Nel's New Day

July 7, 2017

DDT’s Swamp Becomes More Ethics-Challenged

Some people say that they go inside an institution because it’s the best place to fight injustice. Walter Shaub took the opposite direction. The Office of Government Ethics director who fought the ethic-challenged practices of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) has now resigned. In his resignation letter to DDT, Shaub wrote that the staff and the community of the Office of Government Ethics is “committed to protecting that principle that public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty in the Constitution, the laws and ethical principles above private gain.” Appointed by George W. Bush, Shaub had only six months left, and it’s unlikely that DDT would ask him to continue in the position.

The resignation, however, gives him the opportunity to immediately being a struggle against the massive conflicts of interest initiated with DDT’s inauguration less than six months ago. Upon his departure, Shaub will become the senior director for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), a group that watches politicians, super PACs, and dark money groups giving money to elections. The CLC also tracks voting rights and efforts to suppress voting through ID laws and gerrymandering. Shaub said he would greater freedom to push for stronger ethics. His current office can only advise and recommend without any power to enforce rules. Only Congress and the Department of Justice has any ability to enforce ethics rules.

“At the Campaign Legal Center, I’ll have more freedom to push for reform. I’ll also be broadening my focus to include ethics issues at all levels of government.

“There isn’t much more I could accomplish at the Office of Government Ethics, given the current situation.”

Unconstitutional ethics issues addressed regarding DDT:

  • No “blind trust” for his business because DDT’s sons are running his businesses and telling him about them.
  • Operation of the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C. that DDT leases from the government.
  • DDT’s appointments to key federal officers who fail to submit appropriate materials before confirmation hearings and votes.
  • Failure to require DDT family members to comply with conflict of interest laws even if they don’t take salaries.
  • DDT’s family members use of White House contacts to enhance their businesses.
  • Refusal to release ethics waivers for at least 16 former lobbyists and industry insiders who continue to be involved in policy decisions regarding former clients.
  • Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway’s hawking First Daughter (Lady?) Ivanka Trump’s fashion on Fox.

DDT’s holdings include 16 hotels, 17 golf courses, a modeling agency, a production agency, and at least 25 residential real estate properties (a minimum of 17 domestically and eight overseas). He has over 500 companies with dealings in 25 countries. He leases his DC hotel from the federal government and appoints the head of the agency that monitors his lease. And he owes millions in loans, including over $300 million in loans to Deutsche Bank, under investigation by the federal government, and to at least seven other banks for his heavily mortgaged properties, one from the state-owned Bank of China.

As Shaub knows, a 1962 law forbids federal executive branch employees from involvement in government matters in which they or their immediate family members have a financial interest. A 1974 decision from the Justice Department exempted the president and vice-president from that law, and laws in 1978 and 1979 reinforced that position. The Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, however, prevents gifts “from any king, prince, or foreign state” to any “person holding a federal office of profit or trust.” The supreme Court has never ruled on whether the Emoluments Clause applies to the president.

Presidents since Lyndon B. Johnson have voluntarily put the assets in blind trusts managed by an independent entity or liquidated assets. President Obama did not put assets in this kind of trust because the money was in U.S. treasury bonds and other funds without conflict. These practices are not required by law, and DDT has maintained ownership and knowledge of his assets.

Richard Nixon’s Watergate was the reason for the founding of the ethics office. The Office of Government Ethics has a staff of 80 FTE and a $15 million budget. The director is nominated by the president. DDT has made Walter Shaub famous because DDT began his office of president-elect by claiming that a president cannot be guilty of conflict of interest.

Shaub is not alone in his resignation. Last month, Hui Chen left her position as the top lawyer for compliance in the Justice Department. She said that she could not demand that companies behave in an ethical manner if the administration refused to comply. She wrote:

“To sit across the table from companies and question how committed they were to ethics and compliance felt not only hypocritical, but very much like shuffling the deck chair on the Titanic.”

DDT may decide to leave Shaub’s position empty to follow white supremacist Steve Bannon’s goal, “deconstruction of the administrative state.”

Shaub’s letter of resignation was dated July 6, 2017, two days after the celebration for the founding of the country. One event on the 4th of July demonstrated the anger and ignorance of people who support DDT and his corruption. On that day, National Public Radio tweeted the Declaration of Independence in 113 posts. It has communicated this document to the public for the past 28 years, but this year the words hit a nerve with DDT supporters. They called on NPR to be defunded (government provides only five percent of its funding) and described it as biased, propaganda, and even trash. Evidently the reference to King George III in 1776 as a “tyrant” made them suspicious of NPR.

These are some parts of the Declaration of Independence that DDT supporters found offensive:

“He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

“A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

NPR’s Morning Edition has broadcast the Declaration of Independence aloud for almost three decades, this year from over two dozen NPR journalists reading the document. As broadcaster Mary Louise Kelly noted that it is “a document from a deeply divided time. It was a time when Americans turned against each other.”

Although the document that NPR read and tweeted is about the founding of the United States 241 years ago, DDT supporters may be right in its reference to the man inaugurated as president less than six months ago. Two of his appointments for the five-member National Labor Relations Board are a management attorney and a former GOP staffer who can help kill the ability of workers to unionize. The 3-2 GOP majority will allow DDT to control his own employees as well as shrink the 6.4 percent of unionized private sector workers as well as risking the ability of workers in franchises and graduate students at private universities to unionize.

DDT’s proposed budget slashes programs of housing for the poor and continues to reward wealthy landlords—including DDT who takes millions of dollars a year a part owner of Starrett City, the country’s largest subsidized housing complex. He has made $38 million since his inauguration, a steady income that has kept him solvent throughout his large number of bankruptcies. Starrett City was an inheritance from his father.

The proposed tax plan (reform meaning tax cuts for the wealthy) would be to the DDT’s advantage. Cutting the corporate rate from 35 percent to 15 percent and then applying the lower rate to “pass-throughs,” such as LLCs and S corporations, could give DDT $65 million a year in reduced taxes. The repeal of the estate tax on large inheritances that affects only 0.2 percent of people in the U.S. could enhance his children by $10 billion. (Of course, he’s had to die first.) The repeal of the alternative minimum tax, created to guarantee that rich people don’t avoid their taxes, could drop his tax rate by 80 percent. DDT would have saved $31 million in just 2005 without that tax.

And these few items are just the tip of the iceberg of DDT’s conflicts of interest.

Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said:

“[Ethics] sort of starts from the premise that everybody wants to be in compliance. This idea of, ‘What if they’re not interested in getting into compliance?’ has not really been tested.”

Alexis de Tocqueville, the great author of Democracy in America,  wrote:

“The best laws cannot make a constitution work in spite of customs; and customs can make advantage of the worst laws.”

DDT has filled his personal swamp in the capital with crocodiles like him, and there’s no one with teeth to enforce any ethics laws. Unfortunately, people like that always find ways around any ethics laws. The only way to maintain ethics is to elect people with appropriate intentions. DDT has destroyed all faith in politicians.

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