New York Times investigative reporter Eric Lipton's observational tweet about members of President Donald Trump's cabinet has gone viral for all the wrong reasons. Lipton noted that those appointed to run the nation's top federal agencies all have significant conflicts of interest.
As of Thursday, DOD will be run by a former senior Boeing executive. EPA is run by a former coal lobbyist. HHS is r… https://t.co/YCeF7QtVr2— Eric Lipton (@Eric Lipton) 1546484796.0
Let's take a look at these individuals one by one.
- Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is indeed a former senior Boeing executive, having once served as vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems over the course of a long career with the corporation. Yesterday, a Pentagon official announced Shanahan would recuse himself from any Pentagon matters dealing with Boeing. “Under his Ethics Agreement, Mr. Shanahan has recused himself for the duration of his service in the Department of Defense from participating in matters in which the Boeing Company is a party,” said Shanahan spokesman Lt. Col. Joe Buccino, who added that Shanahan's priorities include continuing his "focus on implementation of the National Defense Strategy.”
- Acting Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler is indeed a former coal industry lobbyist who previously lobbied against the Obama administration's environmental regulations. Most recently, as part of the EPA's dismantling of Obama-era rules, Wheeler ordered that the agency propose lifting limits on mercury pollution from coal plants, deeming them no longer “appropriate and necessary.” Wheeler has also rejected the science regarding climate change.
- Health and Security Services Secretary Alex Azar is indeed pharmaceutical lobbyist and former drug company executive who previously served as President of the U.S. division of Eli Lilly and Company, which is the largest manufacturer of psychiatric medications. Azar, a notable critic of the Affordable Care Act, was embroiled in controversy after it emerged that Eli Lilly "tripled the price of its insulin and was fined for colluding to keep its prices high in Mexico."
- Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt is indeed a former oil industry lobbyist whose clients included Halliburton, Cobalt International Energy, Samson Resources, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Having previously served as Deputy Secretary of the Interior until the resignation of former agency head Ryan Zinke, he will oversee proposals that would directly benefit his former clients.
It's well known that President Trump hires individuals whose experience runs counter to the laws and ideals their respective agencies are sworn to uphold and protect. For example, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos holds a host of investments, including in companies that influence federal education policy. But this knowledge still didn't sit well with many.
@EricLiptonNYT One might say kleptocrats gotta klept— Molly Jong-Fast (@Molly Jong-Fast) 1546485283.0
@EricLiptonNYT @MrJonCryer Remember during the primaries when he was bragging "I'm self funding my campaign, so I c… https://t.co/XlVfeQPNBp— Omar Alihashi (@Omar Alihashi) 1546489060.0
@EricLiptonNYT And the fact the party in charge has no problem really should be the first and last sentence of the admin obit.— Authentic Upstream (@Authentic Upstream) 1546486232.0
@EricLiptonNYT About as swampy as it gets. It’s all about making money at the expense of the American public for th… https://t.co/osshB4bQJS— Objective Voters 🗳 (@Objective Voters 🗳) 1546487850.0
@EricLiptonNYT @joncoopertweets So much for draining the swamp.— Now Resisting from Australia! (@Now Resisting from Australia!) 1546525368.0
President Trump made "draining the swamp" one of the keystone pledges of an often incendiary presidential campaign. Conflicts of interest continue to run rampant, and they are never more apparent than when the president's close associates are caught up in controversies––or are pleading guilty to crimes.
Over the summer, for example, Aaron Blake, The Washington Post’s senior political reporter, tweeted a list of people who are contending with federal charges in relation to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling. All of them are close associates of the president.
Here’s the rundown:
- “Trump’s 2nd campaign manager”: This is Paul Manafort, whose criminal trial is in its second week. In October 2017, federal agents charged Manafort and his longtime business partner Rick Gates with 12 counts of “conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.”
- “Trump’s deputy campaign manager”: This is the aforementioned Rick Gates, who served as deputy to Manafort when they worked on Trump’s presidential campaign. Gates admitted that he and Manafort committed both bank and tax fraud together.
- “Trump’s national security adviser”: This is Michael Flynn, who resigned from the White House in disgrace after he provided false information about his communications with the Russian government, particularly after the news of his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States, became public. In December 2017, he appeared in federal court to formalize a deal with Mueller to plead guilty to a felony count of “willfully and knowingly” lying to FBI agents. Mueller hs recommended no prison time for Flynn, saying he gleaned significant insights on the behavior of Trump's transition team and its Russian contacts thanks to Flynn's cooperation with the special counsel's office.
- “Trump’s foreign policy adviser”: This is George Papadopoulos, who tried to broker connections between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Trump later accused “The Fake News of working overtime” and claimed Papadopolous was “a young, low-level volunteer.” In October 2017, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about contacts he had with the Russian government during the 2016 election cycle. He has served time in federal prison and is currently on a 12-month supervised release.
- “Trump’s 1st campaign manager (battery charges later dropped)”: This is Corey Lewandowski, whose influence within the Trump campaign waned considerably once Paul Manafort came aboard. He soon departed, still facing criticism for the scandal which erupted in March 2016 after he was charged with one count of simple battery for assaulting a journalist. The Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office later declined to prosecute Lewandowski.
- “Trump’s first congressional endorser”: This is Representative Chris Collins (R-NY), who was the first sitting member of Congress to endorse Trump for the presidency. Collins was arrested in August and charged with insider trading and lying to the FBI.
The responses to Blake’s tweet were largely sardonic in their mockery of the president, who has claimed to only hire “the best people” to work for him.
@AaronBlake @itsrupaulryan "I only hire all the best people" (who happen to prefer criminal activities & behaviors)… https://t.co/0kqNFodGO3— Beth Gray (@Beth Gray) 1533741143.0
@AaronBlake Well, Trump did promise to drain the swamp. Probably not what he had in mind :)— OK,Idiot (@OK,Idiot) 1533744206.0
@AaronBlake @StoweDena He employs only the best people......at committing crimes!— Liz (@Liz) 1533754446.0
@AaronBlake Only the best people! They forgot to mention what kind of people they were talking about...— Jimmy Beaulieu (@Jimmy Beaulieu) 1533843054.0
What a time to be alive.