Trump has run what essentially has been a shameless kleptocracy; without question it is one of the most corrupt administrations in history. His own self-enrichment is notorious. He staffed regulatory agencies and departments with lobbyists and executives from special interests that they were tasked to regulate: a coal industry lobbyist to protect air and water, an oil lobbyist at the Interior Department, a Raytheon lobbyist at the Defense Department and so on.
Several of the grifters became notorious for personal despoliations — such as Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s $31,000 dining room set or ousted Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s $43,000 soundproof phone booth. Last year, ProPublica reported that 281 former lobbyists had been recruited into the Trump administration — one lobbyist for every 14 non-civil-service job openings, and four times more than Obama had hired during his first six years in office.
Even more cancerous, however, has been the brazen corruption of policy and contracting. Bob Murray, the head of Murray Energy Corporation, donated lavishly to the Trump campaign and the inaugural festivities, and then provided a wish list of regulatory rollbacks, many of which were then enacted. Mick Mulvaney, while acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, dropped charges and investigations against the same payday lenders — notorious for charging cash-strapped workers interest rates of 100 percent or more — who had supported his political career and held a four-day retreat at Trump’s Doral golf resort. Private prison company GEO Group, which operates prisons used to hold immigrants for the Department of Homeland Security, hired two former aides to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to lobby the AG to reverse President Barack Obama’s guidance moving the federal government away from for-profit prisons. When Sessions delivered, GEO’s stock doubled in value.
Not surprisingly, the U.S. ranking in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index has fallen annually, with the United States no longer among the 20 least-corrupt countries. As Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), whose constituents include many government employees, states: “Corruption is not a peripheral concern. It’s the very heart of what ails us. … We have to elevate the anti-corruption agenda to the top of our political program.”
What’s needed now is both a thorough airing of the rot — including criminal referrals where merited. Each House subcommittee should convene open hearings on the corruption of the agencies that they oversee. Subpoenas should be issued; sworn testimony required. Connections should be made between campaign contribution and corporate enrichment. The lobbyists circulating through the revolving door should be tracked, with their remuneration for services rendered detailed. This should lead to the passing of systemic reforms — on money in politics, conflicts of interest, transparency in contracting and individual accountability. The For the People Act — the democracy reform legislation that the House passed last session — could lead the way. If Senate Republicans stand with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — whose own fortune has benefited from his wife Elaine Chao’s position as secretary of Transportation, the fight should be a centerpiece of the 2022 elections.
Meeting the challenges Americans face — declining wages, rising insecurity, soaring costs of health care and education, mass unemployment, evictions and foreclosures, catastrophic climate change and more — will require an active government, staffed by respected public servants and freed from the debauchery and corruption that subvert the public trust. Now is finally the time to drain the swamp.
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