Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and national security adviser Michael Flynn (who later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and cooperated with the special counsel) were all forced to leave the Trump administration under a cloud of suspected corruption or other wrongdoing. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke might soon join them.
The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General has referred one of its probes into the conduct of Secretary Ryan Zinke to the Justice Department for further investigation, according to two individuals familiar with the matter.
Deputy Inspector General Mary L. Kendall, who is serving as acting inspector general, is conducting at least three probes that involve Zinke. These include his involvement in a Montana land deal and the decision not to grant two tribes approval to operate a casino in Connecticut. The individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly, did not specify which inquiry had been referred to the Justice Department.
This follows release of the Inspector General’s report this month implicating Zinke’s wife in potential violations of travel rules. Zinke also “confirmed to investigators that he had directed his staff to research the possibility of giving his wife a volunteer job at Interior, a move that one ethics official objected to on the grounds that it was designed so that Zinke wouldn’t ‘have to pay’ for his wife’s travel.” Other instances of wrongdoing (e.g. sending a $25,000 security detail to accompany Zinke on vacation, inviting fundraisers on an official trip) are also alleged.
You would have thought that the House or Senate would have been on this long ago — subpoenaing documents, calling witnesses and holding hearings. But no. Neither house has behaved responsibly with regard to any of the alleged instances of corruption among high-level officials (Pruitt left before Republicans issued a single subpoena), nor have Republicans looked into the mishandling of security clearances, massive conflicts of interest for President Trump and his son-in-law (including receipt of foreign monies that might violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause) or other instances of possible wrongdoing.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, for example, “has mixed government business and his own business in multiple ways. He held on to investments — and then appears to have lied to government ethics officials about those investments,” David Leonhardt and Ian Prasad Philbrick recounted in the New York Times. “He shorted the stock of a company about which he appeared to have advance notice of bad news. He also met with the chief executive of Chevron, even though his wife owned a substantial investment.” Any congressional hearings on Ross? Nope.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long narrowly avoided a criminal referral by settling claims of repeated misuse of government cars and staff in traveling to and from his home. He was forced to repay the taxpayers but was allowed to keep his job. Any congressional oversight on this one? Please.
Trump set the tone for his administration at the onset by refusing to release his tax returns and to divest himself of businesses. He employed his daughter and son-in-law (who has his own potential conflicts), gave the latter huge responsibility beyond his capabilities and has enriched himself in office through, among other things, foreign governments and U.S. officials spending money at his properties. He is now alleged to have intervened in the decision not to move the FBI out of downtown Washington, which would have affected his hotel. (Its lease seemed to disallow any government official — which would include Trump — from profiting from the venture.) Things are so bad that the public cannot tell if the administration’s spinelessness over the killing of Post Global Opinions columnist Jamal Khashoggi is the result of Trump’s financial considerations or is simply a function of incoherent, misguided policy.
With a president blatantly enriching himself and top aides allegedly violating the Hatch Act multiple times (by hawking private activities or politicking while on the job), one could hardly expect subordinates to behave any better. The “best” people, that is the most ethical people, generally don’t work for a president whose legal and ethical problems dwarf those of our most corrupt presidents.
None of this would have been permitted to continue had the GOP-led House or Senate done its job. Republicans, however, decided that getting Supreme Court judges and a tax cut for the wealthy was enough to buy their loyalty and deter them from exercising oversight. Too fearful to take on the president, they decided against upholding their constitutional oaths as members of a coequal branch of government.
Executive branch members such as Zinke might face termination or prosecution. Trump might find himself in legal hot water for his business dealings and/or his conduct in office (e.g. obstruction of justice, conspiracy to violate campaign laws). With members of Congress (two of whom have been indicted but remain in office) the solution is more straightforward: Vote them out next week.