President Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp,” and yet, the United States Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has just reversed internal policies prohibiting White House staffers from receiving anonymous donations from lobbyists — under his watch.
The change has been implemented in order to allow aides to raise enough money so they may cover attorney fees during the FBI’s now-expanded Russia probe.
With Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation becoming more extensive by the minute as new leads are added to the mix, legal fees begin to pile up, even for White House aides who aren’t necessarily part of Trump’s inner circle.
Seeing the reversal of the internal policy as a way around this problem, the Trump administration may have chosen to ignore the potential for hidden conflicts of interest in the future as they worry solely on raising money for aides caught in the probe.
Still, the ethics problem is obvious and won’t be erased or ignored that easily even after the investigation is over.
To Marilyn Glynn, a former acting OGE director who served under President George W. Bush, this shift in policy means that a series of special interest groups will jump at the opportunity to grow cozy with the administration.
“You can picture a whole army of people with business before the government willing to step in here and make [the debt] go away,” she told Politico.
This isn’t the first time a sitting president and his aides have attempted to raise money due to scandals or pending legal fees.
During Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, the president considered accommodating blackmail demands from Watergate burglars under the cover of a Cuban defense committee so that the money couldn’t be traced back to him. But it wasn’t until President Bill Clinton had to deal with the growing fees related to the Whitewater investigation that donation money was under the spotlight.
At the time, the administration had to return hundreds of thousands of dollars coming from an Arkansas man who was later indicted for campaign finance abuse.
At the time, Clinton relied on an 1993 OGE guidance document allowing legal defense fund organizers representing government employees to rely on anonymous donations.
But while the 1993 document was never officially changed, the internal practice was. Now, under Trump, the 1990s-era rule is back in use, giving lobbyists representing major organizations and special interest groups even greater access to Washington.
If Trump had one ounce of dignity and was truly dedicated to making his campaign promises a reality as president, he would never let internal policies change. Better yet, he would have already shut the White House to anyone representing any major corporation, no matter how friendly to his policies the group or lobbyist might be.
After all, wasn’t he the one who attacked Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for overseeing arms contracts to the Saudi government while her charity organization received donations from the kingdom? Is he willing to be the target of similar, if not worse, condemnation as he opens the gates for more special interest money to flow into the White House?
Once again, the answer won't matter as Trump continues to prove he's a real hypocrite — not that we doubted he was ever any different.
Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria