During his campaign, President Donald Trump sent shockwaves through Washington D.C. when he promised the people he would “drain the swamp.” He said it countless times. He talked about the fact that lobbyists ran Washington and even told his supporters and crowds that he would know, he donated to several politicians himself.
However, the last thing he is doing is draining the swamp. In a startling investigation by both the New York Times and Propublica, they revealed the length the White House is going to hide the fact that lobbyists are running the government and the swamp is thriving.
At issue is the fact the White House is giving out secret waives to get around ethics concerns. The New York Times provided this example:
‘One such case involves Michael Catanzaro, who serves as the top White House energy adviser. Until late last year, he was working as a lobbyist for major industry clients such as Devon Energy of Oklahoma, an oil and gas company, and Talen Energy of Pennsylvania, a coal-burning electric utility, as they fought Obama-era environmental regulations, including the landmark Clean Power Plan. Now, he is handling some of the same matters on behalf of the federal government.’
That’s not the only one. There’s, of course, Chad Wolf who is now chief of staff at Transportation Security Administration. He spent years trying to get funding for a screening device from the Transportation Security Administration. That same device is in the process of being tested and is under consideration for being purchased by the department. If purchased, it would be a $500 million deal.
Then there’s this example.
‘At the Labor Department, two officials joined the agency from the K Street lobbying corridor, leaving behind jobs where they fought some of the Obama administration’s signature labor rules, including a policy requiring financial advisers to act in a client’s best interest when providing retirement advice.’
The Times noted the practice isn’t really new or shocking. It’s always been done. However, the fact is Trump’s done away with the rule that bars lobbyists from working in agencies they’ve lobbied for within the past two years.
Furthermore, they’ve also refused to reveal visitors’ logs – which means the transparency to see who is going in and out of the White House is gone. The White House has dodged talking about this except for this statement that answers none of the concerns so many have.
‘The White House takes its ethics pledge and federal conflict of interest rules very seriously. The White House requires all of its employees to work closely with ethics counsel to ensure compliance and has aggressively required employees to recuse or divest where the law requires.’
The director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Schaub Jr., explained that the removal of the Obama-era regulation on a waiting period for lobbyists to join agencies weakened the standards for applying to around “4,000 executive branch hires.”
Furthermore, the waivers that the Trump administration has been handing out like candy at one time was required to be reported and were only given out for a limited number of reasons. However, now that is no longer required, none have bee reported. Schaub told the Times:
‘There’s no transparency, and I have no idea how many waivers have been issued.’
Though a rule still exists that lobbyists who lobbied the previous administration on a specific issue is banned from the “development and implementation” of that issue; however, those secret waivers are the work-around for that rule. The Times cited Catanzaro again as an example.
‘Mr. Catanzaro was registered for Talen Energy on the Clean Power Plan in 2015, yet he has worked in recent months as a senior member of the White House’s National Economic Council trying to roll back that rule, adopted by the Obama administration.‘
Why is that such a big deal? It’s a big deal because Talen energy will be facing $1.2 billion in new implementations to meet requirements for improving environmental standards established under the Obama administration.
The Times went on to give a length list of the names of conflicted advisers/former lobbyists who are shrouded in a fog of ethics questions. They include Gary Cohn, previously a Goldman Sachs executive, is one of Trump’s chief economic advisors and is the Director of the National Economic Council. Then there’s also D.J. Gribbin who is now the Special Assistant to the President for Infrastructure Policy. He was previously an employee of a bank that dealt in infrastructure deals.
Don’t forget Shahira Knight. She’s the Special Assistant to the President for Tax and Retirement Policy. She used to be a lobbyist for Fidelity, the business you see plenty of commercials from on retirement.
The conflicts of interests do not only apply to the economic council, however. They also apply to the Department of Health and Human Services with Lance Leggit who was a lobbyist last year and is now the chief of staff to the cabinet’s figurehead, Tom Price.
One major conflict is Dr. Scott Gottlieb. He’s up for the position in the Food and Drug Administration. He’s been on the pay roll of several major pharma companies including one that sells a drug to treat cystic fibrosis for $250,000 a year.
Honestly, the list goes on. It goes on to a point that is alarming, when you think about it. The last thing Trump has done is drain the swamp. If anything, he’s filled it with an even murkier pool of stagnant water and built a huge barbed wire fence around it to not let anyone see in it.
Featured image by Win McNamee/Getty Images.