Trump used his campaign and his first year in office to line his pockets with donors and taxpayers’ money. His businesses have raked in an estimated $15.1 million since he began his presidential campaign and he continues to use campaign contributions as his personal bank account. And he’s only getting started. But Trump is not the only member of the administration to play fast and loose with taxpayer money.
Trump changes cabinet members more often than he changes wives. Yet despite the record-setting turnover within the administration, to date, only one member of the administration has left the job under pressure for corruption and ethics violations leaving us to wonder: Are members of the administration and Trump’s advisers merely following their leader’s example? Or were they chosen for their positions precisely because of their lack of ethics?
Even those who haven’t been caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar have committed serious lapses in judgment or have seriously damaged the departments they were chosen to lead.
For example, before being fired via a presidential Tweet, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson virtually dismantled the department. The New Yorker magazine described his time in office this way: “His tenure may well be regarded as the most consequential in postwar American history: not for what he built but for what he destroyed. In only ten months, Tillerson, the former C.E.O. of ExxonMobil, has presided over the near-dismantling of America’s diplomatic corps, chasing out hundreds of State Department employees and scaling back the country’s engagement with the world. Most alarming has been the departure of dozens of the foreign service’s most senior officials—men and women who had spent their careers living and working abroad, who speak several languages and who are experts in their fields.”
The person nominated to replace Tillerson, current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, may be no better as he is known to be virulently anti-Muslim and a denier of Russia’s interference in our elections.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin conveniently failed to disclose $100 million of investments prior to his confirmation. And, since taking office, the billionaire has spent millions of taxpayer money for the personal use of government planes, including one for his honeymoon. In addition, he used a government plane to fly his bride to Fort Knox so they might better view the solar eclipse.
Before becoming Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross was known as the “King of Bankruptcy” for plundering companies before forcing their closure. He repeatedly exaggerated his net worth – a lie that fits right in with those of his new boss.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue displayed a penchant for corruption before assuming his current position. While governor of Georgia, 13 complaints were filed against Perdue with the State Ethics Commission, which on two occasions ruled that he had violated state ethics laws. The commission took the unusual step of fining Mr. Perdue while he was governor. Yet before he was done, Perdue pushed through a bill to give himself a $100,000 tax break.
Billionaire Betsy DeVos used her money to push charter schools in her home state of Michigan for more than 20 years. The result is that the state’s schools failed to keep pace with the academic progress of other states. Indeed, Michigan now ranks near the bottom for fourth- and eighth-grade math and fourth-grade reading on a national test. But in Trump’s mind, that somehow qualified her to become Secretary of Education – public education.
Trump’s original choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services was pushed out of office for spending roughly $1 million on charter jets when commercial flights were readily available. He repaid the department just $60,000 for the travel. But Trump adviser Kellyann Conway, who accompanied him on many of the flights, has not paid a dime. And Price’s replacement, Alex Azar, is accused of gaming the patent system for Eli Lilly’s Cialis by promoting its use for male children who suffer from a rare muscle-wasting disease. The product failed to help, but it allowed the patent to be extended for another six months and another billion dollars of profit.
As Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson ordered a dining table for his office at a price of $31,000. Worse, he is reversing the department’s efforts to enforce fair housing laws and sidelining those who are aggressively pursuing civil rights cases.
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and her family recently donated $40 million to the Harvard Business School to be used for a building that will bear their name. Interestingly, that the money was withdrawn from an account in an off-shore tax haven. That’s right, a long-time government employee, and the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is using an off-shore account to avoid paying taxes!
Not to be outdone, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, treats his job as though he’s either the CEO of a multinational company or royalty. He, too, has spent millions of taxpayers’ money on private charters when he could be flying coach. Worse, he has sold off public lands and national monuments to his friends in the fossil fuel industry. And he’s the one responsible for awarding a $300-million contract to a two-person start-up company in his home state to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid.
Finally, we come to the man who has become the symbol of the administration’s corruption – the Environmental Protection Agency’s Scott Pruitt. So far, Pruitt has demoted and pushed aside senior EPA officials and scientists who raised concerns about his direction for the agency and his spending habits. He took advantage of a sweetheart deal for a Washington condo co-owned by an energy lobbyist. He brought in two friends from Oklahoma as aides and gave them huge raises taken from a budget intended for environmental emergencies. He has a 24-hour security staff of at least 20 people that accompany him even on personal trips, such as a family trip to Disney World. Like other Trump appointees, he also misuses government planes and charter jets. And, when he does fly commercially, he travels first-class on taxpayer money.
Pruitt spent more than $25,000 on a secure, sound-proof phone booth. And it’s alleged that he uses phones other than his own to deal with some EPA matters so the calls won’t show up in his call log. Further, he has avoided the creation of written records of meetings in order to circumvent FOIA laws and to hide his actions.
Given the incompetence and corruption of Trump’s cabinet, we all should be asking ourselves: Is Trump trying to manage the government? Or is he actually trying to destroy it?