barr asked the help of Britain, Italy, and Australia in investigating US intelligence agencies regarding claims of a conspiracy to entrap a Trump aide to create a pretext for investigating the Trump campaign about alleged Russian election interference.
- Barr defended Trump firing the intelligence community inspector general Michael K Atkinson, April 2020.
- Barr called the investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia abhorrent. Barr was criticized by predecessor Attorney General Eric Holder, for his “naked partisanship, “attempts to vilify the President” (Obama), and attacks on the inspector general.
- Barr reportedly sought to get Geoffrey Berman to end a probe into Turkish bank Halkbank.
- Jeff Sessions, Trump’s 1st Attorney General. Senator and then-Attorney General Sessions was one of Donald Trump’s earliest supporters. He committed perjury, or suffered memory loss, during his Senate Attorney General confirmation hearings. He had meetings with Russians during the Trump campaign and discussed issues with them though denying both. No charges were brought. He recused himself from the Russia investigation, earning Trump’s unremitting anger and ultimate firing (asked for resignation) 1.5 years later. Sessions is a nationalist with anger and disdain for every part of the liberal agenda. He quickly moved to reverse the Obama Justice Department on many issues. But he did not seem to partner with Trump on corruption. Besides recusal, he got Trump’s anger, announced on Twitter, when Justice indicted Representatives Collins and Hunter (see #51 & #52). In two clear instances – the Congressmen, and the Russia investigation – Sessions did not act corruptly as Trump wanted and never forgave him for. But he did launch human rights violations in his child separation policies.
- Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce. Ross has been successful as an investor and businessman. He has conflicts of interest because of his massive holdings, and failure to liquidate his holdings by dates promised, that could be affected by Commerce Department decisions. But, that’s nothing. Forbes magazine contends, “If even half of the allegations are legitimate, the current United States Secretary of Commerce could rank among the biggest grifters in American history.” Forbes interviews with 21 people with knowledge of Ross indicate Ross’ illegal income could be more than $120 million. Ross had interests in Navigator Holdings, the largest natural gas shipper in the world and Diamond S Shipping, a major transporter of crude oil. In 2017 Ross was part of negotiating an agreement with China allowing US companies to ship liquified natural gas to China. Ross divested his stakes in those companies after – ergo more profitably – the trade agreement was made.
- Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury. The Treasury Secretary has been successful as a Partner in Goldman Sachs, a hedge fund manager, banker and a film producer. During the 2008 financial crisis, a Mnuchin-led investor group bought troubled IndyMac in California and turned it around. Under his control, the renamed OneWest foreclosed on 36,000 homes. Mnuchin became known as the foreclosure king. Hints of corruption while at treasury include:
- Mnuchin did not disclose $100 million of his assets nor his directorship of a tax haven investment fund when chosen to be Treasury Secretary.
- The Administration made a deal which lifted sanctions on a group of Russian companies controlled by Oleg Deripaska, seemingly a much less punitive deal than expected.
- Sec. Mnuchin did not fulfill an obligatory request from Congress to turn over to them six years of President Trump’s tax returns. It is law and Mnuchin did not comply. Among the risks of non-compliance, the Congress is unable to see if Trump has loans from foreign entities that could compromise him or US security.
- The Department did, however, send Hunter Biden’s tax returns to a Republican-controlled Senate committee.
- Mnuchin made more than $1 million in tax-payer supported trips on private and military aircraft, trips that previous Treasury Secretaries made on commercial airliners. Those eight trips would have cost vastly less flying commercial.
- Mnuchin has refused to give information to the Government Accountability Office on what companies received loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a move called by advocacy organization Public Citizen “unconscionable, jaw-dropping corruption.” Publicly-traded companies received $500 billion in loans from PPP while only 12% of minority-owned businesses received loans they
- applied for.
Mnuchin, at the President’s bidding, has inserted himself in the business of both the Post Office and the Fed, traditionally non-partisan agencies, possibly for political purposes.
- Do we count this as 1 or 7 incidences of Trump administration corruption? But, I have to admit to loving some of the films Mnuchin produced.
- Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation. Chao and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are married. Chao has worked with McConnell’s office to give special attention to Kentucky requests. The Department of Transportation has given $78 million in grants to Kentucky in the period before the 2020 election. Chao’s father James was founder and her sister Angela is CEO of the Foremost Group, a New York-based shipping company. Foremost business is mostly with China. Both James and Angela are on boards of major Chinese entities. James Chao has gifted Mitch and Elaine between $5-25 million. Chao has many potential conflicts of interest. While Secretary, her department has tried to cut U.S. government support to other players in an industry in which Foremost is a competitor:
- Our maritime industry,
- Small commercial shipyards,
- Loan guarantees to domestic shipbuilders,
- A grant program that helps 60 American-flagged ships continue to operate,
- Purchase of new ships that would train Americans as crew members.
- Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education. DeVos may be causing more harm than even Trump wants because he needs her campaign funding and Michigan connections. She has thwarted implementation of public-service loan forgiveness for “tens of thousands of teachers, nurses, police officers and others”. Further, DeVos has done nothing about student debt, a staggering $1.5 trillion weight tied to millions of American college graduates. DeVos also drew scrutiny for making Title IX give more protection to those accused of sexual assault.
- Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture. Under Perdue the department
- Hired 22 former Trump campaign workers with no relevant agriculture or government experience;
- Reversed Obama-era healthy school lunch mandates;
- Suppressed or hindered publication of scientific work, particularly relating to climate change.
On the plus side, Perdue supports a carbon dioxide tax, which could incentivize farmers to adopt carbon sequestration agricultural practices.
- Alex Azar, Secretary of Health and Human Services. Azar was on the Yale Law Review and was a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He was a lobbyist for pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, then Vice President for the Managed Health Care Services, and then President of Lilly USA 2012-2017. At Lilly, as Bernie Sanders said, he never once lowered a drug price. Indeed he raised the price of insulin by 345%. Insulin costs 10x more in the US than in Canada. He was selected by President Trump – who claims to want to lower drug prices – and confirmed by the Senate on January 24, 2018. Slate in March 2020 summarized Azar’s failures:
- Testing is inadequate, “tragic”, falling far behind other countries, refusing WHO testing used in almost 60 countries. The US had tested only 11,000 people at the time South Korea was testing 10,000 per day.
- HHS quarantined cruise ship passengers together – spreading the virus on the ships, rather than quarantining infected passengers on shore.
Federal health workers were untrained and unprepared so became possible spreaders.
- HHS and the White House classified meetings and restricted the public, and health officers around the country from knowing what was going on.
- The White House demanded that the CDC not recommend that older people not fly.
- Azar backed up Trump pandemic lies regarding low risk, level of mortality, goes away in April, etc.
- Azar gave misleading information such as millions of tests out there when there were thousands.
- Louis DeJoy, Postmaster General, is improving the post service. Here’s how:
- Prohibiting postal workers (delivery or post office) from witnessing signatures on absentee/mail-in ballots, something they have previously done for many years. This impacts particularly older single-occupant households and disabled citizens. It may result in enough people being denied the vote in tightly contested states to change the national outcome. The Trump campaign has contacted Republicans on county election boards to ignore any directive that attempts to override the witness signature requirement.
- The Postal Service awarded a $5 million contract to the Postmaster General’s former company, which he still has large financial interest in, in October 2020.
- DeJoy made changes which slowed service, in the runup to the 2020 election. He said service would improve in the long run. He said it had nothing to do with hampering mail-in voting. At the same time, Trump “acknowledged that he’s starving the U.S. Postal Service of money to make it harder to process an expected surge of mail-in ballots, which he worries could cost him reelection.”
- Andrew Wheeler, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Wheeler has significant experience in the energy field including at least 6 years at the EPA and 14 years as Senate staff involved in energy matters. From 2009-2017, he was an energy policy consultant-lobbyist. From 2009-2017 his largest lobbying client was Murray Energy, a coal mining company. He favors rolling back environmental regulation, and subsidizing coal power plants. His April 2020 decision to not raise standards for fine soot pollution is projected, as he was informed, to result in 45,000 deaths per year that could be saved by raising the standards. Wheeler does not believe climate change is an existential threat.
- David Bernhardt, Secretary of the Interior. Secretary Bernhardt, with a background as legal counsel and lobbyist for extractive industries, defends the Trump rollback of environmental regulations, and opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. His clients 2009-2017 included Halliburton, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, and the Rosemont Copper open pit mine. At Interior, he has been involved in cases involving Westlands Water District, a former client.
- Dan Brouillette, Secretary of Energy, a former Ford Motor Company vice president replaced Rick Perry. Brouillette doesn’t believe that human-caused climate change is an existential threat, or even needs priority attention. He supports the industries that will support Trump. This is either normal politics (elections have consequences) – or existential stupidity. The overwhelming scientific consensus is clear.
- Ivanka Trump, Advisor to the President, received 5 valuable trademarks enabling increased sales of her products in China – the same day that she and husband Jared Kushner sat with the President of China and his wife for dinner at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. In all, Ivanka received 41 Chinese trademarks since she was appointed a White House adviser. US imports of Ivanka’s luxury items grew ~40% in the first quarter of 2017. When Kelllyanne Conway, Counselor to the President, told Fox TV viewers, “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff”, (an illegal act) February 2017 sales increased 771% over February 2016.
- Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor to the President. With a large portfolio of responsibilities, it’s no wonder that Kushner forgot a lot that should have been in his security clearance applications – assets he had, and meetings he’d been in – as for example loan debt of $1 billion. Jared and Ivanka made $82 million outside income in 2017 while serving in the White House. One day after Trump was sworn in, the Dept of Justice Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion that the 1967 anti-nepotism law does not apply to the White House. As a nepotism appointee, Kushner led an alternative coronavirus response group that fumbled all it touched.
- Corey Lewandowski, another of the rotating Trump Campaign Managers, better known for violence, in 2016 directed the Trump Foundation to give foundation grants in Iowa days prior to the Iowa caucuses.
- Mick Mulvaney, former Acting Director of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As a Congressman, Mulvaney was an enemy of the CFPB. His new job as director was to prevent the CFPB from doing its job, for example, thwarting protections against predatory payday lenders in the $30 billion industry that “earned a fortune from the working poor. The short loan terms and frequent rollovers pumped out profits faster than conventional lending, requiring less capital and yielding bigger profits.” The payday industry gave more than $2.2 million to the Trump campaign and the inauguration committee. Mulvaney used his CFPB position as well to weaken the student loan division. He turned the CFPB on its head with a new CFPB objective to review “outdated, unnecessary or unduly burdensome regulations” to be eliminated. Payday lenders’ top financial beneficiaries include 18 Republicans and 2 Democrats. In April 2018, the payday lending industry’s annual retreat was in Florida – at the Trump National Doral Golf Club. From 1990 to 2020 the Payday Lenders have donated almost $22 million to political campaigns, 34% to Democrats, and 66% to Republicans.
- Stephen Miller, Senior Advisor to the President. Author Jean Guerrero says of Miller he’s 100% loyal, 100% of the time, and he understands his boss. Therefore, he has lasted – lasted to be the force for slashing immigration, Muslim bans, take no prisoners politics, separation of migrant families at the border, ending DACA. “He consistently pushes Trump in the most aggressive direction — which Trump appreciates.” Miller shapes Trump’s rhetoric to appeal to his base, signaling the most racist elements while clearly talking more broadly to and empowering white fear. In The Atlantic: “But for Miller, the public outrage and anger elicited by policies like forced family separation are a feature, not a bug.”
- Jay Clayton, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Clayton’s clients, as an attorney, have included Bear Stearns, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays Capital, Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, the Alibaba group. In 2019, the SEC brought the lowest number of insider trading enforcement actions – 32 – since 1996, involving the lowest number of defendants – 46 – since Reagan was President. This may indicate Chairman Clayton has shifted focus to protecting investors from Ponzi schemes, bad advisors, and con artists, but it concerns watch dogs.
- The Press Secretaries. Trump has had four Press Secretaries: Sean Spicer, Sarah Sanders, Stephanie Grisham, and Kayleigh McEnany. Within the first 36 hours of the Trump presidency, on January 21, 2017, Spicer started with lies about crowd size, and why it looked like less. As early as February 2017 Spicer excluded news outlets whose reporting they did not like. Sarah Sanders continued to lie, to be caught in lies, to deny lying. She also had the record, till then, 3 records in fact, of longest period without press briefings. Stephanie Grisham, the third Press Secretary, broke Sanders’ record. She never held a press briefing in her year as Press Secretary, though she appeared multiple times on programs friendly to Trump on Fox networks, One America News Network, and the SInclair Broadcast Group. The opportunity for the press to question the Administration was being closed down. Kayleigh McEnany, the fourth Press Secretary, renewed press conferences. She told the press with a straight face she would never lie to them. She might as well have said she would never stop lying to them. In her first press briefing, there were many errors – to be kind – or lies. The Press Secretaries put out whatever lies their boss requires.
- Eric Branstad, son of Iowa’s popular Governor Terry Branstad who was also Trump’s Ambassador to China, led the Trump campaign operation in Iowa in 2016. Eric got a job at the Commerce Department when Trump became President. The Trump Administration sanctioned Chinese telecom giant ZTE in April 2018, for selling technology to Iran and North Korea, and as a security risk to the US. One month later Trump tweeted that he might be open to a deal on ZTE. A deal was reached in July, and the ban was lifted. Why? Eric had joined a lobbying firm, Mercury Public Affairs, and for Mercury, Eric went to China. He claimed it was not about ZTE, but Chinese websites suggested a different story. He had contacts with ZTE, though he claimed nothing substantive was discussed, while his father was the Ambassador. But the sanctions were lifted, and Eric is back working for Trump in Iowa.
- Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, is reliably known to do what the President wants. Sources report he is heading an effort to have a no-bid contract to lease the Department of Defense’s mid-band spectrum to Rivada Networks, a company with prominent Republican investors. GOP strategist Karl Rove was reported to have presented it to Trump. It is described as one of the biggest financial deals in history, with potentially enormous impacts, including impacts that concern the Pentagon. All the usual suspects have denied it.
- Trump hires lobbyists – though he promised not to. Not just a few. As of June 2017, at least 74 lobbyists worked for the Trump administration, including 20 in the executive office of the President. Of the 74 identified, 49 work for the agencies they lobbied.
- COVID-19 and lobbyists. A Vanity Fair investigation reports that “At least 40 lobbyists with ties to Trump – through his campaign, his inaugural committee, his transition team, or his administration – have lobbied or registered to lobby on COVID-related issues.” Their clients got more than $10.5 billion in coronavirus aid. Eight lobbyists with close ties to Trump, “have been paid a total of nearly $120 million through their firms to influence the United States government from the beginning of 2017, as Mr. Trump prepared to take office, to the end of March” 2020.
- Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody was one of 6 drugs (and zinc and B12) used in Trump’s Covid-19 treatment. The President was publicly effusive about his Regeneron treatment. Dr. Leonard Schleifer, CEO of Regeneron is a member of the Trump National Golf Club Westchester and has been acquainted with Trump for many years. Trump owned stock in Regeneron and in Gilead, maker of Remdesivir, another part of his COVID treatment, in 2017, but these stocks were not on his 2020 filing with the Office of Government Ethics.
Intentional Acts Of Cruelty To Maintain Power
Corruption is as much about power as about money. It is harder to understand – or forgive – corruption which arises out of meanness, vengefulness, vanity, evil… Perhaps these all come back to power: consolidating one’s base; demonstrating intimidating power; being feared. If an opponent pays a high price for opposition, others will think carefully before being an opponent. Trump has made clear he sees things that way. Perhaps all of the following are acts of consolidating power. Some seem just evil.
- Children in Cages. Since September 2018 six children have died in immigration custody, compared to 0 in the previous decade. During fiscal 2019 76,020 unaccompanied minors were apprehended and 473,682 migrants some travelling with family members were arrested. Congressional committees, refugee rights, and human rights organizations reported:
- Children are “housed” in facilities meant for far fewer people, not for children, and only to process detainees in and out in a maximum 72 hours.
- Children were and sometimes still are confined in wire cubicles.
- Detainees were pressured into signing English documents without translation.
- Children were separated from their parents without adequate steps to assure reunion. There are as of October 2020, some 545 children whose parents have not been located.
- Children were abused physically, emotionally, and sexually.
- Outbreaks of “scabies, shingles, and chickenpox were spreading among the hundreds of children and adults who were being held in cramped cells.”
- Children cried constantly.
- Children as young as 5 months old had been taken from their parents or guardians.
- Beds were taken away from children to make more space in holding cells.
- Many Border Patrol agents were distressed by the conditions and tried to get their superiors to take action.
- Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017. Aside from the fact Trump attacked the residents of Puerto Rico via tweet and his response lagged other hurricanes, there was some corruption as well. Puerto Rico immediately awarded a no-bid $300 million contract to repair the electric grid to Whitefish Energy, a Whitefish, Montana company, with two employees, whose previous largest contract was $1.2 million. As Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was from Whitefish, questions were raised. The contract was canceled a few weeks after it was awarded. Zinke has denied having any involvement, and none has been demonstrated.
- Weaponizing Racism…Sexism, Nationalism, etc. From the opening remarks of his running for President speech – “Mexico…. they’re racists” to his Charlottesville “good people on both sides”, from his Muslim ban to his cruelty to DACA youth, from his canceling transgender rights to his “shithole countries” comment, from family separation policy to retweeting white power Trump has shown who he is. More to the point he foments hatred and fear to gain and hold onto power.
- Stiffing the “Blue” States: COVID-19. March 30, 2020, allegedly the White House COVID team, led by Jared Kushner decided to ignore testing in states led by Democratic governors, letting them fend for themselves, and face political anger. At the time COVID-19 was hitting New York hardest. The reality may be (or not) less evilly intentioned than the result of a phenomenally arrogant and inexperienced Kushner and people he put together to go around the “deep state” – which often means the experienced, professional state – and tragically fumble COVID-19 response early on.
- Stiffing the “Blue” States: Wildfires. Trump has signed disaster relief bills for blue states suffering catastrophic fires, but said a former White House official, “He doesn’t care one bit about managing forests — or much of anything for that matter — unless he can spin it as a failure of governance under the Democratic Party.” Former Department of Homeland Security Chief of Staff Miles Taylor said Trump said after Gov. Gavin Newsom’s State of the State, “ ‘Did you see that f**king thing? It was a disaster. And this guy is against me on everything. And there’s no way I’m gonna support California, there’s just no way… If they don’t support me, I’m not gonna support them.” Taylor explained, “It was a very clear political statement of him saying that if past two governors aren’t supporting me, and the people of California don’t like me politically… do not provide money, don’t provide disaster relief.”
- Ukraine extortion. President Donald Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives in 2019 for abuse of power and obstruction of justice. The charges arise from a Trump phone call to the recently elected President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. In the call Trump asked Zelensky for a favor, which came down to announcing that Ukraine would be investigating Joe Biden, at that time a potential rival for the Presidency, and his son Hunter Biden. It was a brief phone call but there were enormous stakes. The President had shortly before the call put a hold on vital military aid to Ukraine, needed to combat an on-going Russian invasion and seizure of Ukraine territory. President Zelensky knew their crucial need. On Trump’s side, he was trying to use a foreign ally, putting that foreign ally in peril, and using US assets to harm the election chances of a potential rival. The Democrat-held House of Representatives believed that the evidence of the call, the basic illegality of the call, and the stakes involved – even though it was a very short call – rose to the gravity of an impeachable offense. The offense was further compounded by the President’s obstruction in withholding any cooperation with the investigation.
- Clearing Lafayette Park. On June 1 the President and his entourage walked from the White House to neighboring Lafayette Park, ostensibly to visit St. John’s Church, for a photo op. Peaceful protestors were violently disbursed prior to the local 7 pm DC curfew, by park police and other cooperating units at the order of Attorney General Bill Barr.
- Reckless endangerment – the COVID-19 response. What else can it be called? Callous indifference? The President withheld information from the American people about the seriousness of the unfolding pandemic. This is particularly brought home by Bob Woodward’s tapes which show the President did know the seriousness of the disease and chose to lie to the nation – and then held super-spreader events while falsely claiming we are turning the corner. Rachel Maddow reports that internal White House reports showed that day-to-day the number of states moving into the red zone – worst COVID-19 situation – was increasing. At one point Wisconsin was the worst. Four days later Trump had a mass rally in Wisconsin with neither masks nor social distancing requirements. Trump also held rallies – potential super spreader events – in Minnesota and North Carolina, states with rising coronavirus cases.
Corruption Of Justice And The Justice Department
The third article in this series – How Does the US Government Investigate Its Own Corruption? – explored some of the bulwarks of the American experiment in the rule of law. It discussed built-in safeguards such as the statutes intended to make the Director of the FBI and the Inspectors General of all the Departments free of political threat, and the role of the US Attorneys in every US jurisdiction.
The Trump Administration has demonstrated that the safeguards are not as safe as imagined. All agencies of the US government are responsible to serve all of the people of the United States. Some are further responsible to be more securely non-partisan – Justice, Defense, Homeland Security particularly. The corruption involved in trashing those expectations is dangerous. The following corruption issues point to dangerous, corrosive, and widespread undermining of the rule of law.
- The Attorney General as personal attorney. Point 55 above lists multiple examples of Barr’s corrupt actions. His profile is well to the right of center, extremely conservative. That does not mean corrupt. His profile is also, though, behaving as the servant, the lawyer to the President. That distorts the rule of law. It is corrupt. The Attorney General is meant to represent the people, bringing all the power and hopefully majesty of his department to the people’s service.
- Using US law for personal vendettas. Trump is attempting to use legal mechanisms and the legal system for his personal purposes. It is nothing new for him, but now he is President of the United States.
- After the impeachment trial, Trump fired: Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Lt. Col Alexander Vindman, and Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman. Leaving before they were fired, and knowing they had no more future in a Trump government, were Fiona Hill, Kurt D. Volker, Ambassador Marie L. Yovanovitch, and Ambassador William B. Taylor Jr.
- Trump fired Michael Atkinson, the Inspector General for the intelligence community, April 3, 2020, in retaliation. Atkinson investigated a whistleblower’s formal report of the pressure on Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, found the report credible, and forwarded it to the appropriate Congressional oversight, which led eventually to the Trump impeachment. Inspectors General are supposed, in theory, to be relatively exempt from Presidential pressure, and whistleblowers protected from retaliation.
- Trump’s most consuming vendetta is his animus to his predecessor Barack Obama. It seemed to start with just the idea of a black President – birtherism (see #18.) Perhaps it was fueled when Obama took him down at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011. Trump now calls for him to be jailed.
- Amazon makes the case that Trump has a vendetta against Amazon, perhaps because Amazon owner Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, which seldom has a good word for Trump, and perhaps because he is much richer. The issue is not if more legal action or scrutiny of Amazon is warranted, but is the President doing what he is doing for personal reasons? Trump has refused aid to the United States Postal Service unless it raises delivery prices, particularly Amazon’s. The USPS has been badly hurt by the pandemic. It has also become more important than ever, being the way that 1.2 billion prescription drug shipments are made each year. Of course, the attack on the USPS is not just about Amazon. It is about a large public service and it is about stopping vote by mail, which Trump sees as threatening to his power.
- Firing James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok. Comey, McCabe, and Strzok were career officers of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who were summarily fired in apparent retaliation by President Trump, undermining the rule of law.
- James Comey was Director of the FBI (2013-2017). The Director is appointed for a ten-year term. The intention of a ten-year term is to be insulated from political interference. When Trump fired Comey, he told Russian officials visiting him in his office, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” The pressure was the investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia affecting the 2016 election. Contrary to Trump’s intent, the apparent obstruction of justice in firing Comey resulted in the Justice Department appointing Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to investigate collusion and obstruction of justice.
- Andrew McCabe was Deputy Director of the FBI, and Acting Director after James Comey was fired. McCabe was fired in 2018 two days before his scheduled retirement, though that was in violation of FBI policy. Trump pushed for his firing and indictment as retaliation. In an unusual move – grand juries almost always follow the recommendation of prosecutors – the grand jury rejected the arguments of government lawyers and declined to indict McCabe. The next day the government dropped charges.
- Peter Strzok was the FBI’s Chief of the Counterintelligence Section, led the FBI investigation into the 2016 Russian interference into the US election, and worked on the Mueller investigation. When text messages between Strzok and FBI agent Lisa Page disdainful of Trump became public Mueller removed Strzok from the Special Counsel investigation. Strzok was then broadly attacked by media supporting Trump. A Wall Street Journal investigation of Strzok’s 7,000 messages (384 pages) found texts critical of Trump but “no evidence of a conspiracy against Mr. Trump.” As Strzok has pointed out, the Trump administration has no concerns about government professional staff being highly critical of their political opponents, but finds criticism of the President cause to be fired and even imprisoned.
- Mr. Trump is known to be dissatisfied that Attorney General Barr is not representing Trump’s interest to the extent expected, and considering firing him after the election – particularly because he has not produced any high profile indictments of Obama administration officials. Given Barr’s record, what Trump expects in the chief law enforcement officer of the United States is frightening indeed.
- Firing US Attorneys. The US Attorney is the Justice Department’s chief federal prosecutor in 93 US offices, offices which may have as many as 350 Assistant US Attorneys and 350 support personnel. Most administrations replace many US Attorneys when they take office. The political flavor of an administration may reasonably affect the approach or emphasis they will give to law enforcement. That, however, is very different from an effort to protect and reward friends and punish enemies. The George W. Bush and Obama administrations allowed smoother transitions, whereas this was a “clear out your desk today” action. Sean Hannity on Fox called for the immediate “purge” of all Obama holdovers, including US Attorneys, “saboteurs” from the “deep state.” The firings (or purge) happened a day later.
- Packing the Court was a long-term project, more Mitch McConnell’s than Donald Trump’s. It’s really packing the courts, not just the Supreme Court. Obama left office with 105 vacancies for Federal judges, including one for Justice of the Supreme Court, for which McConnell refused to even hear the nomination. The 105 vacancies existed because Republicans controlled the Senate and virtually stopped consideration of Obama nominees. This gave Trump a chance to fill an unprecedented number of life-time appointment seats. This has undermined and potentially destroyed the balance and fairness of appointments that can prevent radical judicial decisions.
- Firing inconvenient Inspectors General. Mr. Trump fired 5 Inspectors General and Acting IGs.
- Trump fired Steve Linnick, Inspector General of the State Department. Linnick played a minor role in the Impeachment trial. He was also investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Either of these factors may have led to the firing, which Congressman Ellot Engel (no relation) said, “strongly suggests that this is an unlawful act of retaliation.” Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a Republican called for more reasoning from the President for his firing of Linnick.
- Trump fired Mitch Behm, Acting Inspector General of the Transportation Department, leaving him in place as a Deputy, naming a new Acting IG, and nominating a permanent one. The IG is investigating allegations that Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, (see #59) gave special consideration to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s constituents, giving significant federal funds to Kentucky. Chao and McConnell are married.
- Trump fired Glenn Fine, Acting Inspector General of the Defense Department, April 6, 2020. This automatically removed him from his role as chairman of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which oversees the use of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus emergency fund. He was previously, 2000-2011, Department of Justice Inspector General. He resigned from his post as Deputy IG effective June 1, 2020. Inspectors General are normally nonpartisan career officers. There is concern that this firing and other Trump-Mnuchin moves will weaken oversight of the use of the pandemic funds. Treasury Department attorneys in June 2020 said that the Administration is not required to provide information on funds disbursal for CARES Act Division A – over $1 trillion of the emergency fund. Treasury’s Mnuchin has already refused to give oversight information on who received grants in the Paycheck Protection Program (see #58).
- Christi Grimm, Acting Inspector General, Principal Deputy Inspector General, Department of Health and Human Services. Her April 2020 report “Hospital Experiences Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic” angered President Trump, which he called “just wrong”. He wondered, on Twitter, if she had given such scrutiny to the H1N1 pandemic when Obama was President.
See also #89 above, Michael Atkinson.
- Removing civil service protection. An October 2020 Presidential Executive Order 13957 seeks to remove civil service protection for as yet unknown numbers of professional nonpartisan positions. In response, Dr. Ronald Sanders, chair of the Federal Salary Council, submitted his resignation on October 26. Dr. Sanders, a life-long Republican, wrote, in part, “It is clear that its stated purpose notwithstanding, the Executive Order is nothing more than a smokescreen for what is clearly an attempt to require the political loyalty of those who advise the President, or failing that, to enable their removal with little if any due process. …I simply cannot be part of an Administration that seeks to do so…to replace apolitical expertise with political obeisance. Career Federal employees are legally and duty-bound to be nonpartisan; they take an oath to preserve and protect our Constitution and the rule of law…not to be loyal to a particular President or Administration.”
Corruption Of The Norms Of A Decent Democratic Society
Most everything above is in some respect corruption of the norms of a democratic society. The difference here is a more high-altitude view, a reminder of some of the basics that are under assault. Decent societies can survive some level of assault and remain decent. If broad assaults on the foundations of democracy are tolerated, then a decent society will not survive. If we dismiss much of what happens because we believe our 401K is doing better – then we trade our birthright for pieces of silver. If we do not care what happens to fellow citizens because we are safe, then in the end none of us are safe. If we lose any fealty to the truth, then our lives become lies.
- Attacking the free press. President Trump has continuously attacked the news media calling virtually anything he does not like “fake news”. This takes many forms and has many outcomes.
- The US example has emboldened autocratic leaders around the world to make the press more vulnerable to violence, and restrictions.
- It has made political dialogue and problem solving more difficult because there is not a shared understanding of basic facts. News is not understood objectively.
- “We now have some of the best news organizations that the world has known,” said Paul Steiger, former editor of The Wall Street Journal, founder of the ProPublica nonprofit news organization, and former chair of Committee to Protect Journalists’ board of directors. “But Trump has created a climate in which the best news, most fact-checked news is not being believed by many people.”
- It has exposed American journalists to increased risks of violence.
- It has meant that journalists are less untouchable when covering protests.
- It makes leaking more prevalent, and escalates efforts to punish leakers.
- It allows people in positions of power to deflect questioning and avoid being held accountable. (See #73)
- Attacking the underlying foundation of shared understanding.
- Trump has told or made more than 22,000 false or misleading claims since his acceptance speech, July 21, 2016 and now – currently exceeding 50 per day. His record day was 189 false or misleading claims on August 11, 2020. (He has made Fact Checking a growing profession.) The Washington Post Fact Checker database demonstrates incredibly impressively how the lies have been tracked!
- He has undercut consensus even in something like the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps contributing to hundreds of deaths daily that could have been prevented.
- Antiscience is on the rise in the United States. Trump feeds and benefits from it. This has been most evident in his dealing with the pandemic, vaccinations, relation to energy resources, climate change, wildfires. Antiscience means that education is stunted, and funding needed for fundamental research that may not win corporate support can be lacking. Besides the health, and even existential risks involved, more mundane risks include gradually declining economic power and loss of global leadership.
- Treating political opponents as enemies. Particularly since Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House, political dialogue has transformed from generally civil disagreement to increasingly hostile encounter. Presidents, for the most part, attempt to govern a whole nation. The polarization includes moving from believing in one’s positions to seeing the other side as immoral, foolish, then further, as enemies. It makes governing ever more difficult. Compromise or synthesis becomes sell-out. It feeds fringe groups who prepare for war if the opposition mentions banning new sales of AR-15 style weapons. For example. (To be clear, no one is going to take away 400,000,000 guns from 100,000,000 Americans who have them.)
- The left sees polarization caused by the right in: Gingrich, Bush v. Gore, some Supreme Court nominations, the demise of the FCC Fairness Doctrine, voter suppression, culture war issues, discrimination towards minorities, targeting immigrants, attacks on social and educational programs, etc.
- The right sees polarization caused by the left in: social issues (such as LGBQT rights), some Supreme Court nominations, abortion, secularization, taxation, guns, entitlements, etc.
- Threatening jail for political opponents. Overnight October 6-7, 2020, Trump blasted out tweets to jail Hillary, Obama, Biden for launching a coup against his administration. What is the coup? Criticizing him, running against him, having an impeachment trial even, investigating possible foreign interference in his campaign? Of course, it is not new – it may even be strategic, not unhinged. “Lock her up!” worked for him in 2016. “Where are all the arrests?” he tweeted. Trump attacked Attorney General Barr for not indicting Obama and Biden, Defense Secretary Pompeo for not releasing Hillary Clinton emails, FBI Director Wray… for something.
- Installing his family in high positions. Trump made his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner special advisors. (See #68 and #69) Nepotism is forbidden in 5 U.S. Code § 3110. It specifically prohibits nepotism in the Executive Agency, including by the President (clause 2) and by any daughter or son-in-law (clause 3). But there is an out in (c): an individual so appointed is not entitled to pay. In a normal workplace, there are many concerns about nepotism. In the White House, the implications are breathtaking – dynastic aspirations, favoring other than the best people, using relatives to do illegal or unethical things, reducing the variety and scope of advice, and so on. Trump has given Jared Kushner particularly a broad portfolio, for most of which he has no experience. In one of those, the pandemic response (see #86) Kushner’s role led to significant loss of life.
- Undermining confidence in elections. The President of the United States is undermining confidence in the Presidential election in unprecedented ways. Indeed – nothing remotely similar as ever happened before.
- In his rallies, constant tweetstorms, Fox interviews, etc., Trump has said such things as: Massive fraud is happening in the voting. He can’t lose unless there is massive fraud. Ballots are being printed in other countries and sent here to be fraudulently cast. Ballots for him have been thrown away, dumped in rivers. Illegals will be bused in from out of state to vote… The election should be called on the night of November 3 (which would disqualify votes that had not yet been counted, perhaps mail-in ballots, ballots from overseas military, which might skew toward Democrats.)
- He has encouraged loyalists to descend on polling places to watch, make sure nothing happens – which also sounds like potential voter intimidation.
- The Republican Party has doubled down on decades of efforts to suppress voting by groups that are more likely to vote Democratic: minorities, students, people with special needs, people living on a fixed income.
- Multiple cases of alleged fraud have been investigated, and thrown out, often proven to be ginned up by opponents. Accusations of voter fraud including double voting, bused voters, impersonation, non-citizen voters, mail-in voter fraud are so rare as to be 0 to .02%. The Brennan Center for Justice assembled 20 large studies, 4 court opinions, and one US and eight state studies all available at this Brennan Center link demonstrating that voter fraud, impersonation, alien voting, etc. are vanishingly rare. Most of the state studies were in red states. This is an example of the Brennan Center information: “Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a longtime proponent of voter suppression efforts, argued before state lawmakers that his office needed special power to prosecute voter fraud, because he knew of 100 such cases in his state. After being granted these powers, he has brought six such cases, of which only four have been successful. The secretary has also testified about his review of 84 million votes cast in 22 states, which yielded 14 instances of fraud referred for prosecution, which amounts to a 0.00000017 percent fraud rate.”
- Manipulating fear – and hatred. Mark Leonard writing in MarketWatch sees Trump as a good student of the authoritarian playbook.
- He is manipulating a white supremacist vision of American greatness that forgets the role of immigrants and slaves in building a nation. It alienates his base from the larger population.
- In the echo chamber of tweets, rallies, mutually captive propaganda media, social media he does not need to deal with truth, while the followers get ever more alienated from it. (See #94.)
- Trump can raise anger against the “deep state”, which is a conspiracy theory fantasy perhaps about the bureaucratic state.
- He and his allies can play dirty tricks: fake ballot boxes as the Republican Party did in California recently; as sending postcards to registered Democrats reminding them to vote on November 6 – that is, after the election is over; as setting up phony voter registration stations and throwing away the registrations of people who will have thought they were registered when they go to vote.
- They can make voting harder by reducing the number of voting locations and staff in opposition and poorer areas; increasing challenges to people’s voter IDs; disqualifying more mail-in ballots on technicalities.
- They can play the Law and Order and fear card as Trump has done so much of in this election cycle.
Remember when John McCain told someone at a rally that Barack Obama was a good man, they just disagreed…? It is something to recall.
There are many other terrible things that Trump has done. This article focuses on aspects of corruption. Here are a whole lot more things – not at all comprehensive – and we ran out of time to work through the corruption aspect so they are listed without further comment:
- He tried to ban Tik-Tok probably because teens using Tik-Tok claimed credit for low attendance at a Tulsa campaign rally.
- He approved the Keystone XL pipeline to pump dangerous oil through 1200 miles of US and Native American lands.
- He imposed a Muslim travel ban.
- He refuses to show his tax returns.
- He calls Elisabeth Warren Pocahontas.
- He sought to penalize “sanctuary” cities.
- He fired Sally Yates, the Acting Attorney General for refusing to defend his travel ban.
- He tried to swap Puerto Rico for Greenland.
- He encouraged police officers to rough up suspects.
- He claimed Hillary Clinton’s popular vote margin was three million illegal voters.
- He used his Twitter to attack Goodyear Tires, an American company.
- He attacked John McCain as a loser because he was a prisoner of war.
- He told a sheriff to ‘destroy’ the career of a Texas senator who aimed to crack down on asset forfeiture.
- He ignored Michael Flynn’s criminal behavior.
- He reversed transgender student rights.
- He appointed Ben Carson Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
- He withdrew from the Paris accords on climate change.
- He tweeted more than 20 times about supposed links between vaccines and autism.
- He discontinued funding for the UN Population Fund.
- He falsely accused President Obama of spying on the Trump 2016 campaign.
- He appointed Teresa Manning, an anti-abortion advocate to oversee family planning funding for low-income families.
- He eliminated the pandemic early warning program.
- He gave more classified information to the Russian ambassador than we give our allies.
- He appointed a climate skeptic to chair an environmental committee advising the White House.
- He removed the protection status of 59,000 Haitians living in the US after the disastrous 2010 earthquake.
- He retweeted anti-Islam videos.
- He accused Democrats of treason for not applauding his State of the Union address in 2018.
- He presided over the longest government shutdown in US history.
- He tweeted that the FBI did not capture the Parkland school shooter because they were spending too much time on Russia.
- He nominated Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.
- He mocked Christine Blasey Ford who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
- He blamed mental illness and video games for gun violence.
The Rantt Rundown
Every level of government makes decisions on how to spend the money it collects in taxes, fees, and penalties. These are difficult and often divisive choices. Each government collects those taxes, fees, and penalties from all of us. Many of us are struggling to get by. Almost all of us tend to take what we are taxed personally. Most of us would prefer taxes to be less – of course – but we also want things to work: roads to be safe, services to be reliable, security to be responsible and effective, schools to do an excellent job, and so on. How we see meeting these needs is the stuff of politics.
Corruption is the enemy of all of that. It is the decline of essential services, the failure of schools, the unrepaired roads and bridges, the closure of libraries. That is the realm of the services and responsibilities of government and how we pay for it. But corruption also uses these stresses to further tear at the system. It poisons civil discourse, erodes trust in public servants, makes streets and neighborhoods more violent, reduces life spans, generates suffering and cynicism.
Money stolen from the general public and its levels of government means that either taxes, fees and penalties must be increased – perhaps beyond the breaking point for many – or the responsibilities of government are not delivered. Roughly 80% of Americans live in urban areas. In a modern industrialized and urban society there is no good alternative to having responsible effective government. There may be a choice to have authoritarian government, but it is rarely a good choice.
Realistically, there will always be corruption. Acceptance is the danger.
The American Prospect’s April 2020 Mapping Corruption: Donald Trump’s Executive Branch ends with these words:
“Corruption is not a peripheral concern,” says Jamie Raskin, the Maryland congressman and constitutional law scholar. “It’s the very heart of what ails us … We have to elevate the anti-corruption agenda to the top of our political program.”
If we normalize our governments treating political opponents as enemies, theft as a given, alternative facts as acceptable, shouting down our opponents as strong, militarized police as justice, foxes as guardians of the hen house, lies as speech, our 401K as worthy and our neighbor’s life as meaningless – we are lost.
This is Part 6 of a series on political corruption. Here are links to the earlier five articles:
- GOP Admins Had 38 Times More Criminal Convictions Than Democrats, 1961-2016
- 8 Reasons GOP Administrations Are More Corrupt Than Democrats
- How Does The Government Investigate Its Own Corruption?
- Mueller Probe Is Cheaper And More Efficient Than Past Probes
- The Under-Discussed Corruption Scandals Between 1961-2016