An eth­i­cal dou­ble stan­dard for Trump?

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - EJ Dionne Colum­nist

Repub­li­cans are deeply con­cerned about ethics in gov­ern­ment and the vast po­ten­tial for cor­rup­tion stem­ming from con­flicts of in­ter­est. We know this be­cause of the acute wor­ries they ex­pressed over how these is­sues could have cast a shadow over a Hil­lary Clin­ton pres­i­dency.

“If Hil­lary Clin­ton wins this elec­tion and they don’t shut down the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion and come clean with all of its past ac­tiv­i­ties, then there’s no telling the kind of cor­rup­tion that you might see out of the Clin­ton White House,” Sen. Tom Cot­ton, R-Ark., told con­ser­va­tive talk show host Hugh Hewitt.

Pre­sum­ably Cot­ton will take the lead in ad­vis­ing Don­ald Trump to “shut down” his busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties and “come clean” on what came be­fore. Surely Cot­ton wants to be con­sis­tent.

The same must be true of Reince Priebus, the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair whom Trump tapped as his chief of staff. “

When that 3 a.m. phone call comes, Amer­i­cans de­serve to have a pres­i­dent on the line who is not com­pro­mised by for­eign do­na­tions,” Priebus said earnestly in a state­ment on Aug. 18.

Priebus, you would think, be­lieves this even more strongly about a pres­i­dent whose en­ter­prises might reap di­rect prof­its for him­self or mem­bers of his fam­ily from for­eign busi­nesses or gov­ern­ments. Priebus must thus be hard at work right now on a plan for Trump to sell off his as­sets.

“The deals that she and her hus­band were pock­et­ing — hun­dreds of thou­sands of for­eign money,” Rep. Dar­rell Issa, R-Calif., told the Bre­it­bart web­site, the right-wing out­let once led by the soon-to-be White House chief strate­gist, Stephen Ban­non. Issa added that Clin­ton wanted her ac­tiv­i­ties “to be be­hind closed doors” and “did that be­cause she doesn’t know where the line is.”

We can as­sume that Issa will press the pres­i­dent-elect about the dan­gers of do­ing busi­ness deals “be­hind closed doors” and in­struct him about where the eth­i­cal “line” should be.

And it would be truly heart­en­ing to know that Rep. Ja­son Chaf­fetz, R-Utah, a vo­cif­er­ous critic of the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion (“There’s a con­nec­tion be­tween what the foun­da­tion is do­ing and what the sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice is do­ing”) plans to ap­ply the same bench­marks to Trump.

Af­ter all, when the chair­man of the House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee was asked last Au­gust on CNN if Trump should re­lease his tax re­turns, his an­swer was both col­or­ful and un­equiv­o­cal. “If you’re go­ing to run and try to be­come the pres­i­dent of the United States,” Chaf­fetz replied, “you’re go­ing to have to open up your ki­mono and show ev­ery­thing, your tax re­turns, your med­i­cal records. You are ... just go­ing to have to do that.”

I ea­gerly await Chaf­fetz’s news con­fer­ence re­it­er­at­ing his ki­mono pol­icy, since he made very clear that he sees his role as non­par­ti­san.

“My job is not to be a cheer­leader for the pres­i­dent,” he said. “My job is to hold them ac­count­able and to pro­vide that over­sight. That’s what we do.”

Early, com­pre­hen­sive hear­ings on the prob­lems Trump’s busi­ness deal­ings would pose to his in­de­pen­dence and trust­wor­thi­ness as our com­man­der in chief would be a fine way to prove he meant this.

Repub­li­cans did an ex­tra­or­di­nary job rais­ing doubts about Clin­ton — helped, we learned cour­tesy of The Wash­ing­ton Post, by a Rus­sian dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign. Does the GOP want to cast it­self as a band of hyp­ocrites who cared not at all about ethics and were sim­ply try­ing to win an elec­tion?

At least some con­ser­va­tive voices have been raised to push Trump to di­vest him­self of his busi­nesses, lest he cre­ate con­flicts that would, I’d in­sist, reach far beyond any­thing that Clin­ton was ac­cused of.

The Wall Street Jour­nal ed­i­to­rial page ob­served that Trump fam­ily’s po­ten­tial con­flicts “span the globe” and could “be­come a daily po­lit­i­cal tar­get.”

The loy­ally con­ser­va­tive pa­per said Trump’s “best op­tion is to liq­ui­date his stake in the com­pany.”

The Jour­nal was joined in this view by con­ser­va­tive writer John Pod­horetz, who asked what would hap­pen “when the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion gets an in­sane sweet­heart deal from a semi-state-run busi­ness some­where?”

Im­peach­ment, he warned, might be the only rem­edy.

If Trump wasn’t ready to put his busi­ness life be­hind him, he should not have run for pres­i­dent.

And if Repub­li­cans — af­ter all of their eth­i­cal ser­mons about Clin­ton — do not now de­mand that the in­com­ing pres­i­dent un­equiv­o­cally cut all of his and his fam­ily’s ties to his com­pa­nies, they will be fully im­pli­cated in any Trump scan­dal that re­sults from a shame­ful and par­ti­san dou­ble stan­dard.

E.J. Dionne is syn­di­cated by the Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. His email ad­dress is ej­dionne@wash­post.com.

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