EXPOSING AND DEALING WITH SERIOUS NATIONAL SECURITY AND CONFLICT OF INTEREST ISSUES: THE INCREASED NEED FOR WATCHDOG ORGANIZATIONS
There has never been a time in modern history like this one. For the first time in history for many of us, we are confronted with the almost certain clear and present national security risks associated with links between Russia and the White House. We have
- documented Russian interference with our presidential election, perhaps favoring one candidate
- the highest ranking National Security head, Flynn, discussing US sanctions of Russia and promising to “take care of it” after the Trump administration was installed. Flynn had extremely close ties to Russia, was employed at one time by the Russian TV station and was still deemed to be a good choice to lead our national security effort, until pressured Trump to fire him.
- a Secretary of State who has extensive ties to Russia and the oil industry
- members of the Trump election staff with deep, and likely undisclosed, ties to Russia
- a president who may have extensive links, maybe business dealings, with Russia and Vladimir Putin.
- a president who openly degrades the American national security organizations, publicly doubts their findings about Russian interference and is constantly praising Russia and Putin
In other times, we could predictably expect our Congress to investigate these threats, we could rely on our national security professionals to be led by people who did not have ties to Russia and we could rely on their expertise, knowledge and ability to be brought to bear to get to the truth. Not now. Our Republican-led Congress has shown no outrage and very little concern. A few Republicans – Ben Sasse, Lindsey Graham, and John McCain – have been vocal in addressing the seriousness of the threats.
But, notably, the leaders of the Republican Party, Mitch McConnell the Majority Leader of the Senate and Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House have not voiced any concern. Instead they praise the Trump administration and speak as if there is no threat, no need for investigation and they downplay the veracity of the national security team findings. We cannot rely on Republicans to take the lead in protecting the American people from this clear and present danger.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
There are very similar concerns with regard to conflict of interest. These are not trivial issues. Below are a few of the major red flags regarding the president. There is significant potential for cronyism and corruption, both domestically and internationally. There is also a dangerous disregard for civility, institutions, a free press, norms of professional, and ethical behavior.
- The president has not disclosed his tax returns so the American public has no idea what ties he has, who he owes, and what conflicts of interest he has
- The president has not divested himself of his businesses or put them in a blind trust, only put his sons in charge, so he is still in full control of an international business
- The president has ignored all ethics related to nepotism and has installed his son-in-law, daughter as playing some role in the White House. Jared Kushner’s lack of experience is particularly egregious and dangerous. The president’s family has no experience
- The president’s daughter is closely linked to the Murdochs, the family that owns Fox News and other medial outlets
- The president has a pattern of unscrupulous business practices over a long period of time including housing discrimination, non payment of contractors, multiple bankruptcies leaving creditors unpaid and multiple lawsuits
- The president was successfully sued by the government regarding the operations of Trump University agreeing to a 25M out of court settlement to be paid to the students
- The president is ignoring a very clear law that indicates that he cannot profit from the hotel he owns in Washington DC, although the General Services agency has found a loophole
- The president was recently found to be lying to a South Carolina local government with the intent to evade paying for the environmental cleanup on property that was owned by a son at one time
- Many more instances demonstrating a pattern of unethical practices
The choices for White House staff and the Cabinet nominees raise similar conflict of interest issues. The president campaigned on a promise to “drain the swamp” with the implication that he was an outsider and would rid Washington DC and the Federal government of the influence of Wall Street on the government. It now appears that “drain the swamp” means assembling a Cabinet that is uniformly hostile to how agencies have been operating, eliminating as much regulation as possible and rolling back the last eight years of governing.
Almost all of the Cabinet members have extensive conflict of interests and tangled financial arrangements. The existence of these conflicts do not appear to be problematic for Congressional Republicans or for Trump supporters. The hypocrisy and irony is not lost. Trump criticized his opponent for giving speeches at Goldman Sachs and accused her of being in Wall Street’s back pocket as if to indicate that being friendly with Goldman Sachs was the route to cronyism, money influencing government and leading to massive corruption.
Since the election, the president has packed his Cabinet nominees with Wall Street and other financial players. This is a good example of creating a team that will try to achieve the goal of repealing many regulations directed at Wall Street, laws that were developed in response to prevent a recession from occurring again, as it did in 2009. These widespread, deep and serious conflict of interest with many in the Trump administration and the lack of regard for conventional ethics and existing laws are cause for great concern. It is wise for us to be extremely wary of motives and skeptical of the information or explanations that are coming from this administration.
For these two major reasons, the role of watchdog organizations, has grown tremendously. They have become central to the tasks of identifying problems, providing information about national security and domestic issues where the conflicts of interest appear. Many of these organizations have been operating for years and have extensive background and historical information. This depth makes it easy for them to identify patterns and quickly spot wrongdoing.