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Ethics Takes a Back Seat to Favoritism in the White House

Family and Business Entanglements Threatens our Democratic Process

It’s been more than seven months since Donald Trump began his presidency and it seems just about every ethics rule has been broken, starting with avoiding conflicts of interest, or at least they have been so bent out of shape as to be unrecognizable. ConflictofInterest_Wordle

As President Trump’s administration endures controversy over its ties to profitable, private interests, Senate Judiciary Committee leaders are asking the White House to immediately make public how the White House has dealt with potential ethical conflicts. Don’t hold your breath expecting an honest response and full disclosure.

The administration has been under fire for hiring former lobbyists to sensitive positions, after Trump vowed to “drain the swamp.” Michael Catanzaro, who lobbied for oil and gas interests, is Trump’s top energy aide. Shahira Knight, an investment firm lobbyist, is a special adviser to Trump for tax policy.

They are among 11 officials who got an ethics waiver from the Trump administration, a system that allows people to serve in government despite their ties to the industries or individuals that once employed them. The waivers can allow officials to deal with those who once employed or retained them.

The echoes of disbelief over the resignation of Walter Shaub as the Director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics are still heard in the halls of Congress and in public opinion. Shaub was concerned about Trump’s failure to divest from his business interests before taking office and placing his assets into a blind trust, a move Trump did not make. Trump’s behavior in this regard fails to meet the “smell test.”

Conflicts of interest are not new in government. What is new is Trump’s failure to recognize why such conflicts pose a threat to the legitimacy of his government. Most presidents have erred on the side of caution by avoiding even the appearance that they might be exploiting their office for personal gain.

I’m deeply concerned about the scope of the conflicts of interest, especially personal conflicts. Here are a few examples.

  • Trump has doubled his membership fees to join his club at Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach to $200,000.
  • Diplomats like to stay at the Trump International Hotel near the White House where parties are routinely thrown. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a lawsuit claiming the President is violating a clause in the U.S. Constitution barring him from accepting payments from foreign governments without Congresses’ consent.
  • Ivanka Trump has received preliminary approval for five trademarks in China. The trademarks grant her monopoly rights to use her name for jewelry, bags and spa services.
  • While top adviser, Jared Kushner, sold his interest in Trump’s flagship skyscrapers at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York City, he still holds a financial interest in hundreds of entities.

Conflicts of interest create barriers to ethical behavior because they mask transparency and pick winners and losers depending on the relationship between Trump, his family, advisers, and those who are on the other end of the ‘art of the deal.’ This is behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated in business yet it is by the White House. Ironically, the very skills Trump touts that make him uniquely qualified to be President – a strong business sense and leadership – are the very failings of his decisions to date and raise so many red flags that my eyes are burning with disbelief.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on September 5, 2017. Like my Facebook page at: Read my Tweets at: Visit my Website at: