Dear Donald Trump: Draining the Swamp Is Not A "Shovel Ready" Project

My first staff assignment outside a combat unit came about when I was a senior captain. I was selected to become a part of the Department of the Army’s Inspector General organization. It was a great job if you’re not a people person. Two things became obvious very early that shaped the way I conducted the investigations I led. First, rarely, and by rarely I mean never, did we catch someone doing something wrong the first time they did it. When we arrived we invariably found that the miscreant had been doing the illegal act for quite a while and he was only caught when his misconduct became such a part of his behavior and so blatant that it drew attention. Secondly, if you found more endemic misconduct in a unit or organization, to find where it started you had to work your way up the chain of command. Nearly invariably you’d find that the guy you were investigating was just following his boss’s example.


In yesterday’s news conference when Trump wasn’t slinging feces and trampling all over what could have been some positive messages, he announced the arrangements he’s made to minimize his potential conflicts of interest. This is important.

It is important that decisions be made in a disinterested manner and, just as importantly, that the actions of government officials avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest. The law, however, does not cover the president. The reasoning is simple. The power of the president is so vast that if he has investments of any kind he can’t avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Even if his wealth is confined basic government securities, he could still benefit from the actions of his administration in regards to monetary policy.

Ever since the election, the Obama donor and appointee who runs the Office of Government Ethics, a guy named Walter Shaub, has been after Trump to do things the way he wants Trump to do them. Mind you, he has no authority to enforce his perferences as Trump, as I noted above, is exempt from the ethics statute and, given his behavior early on, one can’t escape the feeling that Shaub is just trolling Trump to get a reaction while, at the same time, assisting the Obama Administration’s transparently obvious campaign to discredit and damage Trump and his administration before he even takes the oath of office.


Yesterday, shortly after Trump announced his plan, Shaub was giving a talk at the Brookings Institute, naturally, and used he opportunity to publicly criticize Trump’s plan:

Two thoughts on this.

First, Shaub’s comments are not helpful. If he is actually concerned about ethics in government he shouldn’t be deliberately setting up an adversarial relationship with Trump. This is why, by the way, I think Shaub is weaponizing what used to be a low-profile and very non-partisan office, he’s smart enough to know that berating anyone in public, much less Trump, is not likely to get you what you want when the subject of your invective is not legally bound to listen to you. I also think his statement, as quoted in the last tweet, actually disqualifies him from office. The nation has had men of immense wealth, like George Washington, as president. It’s had men who had direct access to immense wealth, like JFK, as president. None of that matters if the president has character. The most corrupt men we’ve had as president have actually been men of minor means. As the saying goes, all a lock does is keep an honest man honest. A crook is going to find a way to be a crook no matter what kind of law exists. That’s why we have prisons. Shaub’s focus should be on enforcing the law and not enforcing his own peculiar ideas of how much money a person should have. In short, Shaub should really pour a nice big hot cup of STFU and focus on his job — and the president’s financial holdings are not part of that.


Second. Going back to my opening anecdote, Trump needs to realize he is setting the tone for his administration. If he throws handsful of fecal matter at reporters in a news conference, his people are going to do the same. For heaven’s sakes, don’t they teach rich guys “noblesse oblige” anymore? If he looks like he’s trying to skirt ethics laws, a large number of people are going to take their leader from that. And, in what will be an unfortunate discovery for them, they are covered by ethics laws and they are not Donald Trump and they really won’t like prison.

Trump has the golden opportunity to accomplish a lot of good stuff. He has picked the most conservative cabinet in my lifetime and he has the entire Congress ready to move. The only way he stops this is by having his administration embroiled in ethical scandals. He is supposed to “drain the swamp.” That won’t get done if Trump refuses to pick up a shovel.


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