Mother Jones: We Asked Ethics Experts About Trump’s Worst Abuses During His First Year In Office
No president in modern history has run roughshod over the laws, guidelines, and norms of running an ethical and transparent administration like Donald Trump. He’s refused to divest any of his business holdings or meaningfully separate himself from his company. He’s visited (and so promoted) his private properties and golf courses at a breathtaking clip: Of his first 362 days in office, Trump spent one-third of them—121 days—at a Trump property, according to NBC News. His business has cashed in on his presidency by hiking membership fees and peddling access. His aides have promoted Trump family properties and products. A year in, it is fair to describe the Trump administration’s approach to clean, ethical government as, well, nonexistent. Experts in clean government, ethics, anti-corruption, and transparency who have tracked the administration describe what they see as Trump’s most egregious ethical failings from his first year in office.
I am going to pick a Trump declaration, which explains much of what has followed. Setting the tone for his future behavior, in November of 2016, Trump announced, “The law’s totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” The fact that the president is exempt from some conflict-of-interest laws does not mean that he can’t have a conflict. It just means that certain presidential conflicts are not against the law. That is why previous presidents in recent years have acted in conformance with the laws, even if they were exempted. This statement by Trump reflected his disdain for, and lack of, ethical norms. This was followed by his press conference in January of 2017, where he refused to divest himself from his businesses but claimed he would put them in a “trust” to be run by his sons to avoid the appearance of using his office for personal gain. But it later came out it was a revocable trust and he was still getting reports on the businesses and he could claim the profits. Against this background, he has routinely used the presidency to promote his Washington hotel, Mar-a-Lago resort, and golf courses. In one sense, Trump is correct—he does not have any conflict of interest, as his only interest is self-interest.