Corruption infests Trump’s cabinet. (Photo: AP/Evan Vucci)
Donald Trump has only enabled “the swamp.”
By Bob Burnett / 08.31.2018
As we head for the November 6th midterm elections, it’s worth remembering that Donald Trump was elected President because he promised to “drain the swamp.” Instead of doing that, Trump has unleashed a tidal wave of corruption. Over the next two months, Republican corruption is the key topic Democrats must talk about.
A 2016 Washington Post/ABC News poll, released a few days before the presidential election, found that Hillary Clinton had a narrow lead over Trump on all issues except corruption—where voters trusted Donald to address “corruption in government.” In the presidential election exit polls, 39 percent of respondents said the candidate quality that mattered the most was the ability to “bring change;” 82 percent believed Trump was more likely to do this. It can be argued that ending corruption was Trump’s key issue.
Over the course of Trump’s presidency, he has lost ground as a perceived agent of change. Now, most voters see Trump as part of the swamp; someone incapable of bringing the required change to Washington. The most recent USA Today/ Suffolk University poll asked: “During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump promised to ‘drain the swamp’—to reduce corruption in Washington. Which comes closer to your view?” 57 percent of poll respondents said, “The swamp has gotten worse during the Trump Administration.”
A recent Pew Research poll found, “about half of Americans (54%) say they trust what Trump says less than they trusted what previous presidents said while in office.” (In the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, 60 percent of respondents disapproved of Trump’s job performance.)
As a consequence of Trump’s diminished credibility, voters have begun to label Republicans as the Party of corruption. In July, the Center for American Progress commissioned a significant poll in 48 “battleground” congressional districts. “By an 8-point margin, most voters say that Republicans are more corrupt than Democrats, 54 – 46 percent. This gap (larger than the Democratic lead on the generic congressional ballot) is driven in major part by the 60 percent of Independents who find more fault with the Republican Party, and the 27 percent of moderate Republican voters who agree with them.”
How the issue of corruption will factor in the midterm elections will vary from state to state and from congressional district to congressional district. For example, in California there are (at least) three contested congressional races where incumbent corruption will be an issue: CA 22, where Representative Devin Nunes spends his Washington time trying to scuttle the Trump-Russia investigation. Recently his home time newspaper, The Fresno Bee, featured the headline, “Nunes used to care about Valley. Now he’s a D.C. fat cat living large on donors’ dime.” CA 48, where Dana Rohrabacher is Russia’s man in Congress. Recently the New York Times ran a front-page article about Rohrabacher, “He’s a Member of Congress. The Kremlin Likes Him So Much It Gave Him a Code Name.” And CA 50, where Duncan Hunter was recently indicted for misuse of $250,000 in campaign funds.
Corruption infests Trump’s cabinet. We’ve already seen several cabinet members leave because of corruption charges (Tom Price and Scott Pruitt). Several others are being investigated. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has been accused of stealing $120 million at his investment company—Ross is also accused of violating conflict-of-interest laws and filing false information.
For Trump, his family, and his close associates, corruption is tied to self dealing. The most noteworthy case involves emoluments. Article I of the Constitution says, “No Person holding any Office… 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.” On March 28th, a Federal Judge in Maryland let an emolument lawsuit go forward. This action, brought by the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland, focuses on the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC: “The District of Columbia and Maryland said their local residents who compete with Trump’s businesses, such as Trump International Hotel… , are harmed by decreased patronage, wages and tips…”
Close Trump associates have either been indicted (Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort) or are under investigation (Elliott Broidy)
It’s an open secret in Washington that if you want to get Trump’s attention you should stay in his Washington hotel or better yet, buy a membership in one of his golf clubs. It’s clear that Trump’s economic policies are dictated by his friends. For example, the New York Times reported that the implementation of the steel tariffs has guided by Trump supporters at two large US steel companies, Nucor and US Steel. As another example, Trump plans a coal company bailout that will help some of his biggest donors. And, of course, it’s well established that the 2017 Trump-sponsored tax cuts primarily favored big GOP donors. Finally, early in the month, ProPublica reported that Trump has ceded control of the VA to three members of his Mar-A-Lago resort.