Ethics re­views needed for Trump picks

Don­ald Trump and his bil­lion­aire Cabi­net choices have great ap­pre­ci­a­tion for checks and bal­ances. Peo­ple write them checks, and they smile at their bal­ances.

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - OPINION - — San Jose Mer­cury News, Dig­i­tal First Me­dia

As for con­sti­tu­tional checks and bal­ances, that’s an­other story.

The pres­i­dent-elect’s tran­si­tion team wants to com­plete Cabi­net-level con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings this week be­fore back­ground checks have even been fin­ished by the Of­fice of Gov­ern­ment Ethics. The of­fice di­rec­tor, Wal­ter M. Shaub Jr., warned Satur­day that the Se­nate’s plan to pro­ceed be­fore the ethics re­views is un­prece­dented in at least the past four decades.

Sen. Mitch Mc­Connell’s in­sis­tence on push­ing for­ward is par­tic­u­larly trou­bling given that many of the nom­i­nees have back­grounds that raise sig­nif­i­cant eth­i­cal ques­tions — and not all of them only in the fi­nan­cial realm most likely to be sur­faced by the ethics of­fice.

Trump cam­paigned on a prom­ise to “drain the swamp” in Washington of cor­rup­tion and spe­cial in­ter­ests. But in re­sponse to Schaub and Democrats rais­ing is­sues, the Trump tran­si­tion team is­sued a state­ment say­ing:

“It is dis­ap­point­ing some have cho­sen to politi­cize the process in or­der to dis­tract from im­por­tant is­sues fac­ing our coun­try. This is a dis­ser­vice to the coun­try and is ex­actly why vot­ers chose Don­ald J. Trump as their next pres­i­dent.”

Re­ally? They chose him to erase eth­i­cal re­views?

Iron­i­cally, Mc­Connell had in­sisted that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s nom­i­nees com­plete the re­views be­fore their hear­ings. (Which they did.)

First up, on Tues­day, is the nom­i­nee for at­tor­ney gen­eral, Sen. Jeff Ses­sions. His nom­i­na­tion is alarm­ing not be­cause of fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests — though we should know more about them — but his core be­liefs.

The at­tor­ney gen­eral is charged with en­forc­ing the law of the land, in­clud­ing pur­su­ing jus­tice even when states fail — en­forc­ing civil rights laws, for ex­am­ple. But Ses­sions was deemed too racist to be a fed­eral judge in 1986, and his record since on the Vot­ing Rights Act and civil rights in gen­eral re­gard­ing mi­nori­ties is fright­en­ing.

At least he has a long pub­lic record on these views. The ma­jor­ity of Trump’s nom­i­nees have none, and their vast fi­nan­cial hold­ings de­mand trans­parency.

Sec­re­tary of state nom­i­nee Rex Tiller­son’s cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin as CEO of Exxon raises fears that he would sell out NATO to raise Big Oil’s prof­its. For Sec­re­tary of Ed­u­ca­tion, Michigan bil­lion­aire Betsy DeVos’ in­vest­ment in for-profit on­line char­ters — which have per­formed badly in Cal­i­for­nia — and ap­par­ent dis­dain for pub­lic schools is alarm­ing.

Wil­bur Ross, the nom­i­nee for sec­re­tary of Com­merce, is worth an es­ti­mated $2.9 bil­lion and would be mak­ing de­ci­sions on trade is­sues, in­clud­ing steel, the very busi­ness in which he amassed his for­tune.

Given that Trump’s other Cabi­net choices face sim­i­lar con­flicts — two have pre­vi­ous ties to Gold­man Sachs, as do two other key play­ers in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion — it is es­sen­tial that the Se­nate de­mand full back­ground checks of Cabi­net choices be­fore vot­ing on them.

The Of­fice of Gov­ern­ment Ethics was put in place by Congress in 1978 to pre­vent a re­cur­rence of the Water­gate fi­asco. Let it do its job.

The Of­fice of Gov­ern­ment Ethics was put in place by Congress in 1978 to pre­vent a re­cur­rence of the Water­gate fi­asco. Let it do its job.

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