While Americans went nuts last week spreading negative covfefe about a Presidential Twitter typo, the White House was reluctantly disclosing nearly a score of ethics waivers granted by President Trump to his senior staff, including former lobbyists and corporate lawyers.
While Americans went a little nuts last week spreading negative covfefe about a Presidential Twitter typo, the White House was reluctantly disclosing nearly a score of ethics waivers granted by President Trump to his senior staff, including former lobbyists and corporate lawyers.
On the campaign trail, Candidate Trump pledged to “drain the swamp.” Once in office, however, he forgot all of that. Perhaps, as Kellyanne Conway (who received one of the ethics waivers) said last January, we shouldn’t hold Trump accountable for the things he says, but rather, we should look into his heart. If we do, we might see a President who said whatever he needed to say to get elected, but in his heart, hopes that people never learn about the shady dealings within his administration.
The ethics waivers cover the arses of some of the skeeviest people in government. Besides Kellyanne “I’m not in the job of having evidence” Conway, there’s Steve Bannon, who is now ethically free to run his alt-Right outlet Breitbart from within the White House. This is essentially what Bannon has been up to for the last several months anyway, since his waiver is retroactive. As Salon pointed out, “If you need a retroactive waiver, you have violated a rule.” But we’re all okay with that now, right? Trump-issued indulgences mean there’s nothing to see here. Move along.
Former lobbyists Michael Catanzaro (energy), Andrew Olmem (securities), Shahira Knight (taxes), and Joshua Pitcock (state of Indiana) also received ethics waivers allowing them to serve as top advisers to the President or Vice President while continuing to consult with their former organizations. If that seems ethical (with or without a waiver), I have some swampland to sell you, cheap.
While spokeswoman Lindsay Walters claims that voluntarily releasing the list of people who received ethics waivers is “part of the president’s commitment to the American people to be transparent,” the White House had been trying to block disclosure of the ethics waivers as recently as last month. Why aren’t we supposed to know which of Trump’s aides are expected to act ethically and which aren’t?
Because Trump so often (and so pettily) compares himself to his predecessor, let’s take a gander at how his ethics practices measure up to the standard set by the Obama administration. While President Obama did hand out ethics waivers to the occasional appointee, it took him eight years to match the 17 waivers that Trump bestowed in less than half a year. While the Obama White House regularly posted the names of those who received ethics waivers online, Trump has been less than forthcoming. It took action by the Office of Government Ethics to help Trump remember his “commitment” to transparency.
Why must the Trump administration lean so heavily on lobbyists and corporate lawyers for guidance – people that have a trust rating only slightly lower than used car salesmen? I suspect it’s because they’re rank newbies. Trump held some of the same appeal as term limits do, to people angry at government: kicking the bums out! Unfortunately, filling the ranks of government with a rotating cast of clueless freshmen, especially people like Trump that have no public sector experience at all, means that our representatives don’t know “how to do government,” and the learning curve is steep. Much like in Michigan’s term-limited Congress, inexperienced legislators (and Presidents) look to people with lots of experience with the system – lobbyists. And I’m sure lobbyists are always very happy to help the newbies learn how to craft legislation and set policy. What could go wrong?
Even if the ethically challenged folks in the White House were angels instead of deplorables, issuing so many ethics waivers that set aside important standards so quickly should attract epic side-eye from a dubious republic. Administrations that bend ethics rules tell us that they have no interest in even appearing to avoid conflicts of interest. People receiving ethics waivers will be forever followed by a kind of asterisk: they may have been ethical, but…
What a different world we could have, if discussions like these could fly around the world as fast as a single covfefe.