As a journalist, I always believed in reporting news on the basis of importance to the public. The unit of measurement was simple, I had but two questions for any story. How many people does this issue affect and how significant is the effect? Stories that affected a lot of people in a very significant way always gained prominence. Even if the effect is emotional rather than material it is still important. For example, if a story causes a national mood depression and people quit buying that’s a major story.
All of the above is an introduction to a huge story that has been virtually ignored by the news media. It’s about ethics and the new trump administration.
We are about to enter into a rash of U.S. Senate hearings on the confirmation of President-Elect Donald Trump’s nominees to run the Government agencies he oversees. These nominees must be vetted to be sure they are free of conflicts of interest and other potential problems. They are required to turn over certain information before their hearings. But they aren’t doing it.
Few people are aware of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE). It exists to make ensure that people appointed and elected to federal government positions are free of ethical conflicts. That issue is very important right now for two reasons. One is that President-Elect Trump has still not announced how he will separate himself from his business holdings to avoid conflicts of interest and his attitude has apparently been adopted by his transition team because they are not cooperating with the OGE.
A couple of days ago I found a story buried on the NBC News website with this headline. U.S. Ethics Office Struggled to Gain Access to Trump Team, Emails Show. Apparently, the ethics office has continually experienced difficulty in getting the Trump transition team to respond to their requests for information. The story is only seeing daylight now because NBC News and National Public Radio filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to have it released. In the NBC story, OGE Director Walter Shaub emailed Trump aides in November to complain that despite his office’s repeated outreach, “We seem to have lost contact with the Trump-Pence transition since the election.” That’s a nice way of saying that the Trump team is ignoring legitimate requests from a legitimate government agency to cooperate with them. To me, that is very disturbing. Why would you avoid talking to an agency that exists to help you prevent problems before they arise?
Unable to reach the Trump team by conventional methods, OGE director Shaub authorized a series of Tweets, in the Trump style, hoping to gain the President Elect’s attention. The tweets were surprising because they violated the “style” of the OGE which is “Stodgy” according to some. Nonetheless, the tweets revealed a frustration.
In the NPR story, Norm Eisen, a fellow at the Brookings Institution is quoted as saying, “I think that there’s a uniform consensus among everybody who does government ethics for a living … that Donald Trump must divest — he’s got to sell his holdings or use a blind trust or the equivalent, as every president has done for 40 years. “So I took the tweets as an expression of that commonsensical view.” He added, “This is an undebatable position in our profession.”
The NBC story quoted Shaub as saying, “Trump aides may also be risking “embarrassment for the President-elect by announcing cabinet picks without letting the ethics office review their financial information in advance.” The perils for White House staff were even more severe,” Shaub argued, “because they might begin their jobs without crucial ethics guidance, raising a risk of inadvertently breaking federal rules.
Also, there is a real risk of being criminally charged. Shaub pointed to the criminal conflicts of interest restriction at 18 USC 208. “They run the risk of having inadvertently violated the criminal conflicts of interest restriction at 18 USC 208,” Shaub wrote, citing a federal conflicts law in an email to Trump Transition aide Sean Doocey, “If we don’t get involved early to prevent problems,” he added, “we won’t be able to help them after the fact.”
One of the reasons there is a concern about Trump himself is that his holdings are so diversified he cannot avoid conflicts of interest. According to CNN Money, all told, Trump has a hand in more than 550 ventures. But they’re not all businesses he necessarily owns outright. In many, he’s listed as trustee, shareholder, director or member. He also has a number of licensing deals, but no matter because if any of those entities profit, so does he. And as President of the United States, the Trump name becomes gold. Investors who see that name attached to any enterprise will be doubly tempted to invest. Trump has promised several times, to “do something about this,” but he hasn’t. He has scheduled, then canceled at least two appearances or speeches in which he was going to outline the actions he would take to avoid conflicts.
According to another NPR story, Trump has scores of potential conflicts ranging from his private air force (he owns a number of airplanes and helicopters) to his vast chain of hotels and golf courses.
Here’s just one example of how a situation becomes a conflict of interest. As I mentioned Trump owns a small fleet of flying machines. Because their engines burn fossil fuels, their emissions are harmful to the environment — and that presents an immediate conflict. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates emissions and he appoints the person who runs the EPA. Still another potential conflict is his aging airplanes. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates among other things aircraft safety and Trump appoints the head of the FAA. Again you can easily see the potential for conflict. NPR researched a good many potential conflicts. You can access that information here. http://www.npr.org/2016/12/05/503611249/trumps-businesses-and-potential-conflicts-sorting-it-out
Trump showed during the campaign that he feels he can do whatever he likes and get away with it. He steadfastly refused to release his income tax returns saying they were being audited, but that defense is hollow because there is no restriction that says returns being audited can’t be released.
The conflicts of which I speak could put the U.S. in very dangerous situations internationally and they must be addressed.
I think this is one of the most important stories in the news today and it is getting very little coverage. The news media ought to pay far more attention to it than they are. Trump must come clean about his financial holdings and cause his appointees to do the same thing. This is a huge and monumentally important story.
I hope responsible legislators and others who have influence and power will begin to speak out. We can’t allow this narcissistic blowhard to flaunt his disdain for our traditions, our rules and the law of the land, the U.S. Constitution.
He has already proven he can’t be trusted, and that his promises are empty. He promised that he and his children would meet the press in December and announce how he was going to separate himself from is companies. He didn’t do it. He promised he would build a wall and Mexico would pay for it, and now we learn he wants taxpayer dollars to do it and he will send Mexico the bill. Hah! Like they are going to pay it. He said he would repeal and replace Obama care now he’s saying, some parts of it should be preserved and he has offered nothing to replace it. Will he just throw 20 million people into the streets uninsured and sick? His word is worthless. He’s told so many lies no one knows where he stands on anything.
Donald Trump scares me. For the first time in my life I am afraid that my country, my President is going to do something so foolish and so reckless as to cause the world incredible pain and misery. He is capable of it. He is so thin skinned and has such a hair-trigger temper who knows what he will do if some world leader irritates him. Before the election, he could tweet his responses which were relatively harmless, but now he has the nuclear button.
There must be someone close to Donald Trump, who can get through to him. There must be someone that can tell persuade him not to be so combative or defensive about everything. Unfortunately, he seems to be surrounded by sycophants and that’s not good for any of us.