Sometimes, the Trump administration’s rampant corruption just gets inescapably glaring — like in the case of the now former Associate Deputy Labor Secretary Michael Avakian, who resigned effective April 5 following tough ethics questions. For months after joining the department, he continued to work on a case representing D5 Iron Works Inc. in a lawsuit against a local iron workers’ union. At the same time, federal rules related to organized labor could have ended up under his purview. Could the conflicts of interest get any more explicit?
Avakian was suspended without pay for two weeks last year in the face of an internal ethics inquiry, ruled to have exercised “bad judgment.” Labor Department officials concluded at least somewhat in his favor, asserting that the lawyer’s continued work for the iron company after beginning government work was the result of a misunderstanding of a department directive for him to “wrap up” his role in the case. After joining the Labor Department last April, Avakian filed two motions on behalf of the iron company in question and participated in two conference calls including the judge in the case. The company had alleged that the targeted local union used physical violence in efforts to secure a labor agreement — and ironically enough, less than two weeks after Avakian actually withdrew from the case, federal authorities slapped a pair of union leaders with criminal charges confirming the company’s allegations.
Still, that’s not where the issue ends. The House Committee on Education and Labor requested a trove of information from the Labor Department on March 18 covering Avakian’s work at the department and for the iron workers’ dispute case. They wanted information about what other outside cases the lawyer may have been involved in while on the job in government and details of ethics rules that apply to his position and what steps the department has taken overall towards addressing any similar problems, besides information about who exactly may have been involved in responding to the Avakian case in question. The Trump administration has overall consistently refused to cooperate with House Democrats’ efforts at oversight.
The Avakian case is far from alone in terms of ethical and legal scandals enveloping top Trump administration officials and even the Labor Department in particular. A federal judge ruled that current Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta broke the law in his previous role as a U.S. Attorney in Florida when he concealed the details of a lenient plea deal for child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein from his victims. Because of the concealment, chances for challenges to the deal were far more minimal than they might have been otherwise.
Acosta, remarkably, is still on the job. For his part, President Donald Trump has offered of the situation:
‘I really don’t know too much about it. know he’s done a great job as labor secretary, and that seems like a long time ago.’
There are other cases that have enveloped current and former Cabinet officials, like the multiple travel scandals that have claimed the careers of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
That corruption fits into the larger picture of the president’s own, with the president remaining credibly accused of financial fraud.