Kellyanne Conway is only one part of Trump’s big problem (opinion)

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Such hope has been vanishingly rare with this White House. And indeed the OSC only delivered a recommendation on Conway–it’s up the President to decide.

Conway’s case is only the latest in which Trump administration officials have been accused of misbehavior or violating laws and rules. And it’s one of the few where there’s even a suggestion of consequences.

Take Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. According to Politico, she reportedly directed an aide in the US Department of Transportation to prioritize her up-for-reelection husband’s Kentucky projects — her husband being Mitch McConnell, the US Senate majority leader.
Or Diane Auer Jones, who spent a good chunk of her career working for questionable educational institutions that used a for-profit model to fleece vulnerable students. She is now the principal deputy under secretary in Betsy Devos’s Department of Education, and has used her position to push policies that would enrich and enable those same predatory institutions. (In an interview with the New York Times, Jones rejected such characterizations.)
Then there are Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. On Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee voted to hold the two in contempt of Congress after they refused to comply with Congressional subpoenas over the potential addition of a citizenship question on the 2020 census, that some argue is designed to help get white people elected.
In any other administration, any one of these stories would be a scandal, and all three together would be devastating. In this administration, where, for example, a President feels free to tell an interviewer that he’d accept damaging information from Russia and China to aid him in defeating a 2020 opponent–it’s simply what we’ve been trained to expect and accept. This is what has happened under Donald Trump’s presidency, and it is why Americans must end it.
The details of each of these stories are stunning. Chao, for example, apparently had the audacity to designate “a special liaison to help with grant applications and other priorities from her husband Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky, paving the way for grants totaling at least $78 million for favored projects as McConnell prepared to campaign for reelection,” according to Politico. (Politico said that Chao would not comment for its story and that neither she nor the liaison “addressed questions about his role as intermediary between the department and Kentucky.”)

Jones is trying to make it easier for low-quality, for-profit educational institutions — institutions for which she herself has worked — to operate without constraint or quality control from legitimate and qualified accreditation bodies and overseers. If she is successful in overhauling the accreditation system and loosening federal regulations governing oversight, those substandard institutions will enjoy a new ability to rake in money in financial aid–getting rich off the backs of low-income students and others who trust their government agencies to act in their interest.

And Conway? “Never has (the office) had to issue multiple reports to the President concerning Hatch Act violations by the same individual,” wrote the Special Counsel Henry Kerner in a letter to President Trump outlining the findings of the OSC’s investigation.

He faulted Conway for “disparaging Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity during television interviews and on social media,” and wrote that “given that Ms. Conway is a repeat offender and has shown disregard for the law, (the office) recommends that she be removed from federal service.”

The use of public office as a mechanism for enriching oneself, bettering the position of ones allies or associates or protecting oneself from the law did not start with the Trump administration, but this President and his associates have brought it to levels previously associated with gilded dictators and greedy, gaudy tyrants.
Former assistant attorney general: Trump administration's case for census citizenship question is bogus
Examples abound. World leaders who come to Washington, D.C. to meet with the President routinely stay in the President’s own Trump-branded hotel, from which he profits — a shocking (and tacky) move that would never have happened in any reasonably honest and ethical administration. His children and relatives use official business trips to promote their various business ventures, essentially vacationing and self-promoting on the American taxpayer’s dime.
The Trump family—which now represents for the United States– has long scorned ethical behavior when it conflicts with their self-interest. Even the Trump Foundation, the “charitable arm” of the Trump Foundation was shut down because of, said New York’s attorney general, a “shocking pattern of illegality”

The quaint days of Jimmy Carter giving up control of his family’s peanut farm to avoid conflicts of interest are clearly long gone.

Some Trump supporters paint his family’s approach as renegade, business-forward, American behavior to admire. This is naïve. It is instead the disruption of the ethics and norms around how our government operates—a government for all the people. Once norms around ethics change, for the office of the presidency and for government agencies, it’s hard to get them back.

There has long been a revolving door between the private sector and the government, with influential politicians leaving public service (as Jones, who worked in the George W. Bush administration, also did) to go work as highly-paid lobbyists or corporate employees, and sometimes later returning. That isn’t great, but there are rules that guide it, aimed at retaining talent and experience and preventing misuse of officials’ enormous influence. But what the Trump team does is of an entirely different order.

Public servants are supposed to serve the public, full stop.

Trump just put a 'for sale' sign on his forehead

We all understand that if you want to curry favor with someone, paying big money to stay at his hotels and golf on his greens is a good and not particularly subtle way of doing that. This may be acceptable in the swampy world of New York real estate, but one would think that most Americans don’t actually want cash paid to the Trump family business figuring in United States policy making.

This is the reason we want our Presidents and their appointees (and frankly all of our influential politicians) to divest from any family businesses or outside personal income streams while they are in office: They need to make decisions that benefit the entire nation, not ones that might change their bottom line or that of former associates, into whose employ they may wander again.

The Trump family has refused to hold the line on conflicts—to say the least– and the President himself appears to see his office as about service to his country second, and service to himself first. His underlings are acting in kind. As a result, we have an administration largely made up of the underqualified, the ethically challenged and the sycophant set.

Witness the response, as reported by CNN, on the Kellyanne Conway recommendation: “White House deputy press secretary Steven Groves called the special counsel’s actions against Conway ‘deeply flawed,’ claiming they ‘violate her constitutional rights to free speech and due process’.”

The ball is in the President’s court. What do you suppose he’ll do?

No one in this White House is going to fix any of this. It will take Congress to investigate and potentially apply consequences in many of these matters. It will take any Republicans who have not yet entirely sold their souls to this atrocity of an administration to stand against these massive ethical breaches.

Former assistant attorney general: Trump administration's case for census citizenship question is bogus

And to really solve the problem, it will take Democrats winning the White House in 2020, and restoring measures to prevent something like this from ever happening again.

In the United States, we have been lucky that our leaders have generally abided by unwritten rules and norms around ethical behavior. But that era has ended. It’s time to write the rules down.

This is an emergency. And if Trump does lose re-election, rooting out this new, pernicious normal must be at the top of Democrats’ “To Do” list.

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