No sooner does one corruption scandal in the Trump administration surface than another pops up. It has gotten so bad that Republicans are actually taking some of them seriously.
The Rob Porter scandal has hung over the White House for a week, still with no coherent timeline released by the administration. The Post reported:
“The White House struggled Tuesday to contain a widening crisis over its handling of domestic violence allegations against a senior official, as it reeled after sworn testimony by the FBI chief directly contradicted what President Trump’s aides had presented as the official version of events. . . . The latest bout of turbulence is exacerbated by the administration’s reputation, earned over 13 chaotic months, for flouting institutional norms and misrepresenting facts to the public — a culture set by the president himself.”
Each time White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders or another Trump spokesman comes to the podium, one cannot expect to hear the truth, let alone the whole truth. Either because they do not have access (and accept nonsensical answers from the chief of staff), or because they are deliberately misleading the public, the press operation highlights the fundamental problem at the root of many scandals — there is no premium on honesty and no penalty for lying in this White House. Trump sets the pattern, and his underlings “perform” for him with the same disregard for truth. (An aside: Staffers who think they are supercharging their careers are deluding themselves, as most corporate and nonprofit entities do not want people who have cut their teeth in a dishonest and dysfunctional atmosphere. Seriously, what respectable corporation, foundation or big campaign will hire the people who time and again have misled the public?)
[Gowdy], the panel’s chairman, sent letters Wednesday to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly asking for information on what they knew about the allegations against Porter and when they knew it — an inquiry prompted by an apparent contradiction between the timeline offered by the White House and offered by Wray in congressional testimony on Tuesday.
“I have real questions about how someone like this could be considered for employment,” Gowdy said on CNN’s “New Day” on Wednesday, adding that “the chronology is not favorable for the White House.”
We will know he means business when he starts holding open hearings. “It is no secret that I have been extremely frustrated that our Committee has done nothing over the past year to address the completely dysfunctional security clearance system at the White House, despite my many requests,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee, said. “So I commend Chairman Gowdy for taking this preliminary step. But obviously — obviously — the credibility of this investigation will be judged by how thorough it is in obtaining documents and interviewing witnesses, and how bipartisan it is in its conclusions.”
Before we can get a handle on the last one, yet another scandal emerges. The Post reported:
Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin’s chief of staff doctored an email and made false statements to create a pretext for taxpayers to cover expenses for the secretary’s wife on a 10-day trip to Europe last summer, the agency’s inspector general has found.
Vivieca Wright Simpson, VA’s third-most-senior official, altered language in an email from an aide coordinating the trip to make it appear that Shulkin was receiving an award from the Danish government, then used the award to justify paying for his wife’s travel, Inspector General Michael J. Missal said in a report released Wednesday. VA paid more than $4,300 for her airfare.
One Republican, Rep. Mike Coffman (Colo.), has already called on Shulkin to resign.
Several points deserve emphasis: First, scandals are endemic because the president sets the tone and the standards for his administration. If Trump’s subordinates see conflicts of interest, self-enrichment, lying, abusive language, contempt for the press and lack of transparency they will act similarly. Second, Republicans still have not challenged the most appalling and obvious ethics concerns — Trump’s retention of his businesses, the myriad conflicts of interest and his receipt of foreign emoluments. Third, Democrats are sure to use the “culture of corruption” argument during November’s midterm elections — making the case that Republicans are shrugging off financial conflicts or refusing to take seriously the Russia investigation (even helping the president spread lies and smear the FBI), and that they have utterly failed to perform their constitutional duties. Democrats will argue that if the public wants corruption, chaos and conflicts to end, or to get to the bottom of the Russia scandal, the GOP majorities must go. (Even Republicans who like Trump may see the wisdom in restraining and curbing him to end the nonstop scandals.) Finally, when the president denies wrongdoing or cries “fake news,” fewer and fewer people believe him. With each scandal, his practically nonexistent credibility continues to evaporate. The well will soon be dry.
Anyone who thinks Trump has “gotten away” with his financial, political and moral misdeeds has not been paying attention. His presidency is floundering. The first concrete reflection of that may well come in the midterms.