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All the ways in which the Trump administration violated basic ethics rules

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On Monday, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) Twitter account posted a PDF document listing 14 general ethics principles government employees should follow.

Prior to the Trump administration, the OGE was a relatively low-key agency that stayed out of the spotlight; however, the inauguration of a president with an extensive business empire has put ethics rules to the test. 

Out of the 14 ethics guidelines outlined by the OGE, the Trump administration has violated 8 of them.

1. “Public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws and ethical principals above private gain.”

The first guideline brings us to the central issue regarding Trump’s compliance with ethics rules: he never fully divested from his businesses. Instead, Trump put his businesses into a “blind” trust consisting of his two sons and most-trusted lawyer. And, as ProPublica reported in April, Trump can pull profits and assets from the trust whenever we wants and without disclosing so to the public.

Trump maintaining his connection to the Trump Organization has brought up a seldom-used clause in the Constitution called the Emoluments Clause, which dictates:

“No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

If Trump really was going to place the Constitution above private gain, he would have completely divested, something former OGE Director Walter Shaub actively pushed for during the transition.

2. “Employees shall not hold financial interests that conflict with the conscientious performance of duty,” and 3. “Employees shall not engage in financial transactions using nonpublic government information or allow the improper use of such information to further private interest.”

Throughout the transition and into the administration, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner was a primary contact for foreign governments, including China. He was instrumental in setting up the meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-lago.

Jared’s connection to the President of the United States was touted by his sister, Nicole Kushner, as a selling point for Chinese investors looking to finance Kushner Companies real estate developments.

As a reward for investing at least $500,000 in the Kushner family project, Chinese investors would receive green cards through the EB-5 visa program. Kushner Companies was recently subpoenaed by federal prosecutors in New York for their use of EB-5 visas.

3. “An employee shall not…solicit or accept any gift or other item of monetary value from any person or entity seeking official action from, doing business with, or conducting activities regulated by the employee’s agency, or whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of the employee’s duties.”

Since Donald Trump took office in January, the Chinese government has granted the Trump organization over 40 exclusive trademarks for use on golf courses and casinos.

Washington trademark lawyer Peter J. Riebling called the move by the Chinese government a “gift.” “Getting the exclusive right to use that brand in China against everyone else in the world?” said Riebling. “It’s like waving a magic wand.”

Additionally, Trump’s Washington hotel received $270,000 from a Saudi lobbying firm. The payments were for hotel rooms and catering services for dozens of U.S. veterans who the firm retained as part of a campaign to influence politicians, adding to concerns that foreign nationals or governments would stay at Trump properties in order to curry favor with the president.

 

4. “Employee offices shall not use public office for private gain.”

President Trump and his daughter Ivanka still maintain large stakes in the Trump Organization despite their positions as public servants in the White House. According to financial disclosures, the Trump International Hotel in Washington alone earned Ivanka between $1 million and $5 million from January 2016 to March 2017, and put the value of her stake at between $5 million and $25 million. She also still maintains connections to her clothing brand, the details of which aren’t reflected in financial disclosure forms because those only show personal assets, income, and liabilities.

Donald Trump’s financial disclosures revealed he is fulfilling his dream of becoming the “first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.”  From January 2016 through April 15, 2017, his total income was anywhere from $600 million to $650 million. Trump reported $37.2 million in income from Mar-a-Lago, his private Florida club that doubled its membership fee since he announced his candidacy for president. Trump has even politically price gouged the price of cocktails at his properties to reflect his new position as President of the United States. The Economist points out that “the cheapest cocktail at the Trump International Hotel in Washington after he was elected is now $24, up from $16.”

5. “Employees shall act impartially and not give preferential treatment to any private organization.”

The president has repeatedly given preferential treatment to his own Trump Organization-branded properties as opposed to using tax-payer funded venues for events or vacations. He makes frequent use of Mar-a-lago in addition to his Virginia golf course, the Trump National Golf Course, and his New Jersey golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

“You’ve got the president traveling [to his properties] every single weekend, and whether he intends to or not, he’s giving free advertising to them,” said former OGE director Walter Shaub.

6. “Employees shall disclose waste, fraud, abuse, and corruption to appropriate authorities.” 

No one within the administration has reported delinquent members to the authorities. Congress, however, has been much more effective on cracking down on ethics violations lately.

The Democracy Reform Task Force released a report titled, “Swamped: 200 Ways in 200 Days. How the Trump Administration Continues to Flood the Swamp in Washington,” which lays out all the ways in which the Trump administration has disregarded ethics laws and standards.

In July, House Democrats created a number of resolutions of inquiry, forcing committee votes on issues like the release of Trump’s tax returns, documents showing any Trump connections to Russian banks or money laundering, and any documents or records pertaining to the firing of former FBI director, James Comey.

7. “Employees shall satisfy in good faith their obligations as citizens, including all just financial obligations, especially those — such as federal, state, or local taxes — that are imposed by law.”

Trump is the first president in four decades to refuse to release his tax returns. While Donald Trump made a huge fuss about voluntarily releasing his financial disclosure forms, they do not reveal nearly the same amount of crucial information that is currently unknown about the president. For example: how much money he makes, how charitable he really is, what foreign business ventures does he file, and how much does he pay in taxes?

8. “Employees shall endeavor to avoid any actions creating the appearance that they are violating the law or the ethical standards set forth in this part.”

Kushner’s insistence that his SF-86 security clearance was revised multiple times to include over 100 previously undisclosed contacts was due to an error in filing is extremely dubious. In his prepared statement released the day he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kushner said his form was “prematurely submitted due to a miscommunication,” but the process for actually obtaining a security clearance is much more extensive than just submitting a form online.

The contacts on his security clearance form were revised nearly a year after the meetings initially took place and included a December meeting with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, and one with the head of a Russian state-owned bank, Sergey Gorkov, arranged at the request of Kislyak.

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