Newsweek International - - CORRUPTION -

Now, in the last weeks of his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Don­ald Trump needed one more stir­ring slo­gan. And since he was badly trail­ing Demo­cratic can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton, it would have to be a mar­ket­ing marvel wor­thy of Mad Men’s Don Draper, one that en­cap­su­lated the vague yet com­pelling prom­ise of his can­di­dacy—its wor­ship of Amer­i­can ideals and its to­tal break from them.

On Oc­to­ber 17, 2016, the Trump-pence cam­paign re­leased a five-point plan for ethics re­form that fea­tured lob­by­ing re­stric­tions. The plan was called “drain the swamp.” Trump tried out the phrase that day at a rally in Green Bay, Wis­con­sin. He used it the next day at a rally in Colorado. “We’re go­ing to end the govern­ment cor­rup­tion,” he vowed, “and we’re go­ing to drain the swamp in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.” He then re­cited a litany of ac­cu­sa­tions re­gard­ing Clin­ton and her pri­vate email server, call­ing her “the most cor­rupt per­son to ever run for the pres­i­dency.”

“Build the wall” had been the raw open­ing cry of Trump’s cam­paign. “Make Amer­ica great again” was its cho­rus. “Drain the swamp” was its clos­ing num­ber. But while talk of a border wall thrilled Trump, he was ap­par­ently never too worked up about the fes­ter­ing bog that was the na­tion’s cap­i­tal. He ad­mit­ted as much in an Oc­to­ber 26 rally in Char­lotte, North Carolina: “I said that about a week ago, and I didn’t like it that much, didn’t sound that great. And the whole world picked it up.… So ‘drain the swamp,’ I didn’t like it. Now, I love it, right?”

“Drain the swamp” fit per­fectly with Trump’s con­stant com­plaints about the “rigged sys­tem,” thereby ex­cus­ing what some said was go­ing to be a his­toric de­feat. As the cam­paign con­cluded, Trump turned him­self into a mar­tyr for Amer­i­can democ­racy, wag­ing a prin­ci­pled but doomed cam­paign.

But a funny thing hap­pened on the way to a “third Obama term.” Win­ning en­dowed the things Trump said dur­ing the cam­paign with an im­port they’d pre­vi­ously lacked. And while many un­der­stood that his “rigged sys­tem” was just an ex­cuse, “drain the swamp” sure sounded like a prom­ise.

So as the pres­i­den­tial in­au­gu­ra­tion ap­proached, an­tic­i­pa­tion bub­bled through the sul­furous nexus of Capi­tol Hill politi­cians, spe­cial in­ter­est groups and their K Street lob­by­ists, the me­dia, the es­tab­lish­ment and just about ev­ery­one else who had dis­missed Trump and his slo­gans as a pub­lic­ity stunt. There was now a ques­tion, rather ur­gently in need of an an­swer: Was he se­ri­ous about all that “swamp” stuff?

Not re­ally. For­mer House Speaker and Trump sup­porter Newt Gin­grich ad­mit­ted to NPR on De­cem­ber 21 that “drain the swamp” was never a prom­ise. “I’m told he now just dis­claims that,” he said. “He now says it was cute, but he doesn’t want to use it any­more.”

Some­one from the Trump cam­paign must have placed an an­gry call, be­cause the for­mer speaker soon tweeted that he’d over­stated the case. But that didn’t kill the story. That same day, Politico


won­dered if “drain the swamp” would be Trump’s “first bro­ken prom­ise.” It cited the ac­cess-ped­dling lob­by­ing firm of Trump’s first cam­paign man­ager, Corey Le­wandowski, as well as the con­sult­ing firm with trou­bling for­eign ties run by his in­com­ing na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, Michael Flynn. “Trump and his al­lies have en­gaged in some of the same prac­tices they ac­cused Hil­lary Clin­ton of ex­ploit­ing and vowed to change,” Politico wrote.

Now, a year af­ter the elec­tion, many ob­servers be­lieve the swamp has grown into a sinkhole that threat­ens to swal­low the en­tire Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. The num­ber of White House of­fi­cials fac­ing ques­tions, law­suits or in­ves­ti­ga­tion is as­ton­ish­ing: Trump, be­ing sued for vi­o­lat­ing the “emol­u­ments clause” of the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion by run­ning his Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.; Paul Manafort, the sec­ond Trump cam­paign man­ager, for al­legedly ac­cept­ing pay­ments from pro-rus­sia in­ter­ests in the Ukraine; Flynn, for undis­closed lob­by­ing work done on be­half of the Turk­ish govern­ment; son-in-law and con­sigliere Jared ush­ner, for fail­ing to dis­close $1 bil­lion in loans tied to his real-es­tate com­pany; and at least six Cab­i­net heads be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for or asked about ex­or­bi­tant travel ex­penses, se­cu­rity de­tails or busi­ness deal­ings.

An al­le­ga­tion, of course, not proof that there’s cor­rup­tion, but when has the Amer­i­can body politic ever awaited cer­ti­tude be­fore pass­ing judg­ment? “The most cor­rupt pres­i­dency and ad­min­is­tra­tion we’ve ever had,” says Ze­phyr Tea­chout, a Ford­ham Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor who au­thored a book ti­tled Cor­rup­tion in Amer­ica: From Ben­jamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Cit­i­zens United.

Trump sup­port­ers say cor­rup­tion charges are par­ti­san smear tac­tics. “Pres­i­dent Trump came to Wash­ing­ton to drain the swamp and is fol­low­ing through on his prom­ises,” White House deputy press sec­re­tary Raj Shah says, cit­ing Trump’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der on ethics, the el­e­va­tion to deputy sta­tus of ethics lawyers in the White House coun­sel’s of­fice and “un­prece­dented steps to rein in waste of tax­payer funds.”

But ac­cord­ing to the pres­i­den­tial his­to­rian Robert Dallek, no Amer­i­can leader has acted with more unadul­ter­ated self-in­ter­est as Trump. Dallek says that in terms of out­right cor­rup­tion, Trump is worse than both Ulysses S. Grant and War­ren G. Hard­ing, pres­i­dents who over­saw the most fla­grant in­stances of graft in Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal his­tory. Grant’s stel­lar rep­u­ta­tion as a Civil War gen­eral is tar­nished in part by the Whiskey Ring scan­dal, in which Trea­sury De­part­ment of­fi­cials stole taxes from al­co­hol dis­tillers; mem­bers of Hard­ing’s ad­min­is­tra­tion plun­dered oil re­serves in Teapot Dome, a rock out­crop­ping in Wy­oming that has lent its name to the most no­to­ri­ous ex­am­ple of govern­ment cor­rup­tion in Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal his­tory. In both cases, the fault of the pres­i­dent was in his lack of over­sight. As far as Dallek is con­cerned, some­thing more ne­far­i­ous is at work in the White House of Don­ald Trump.

“What makes this dif­fer­ent,” Dallek says, “is that the pres­i­dent can’t seem to speak the truth about a host of things.” Trump isn’t just al­low­ing cor­rup­tion, in Dallek’s view, but en­cour­ag­ing it. He sum­mons a pun­gent adage: The fish rots from the head.

Dis­gust­ing Dis­plays of Wealth

, Shulkin sent a mem­o­ran­dum to top man­agers in his de­part­ment. “Es­sen­tial Em­ployee Travel” out­lined a new process by which travel would be ap­proved and doc­u­mented. “I ex­pect this will re­sult in de­creased em­ployee travel and gen­er­ate sav­ings,” he wrote.

Two weeks later, Shulkin and his wife, Merle Bari, flew to Copen­hagen. With them were three VA staffers and one staffer’s hus­band. There was also a six-per­son se­cu­rity de­tail. “The 10-day trip was not en­tirely a va­ca­tion,” re­ported The Wash­ing­ton Post.

But it wasn’t a three-day con­fer­ence in Tulsa ei­ther. Shulkin planned the trip so that it be­gan with meet­ings in Den­mark and ended about a week later with meet­ings in Lon­don. In be­tween, there was watch­ing ten­nis at Wim­ble­don, vis­it­ing me­dieval cas­tles, tour­ing and shop­ping. A tourist from Madi­son, Wis­con­sin, told the Post she spot­ted Shulkin and com­pany “whisked to the front of the line” at an at­trac­tion in Copen­hagen. One of Shulkin’s tax­payer­funded se­cu­rity guards, she said, was haul­ing a “large num­ber of shop­ping bags.”

The Post noted that tax­pay­ers re­im­bursed Bari for her ex­penses, which may have been as high as $3,600 per day. Al­though some of the other mem­bers of the party paid for their travel, tax­pay­ers nev­er­the­less in­curred sig­nif­i­cant costs as­so­ci­ated with flights and se­cu­rity. Per­haps it is naïve to ex­pect a Cab­i­net head to Skype into in­ter­na­tional gath­er­ings, but the pre­vi­ous VA head, Robert Mcdon­ald, hadn’t needed to take a sin­gle trip abroad to do his work.

Shulkin is one of six Cab­i­net mem­bers be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for (or at least, be­ing asked un­com­fort­able ques­tions about) travel or se­cu­rity ex­penses:

→ The in­spec­tor gen­eral of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency is in­ves­ti­gat­ing its ad­min­is­tra­tor,

Scott Pruitt, for what The Wash­ing­ton Post says are “at least four non­com­mer­cial and mil­i­tary flights” in the past eight months that cost the govern­ment more than $58,000. Pruitt has also built him­self a $25,000 sound­proof booth in his of­fice, for rea­sons that re­main un­clear. Pruitt’s per­sonal se­cu­rity de­tail in­cludes high-rank­ing EPA in­ves­ti­ga­tors who are sup­posed to be track­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal vi­o­la­tions.

→ Steven Mnuchin, the for­mer Gold­man Sachs banker who now runs the Trea­sury De­part­ment, is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for com­man­deer­ing a govern­ment jet so that he and his wife, Scot­tish ac­tress Louise Lin­ton, could see the Great Amer­i­can Eclipse in Lexington, Ken­tucky. That trip came to light af­ter Lin­ton en­gaged in a so­cial me­dia spat with an Ore­gon woman who was dis­gusted by the cou­ple’s dis­plays of wealth. That same month, Mnuchin took a U.S. Air Force C-37 jet from New York to Wash­ing­ton. The trip cost tax­pay­ers $25,000, and while use of mil­i­tary planes by govern­ment of­fi­cials is com­mon, there are dozens of com­mer­cial flights daily that cover the same route. Ti­mothy Gei­th­ner, who was Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s sec­re­tary of the trea­sury, fre­quently flew coach when he made that trip.

→ Ryan Zinke, the in­te­rior sec­re­tary, is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for travel ex­penses that in­clude a $12,375 char­tered flight to Mon­tana from Las Ve­gas, where he had at­tended an event for a hockey team owned by one of his bene­fac­tors. Zinke is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for two other char­tered flights as well.

→ Elaine Chao, who heads the Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment, has used govern­ment planes on at least seven oc­ca­sions, ac­cord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post.

She is also fac­ing ques­tions about her own­er­ship of stock in Vul­can Ma­te­ri­als, a build­ing com­pany that would likely ben­e­fit from a $1 tril­lion in­fra­struc­ture plan Chao has been tout­ing.

→ Rick Perry, the en­ergy sec­re­tary, took a pri­vate plane to visit “a ura­nium fa­cil­ity in Pike­ton, Ohio,” in late Septem­ber, ac­cord­ing to Reuters. He once also, the same out­let re­ported, flew into “a pri­vate air­port in Kansas that was within a 45-minute drive of Kansas City In­ter­na­tional Air­port.”

→ Betsy Devos, the ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary, pays for her pri­vate flights (she is a bil­lion­aire) but uses se­cu­rity from the U.S. Mar­shals Ser­vice, an un­usual move that will cost the Amer­i­can tax­payer about $1 mil­lion per month. She is the first ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary to have such ex­ten­sive pro­tec­tion in re­cent his­tory.

Chid­ing chat­ter about the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s high-fly­ing ways be­gan when Politico re­porters Dan Di­a­mond and Rachana Pradhan got a tip that Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price was us­ing pri­vate planes to jet around the globe, in­fu­ri­at­ing al­ready-de­mor­al­ized HHS em­ploy­ees back home with grat­ing dis­patches from Switzer­land, Liberia and else­where. As Di­a­mond and Pradhan wrote, the “no­to­ri­ously se­cre­tive Cab­i­net sec­re­tary” had not been forth­com­ing about his travel records, in keep­ing with the

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s broader aver­sion to re­leas­ing records un­less forced to. They pub­lished their ini­tial story on Price’s pri­vate-jet travel on Septem­ber 19, their de­tails dredged from the very swamp Trump promised to drain: costly char­tered flights to Philadel­phia, when Am­trak would have suf­ficed, as well as a trip to the Aspen Ideas Fes­ti­val, a po­tent sym­bol of the elitism Trump had de­nounced dur­ing the cam­paign.

Trump was fu­ri­ous, and Price re­signed at the end of the month, af­ter of­fer­ing to pay back $52,000 of his travel costs. The to­tal cost of his tax­payer-funded jaunts is es­ti­mated to be $1 mil­lion.

This be­hav­ior is out­ra­geous—but also puz­zling, since Trump’s Cab­i­net has been es­ti­mated to be the wealth­i­est in Amer­i­can his­tory. These were peo­ple, we’d been told, who were sac­ri­fic­ing lu­cra­tive pri­vate-sec­tor posts to work in the ser­vice of the Amer­i­can peo­ple. Now, those very same “for­got­ten Amer­i­cans” were pay­ing for Mnuchin, worth as much as $500 mil­lion, be­cause he ap­par­ently didn’t want to go through air­port se­cu­rity. In his Cab­i­net are many peo­ple who went to Ivy League uni­ver­si­ties, worked for For­tune 500 cor­po­ra­tions. They had to know bet­ter. And if they didn’t, how can we trust them?

“Power and stu­pid­ity are close com­pan­ions,” said Tea­chout when I asked her how so many Cab­i­net mem­bers could make the same mis­take, and so fre­quently. “They are liv­ing in a world in which they can’t see the ways in which they are be­ing cor­rupted,” she spec­u­lated. “You’re so pow­er­ful that you don’t even un­der­stand that a char­tered flight isn’t a right.”

A se­nior White House of­fi­cial noted that it had not been the White House’s job to mi­cro­man­age Cab­i­net-level travel plans in prior ad­min­is­tra­tions. Now, those plans need ap­proval from Chief of Staff John Kelly. David J. Apol, who heads the Of­fice of Govern­ment Ethics (OGE), re­cently wrote a mem­o­ran­dum that said he was “deeply con­cerned that the ac­tions of some in Govern­ment lead­er­ship have harmed per­cep­tions about the im­por­tance of ethics.” But Apol’s dis­may, how­ever wel­come, is not enough for all those who be­lieve the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is un­will­ing to face up to its eth­i­cal short­com­ings. “You don’t see any shame here,” says E.J. Dionne Jr., the Wash­ing­ton Post colum­nist and co-au­thor of the new book One Na­tion Af­ter Trump.

“And that’s re­ally dis­turb­ing.”

The Great En­abler

, deal­ing with a per­sonal po­lit­i­cal loss: The night be­fore, she had lost to Repub­li­can John Faso for a House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives seat in the Hud­son River Val­ley, north of New York City. Tea­chout had run an anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign, while Faso was a fairly con­ven­tional North­east­ern Repub­li­can who never re­solved his ap­par­ent un­ease about Trump. Vot­ers ap­par­ently did not mind.

Some­time that day, she spoke to an anti-clin­ton per­son who may have voted for Trump. “I just want to put a stick in the stream,” he told her. The vote a small act of de­fi­ance, since New York State was safely Demo­cratic. But even a small vote can be telling. By pos­si­bly cast­ing a bal­lot for Trump, the man in­di­cated his pro­found ex­as­per­a­tion with the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, as well as his con­vic­tion that only a whole­sale reimag­i­na­tion of what govern­ment did—and how—could make Amer­i­cans be­lieve in govern­ment again. Even if it wasn’t clear what Trump meant by “drain the swamp,” the im­age strongly evoked a right­eous cleans­ing, a re­newal of the tired, in­fer­tile land.

“The lan­guage of cor­rup­tion is in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful,” Tea­chout says, and Trump’s cam­paign har­nessed that power to great ef­fect. But the tran­si­tion to gov­ern­ing pre­sented new chal­lenges, fore­most among them ques­tions about the in­scrutable, transna­tional Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion, which has in­cluded ev­ery­thing from a line of steaks to a new ho­tel in the heart of D.C., in a build­ing leased from the very fed­eral ap­pa­ra­tus he now con­trols.

On Jan­uary 11, just days be­fore the pres­i­den­tial in­au­gu­ra­tion, Trump held a press con­fer­ence at Trump Tower in mid­town Man­hat­tan to ad­dress ethics is­sues sur­round­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion. “I could ac­tu­ally run my busi­ness and run the govern­ment at the same time,” he boasted. His tax lawyer, Sheri Dil­lon, de­scribed a vague ar­range­ment in which Trump would not man­age his busi­nesses, but also not dis­as­so­ci­ate from them. On a ta­ble next to Trump were stacks of pa­pers, pre­sum­ably re­lat­ing to his fi­nances. A re­porter’s pho­to­graph sug­gested the pa­pers were blank, just for show.

“The tone was set by the pres­i­dent when he de­cided not to di­vest,” says Wal­ter Shaub Jr., who’d been ap­pointed by Trump’s pre­de­ces­sor, Obama, as the head of OGE, and who re­mained in that post dur­ing the tran­si­tion and first five and a half

months of Trump’s ten­ure. He says this ad­min­is­tra­tion “came in un­pre­pared for the rig­ors” of work­ing within the fed­eral govern­ment, “un­aware of the fact that there are many re­quire­ments and a cul­ture of ac­count­abil­ity to the pub­lic.”

Shaub blames a lot of the eth­i­cal lapses on White House coun­sel Don­ald Mc­gahn II, whom he charges with fos­ter­ing an any­thing-goes at­mos­phere by in­ter­pret­ing rules and laws in ways that al­lowed Trump to skirt them. “He has been the great en­abler. And he has been an am­pli­fier of the mes­sage that ethics doesn’t mat­ter.” Mc­gahn did not re­spond to a Newsweek re­quest for com­ment.

A se­nior White House of­fi­cial who was only au­tho­rized to speak on back­ground dis­puted the as­ser­tion that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has not made ethics a pri­or­ity. He says the lawyers work­ing on ethics is­sues in the White House are “not shrink­ing vi­o­lets” and points to the el­e­va­tion of their of­fice to deputy sta­tus, pre­sum­ably giv­ing those lawyers greater sway. The of­fice is headed by Ste­fan Pas­santino, deputy as­sis­tant to the pres­i­dent and deputy coun­sel to the pres­i­dent, who, upon his ap­point­ment, was praised by Howard Dean, a for­mer Demo­cratic pri­mary can­di­date for the pres­i­dency and gover­nor of Ver­mont. “I have a lot of con­fi­dence that he will be clear about what the eth­i­cal and le­gal bound­aries are in his ad­vice to the White House,” Dean said at the time.

One per­son who worked with Pas­santino in the early days of the ad­min­is­tra­tion de­scribed him as cour­te­ous and ea­ger about toil­ing in the govern­ment’s em­ploy, a wel­come con­trast to the surly at­ti­tudes of some other high-rank­ing Trump of­fi­cials. At the same time, this in­di­vid­ual says Pas­santino was dili­gently fig­ur­ing out how to dis­man­tle reg­u­la­tions. He notes that among Pas­santino’s pre­vi­ous le­gal clients is Gin­grich, who was sanc­tioned by the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives over eth­i­cal vi­o­la­tions.

A telling episode took place on Fe­bru­ary 9, when se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion coun­selor Kellyanne Con­way went on Fox & Friends to de­fend Ivanka Trump, the pres­i­dent’s daugh­ter. Ivanka also runs a fash­ion busi­ness, but Nord­strom’s had re­cently dropped her line af­ter protests by lib­eral ac­tivists who sought to have the de­part­ment store sever all af­fil­i­a­tions with the Trump fam­ily. Con­way de­fended Ivanka, speak­ing on live tele­vi­sion from the White House: “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would tell you.… I’m go­ing to give a free com­mer­cial here. Go buy it to­day, ev­ery­body.”

This seemed a fla­grant vi­o­la­tion of ethics rules, which pro­hibit elected of­fi­cials from en­dors­ing a com­mer­cial en­ter­prise. Shaub sent a let­ter to Pas­santino, in­form­ing him that “there is strong rea­son to be­lieve that Ms. Con­way has vi­o­lated the Stan­dards of Con­duct and that dis­ci­plinary ac­tion is war­ranted.” Pas­santino wrote back that Con­way “made the state­ment in ques­tion in a light, off-hand man­ner while at­tempt­ing to stand up for a per­son she be­lieved had been un­fairly treated and did so with­out ne­far­i­ous mo­tive or in­tent to ben­e­fit per­son­ally.” In a foot­note, Pas­santino in­ter­preted fed­eral rules to con­clude that Shaub’s of­fice, OGE, did not have over­sight over the ex­ec­u­tive of­fice of the pres­i­dent, mean­ing that he could not sanc­tion Con­way over the en­dorse­ment.

Shaub was stunned. “The as­ser­tion is in­cor­rect, and the let­ter cites no le­gal ba­sis for it,” he wrote Pas­santino. To him, this was ev­i­dence that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion sought not only to dis­re­gard ethics rules, but to ac­tively dis­man­tle them. He quit OGE on July 6 and deemed the ad­min­is­tra­tion he was leav­ing be­hind “pretty close to a laugh­ing­stock.” He has been mak­ing sim­i­larly


with­er­ing cri­tiques on so­cial me­dia and CNN, which he joined as a con­trib­u­tor in Septem­ber.

Shaub’s mi­gra­tion to ca­ble news has an­noyed sup­port­ers of Pres­i­dent Trump. An­other CNN reg­u­lar is Richard Painter, who was the chief ethics lawyer for Ge­orge W. Bush and is vice chair of the group, Cit­i­zens for Re­spon­si­bil­ity and Ethics in Wash­ing­ton, su­ing Trump over the emol­u­ments clause. An­other CREW mem­ber, its chair and some­time CNN com­men­ta­tor, is Nor­man Eisen, who oc­cu­pied the same po­si­tion in the White House of Pres­i­dent Obama. The White House se­nior of­fi­cial I spoke to ex­pressed dis­may at this “machin­ery” of out­rage, cal­i­brated per­fectly to a lib­eral view­ing au­di­ence.

When I raised these con­cerns to Shaub, he laughed them off as “deeply cyn­i­cal.” It’s a Swamp Thing; You Wouldn’t Un­der­stand the swamp was taken a week into his pres­i­dency. On Jan­uary 28, he signed Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der 13770, ti­tled “Ethics Com­mit­ments by Ex­ec­u­tive Branch Ap­pointees.” All such ap­pointees had to pledge that they would not lobby the agency to which they were ap­pointed for five years af­ter leav­ing it; they would abide by re­stric­tions re­gard­ing con­tact with agency of­fi­cials; would not lobby for­eign gov­ern­ments af­ter work­ing for the ad­min­is­tra­tion; would not ac­cept gifts from lob­by­ists; and would fol­low other reg­u­la­tions.

Shah calls it “the most sweep­ing Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der in U.S. his­tory to end the re­volv­ing door” be­tween 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue and the lob­by­ing firms of K Street, sin­gling out the in­junc­tion against for­eign lob­by­ing. In some ways, the or­der is sim­i­lar to what was in place dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But Eisen thinks the wide­spread grant­ing of ethics waivers by the ad­min­is­tra­tion—that is, per­mits to vi­o­late the new rules—com­pletely un­der­mine the ex­ec­u­tive or­der. “They’ve made a mock­ery of the ex­ec­u­tive or­der and of ethics in gen­eral,” he cried out when I called him, claim­ing that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has “vir­tu­ally no stan­dard” on how such waivers are granted. Four­teen such waivers had been granted as of May 31.

While Trump of­fi­cials have de­scribed the ex­ec­u­tive or­der as be­ing not much dif­fer­ent from the one that guided the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, Eisen finds that as­ser­tion pre­pos­ter­ous: “It’s an ethics calamity of a kind we have never seen in mod­ern pres­i­den­tial his­tory.” In June, a lib­eral su­per PAC called Amer­i­can Bridge 21st Cen­tury found 74 lob­by­ists work­ing in the ad­min­is­tra­tion, 49 of them in agen­cies they once lob­bied on be­half of clients. The new deputy ad­min­is­tra­tor of the EPA, for ex­am­ple, is for­mer coal lob­by­ist An­drew Wheeler.

“This will not take away one vote,” says Sam Nun­berg, a long­time Trump as­so­ci­ate who was fired from the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 2015.

That may be the case. It may also be short­sighted. Painter, the for­mer Bush lawyer, is a Repub­li­can “Never Trumper” who en­dorsed Clin­ton in the gen­eral elec­tion. He thinks Trump isn’t just evis­cer­at­ing ethics laws but de­stroy­ing the con­ser­va­tive move­ment that, for decades, preached moral re­spon­si­bil­ity and fis­cal pru­dence. “This,” he laments, “could be the end of the Repub­li­can Party.”

As for the “drain the swamp” plan, with its vi­sion of pu­ri­fied Wash­ing­ton? I man­aged to find the link to the orig­i­nal press re­lease and, feed­ing it into my browser, was trans­ported to those late Oc­to­ber days when pun­dits mused about whether Clin­ton would take Ari­zona and whether Trump would start a tele­vi­sion net­work of his own.

The link loaded, but the page was empty.









SWAMP MON­STER On the cam­paign trail, Trump vowed to “end govern­ment cor­rup­tion” and “drain the swamp in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.” Clin­ton, his Demo­cratic op­po­nent, he of­ten im­plied, was the em­bod­i­ment of es­tab­lish­ment muck.

BRO­KEN PROM­ISES Trump signs an ex­ec­u­tive or­der on ethics com­mit­ments in the Oval Of­fice in Jan­uary. The or­der was sup­posed to end the re­volv­ing door be­tween the White House and lob­by­ing firms, but crit­ics say the pres­i­dent has com­pletely un­der­mined it.

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