Tag Archives: Corruption

The Art Thief

Originally posted on September 9, 2020

In a small but instructive incident, Trump again exposes how little regard he has for anyone or anything else. The diplomatic residence in Paris has quite the art collection. When Trump was there (the WWI cemetery no-show incident) he took a fancy to some of it. The result is sadly hardly surprising. Here’s the main paragraph from The Art Newspaper.

“Trump fancied for himself several of the pieces in the ambassador’s historic residence in Paris, where he was staying and which serves as the flagship for the State Department’s “Art in Embassies” cultural programme. Without notifying the ambassador, Jamie McCourt, the president and author of The Art of the Deal had a portrait and bust of Benjamin Franklin and a set of silver figurines depicting Greek mythological characters loaded onto Air Force One to bring them back to the White House. A bureaucratic nightmare ensued for the State Department and White House staffers, who worried that the $750,000 cache of art might not be legally transferable. Meanwhile, a flummoxed McCourt was told that she would receive the work back in six years—or 2024, when a second term of Trump’s presidency would theoretically end.”

He didn’t even bother telling the ambassador about it. What a creep! In a small irony the art objects he took were actually copies. Still, they were nice copies and worth quite a bit.


Originally posted on August 20, 2020

Earlier today Steve Bannon, the architect of Trump’s victorious 2016 campaign, was arrested. He is accused, along with 3 others, of siphoning money from a GoFundMe campaign that collected about $25M to build the wall with Mexico. When arrested he was on the superyacht of a Chinese fugitive billionaire, living the good life. Pretty strange for a man who purports to be a populist.

Of course, it could be that Bannon is a fraud, milking the populist teat for as much money as he can. His type does seem common in Trump’s orbit. He is now the seventh significant member of Trump’s campaign to face legal problems: Stone, Manafort, Flynn, Cohen, Gates, Papadopoulos all preceded him.

Biden’s campaign had a nice comment on the arrest: “No one needed a federal indictment to know that Steve Bannon was a fraudDonald Trump has run the most corrupt administration in American history. He has consistently used his office to enrich himself, his family and his cronies. Is it really a surprise that another one of the grifters he’s surrounded himself with and placed in the highest levels of government was just indicted? Sadly, it is not. The American people deserve better.”

Golf, Anyone?

Originally posted on July 22, 2020

A story came out in the New York Times and The Week about Trump asking his ambassador to Britain, Robert Wood Johnson IV, to see if he could get the British government to help get the British Open golf tournament moved to a golf course Trump owned, Turnberry. It never came to fruition but in addition to showing Trump’s utter contempt for ethics rules it did leave some wreckage.

Johnson is, like a lot of ambassadors, a political appointee. He is a businessman and a major donor to republican circles. His deputy, Lewis Lukens, a career diplomat, aware of the ethical problems, urged him not to do it. Apparently Johnson did make some overtures to David Mundell, who was the Secretary of State for Scotland, but it never got very far.

At the time Lukens reported the problem up the State Department chain, but apparently those reports were never acted upon. Lukens himself was dismissed from his position several months later after having the temerity to praise Obama in a speech he gave.

There are two patterns at work here, both of them are seriously damaging to the interests of the U.S. First is the obvious attempt at corruption. While moving the Open to a Trump-owned golf course may not be such an earth-shattering deal, that sort of corruption eats away at the sense of trust that is necessary for any democracy to function. Second is Trump’s efforts to hollow out the diplomatic corps and install his own sycophants. Here’s a more detailed account of Lukens dismissal along with a broader accounting of Trump’s actions.

Oh, and while we’re on golf, I came across a New York Times scoreboard of how many times Trump has visited one of his properties, no doubt incurring some taxpayer-supported expenses for security, lodging etc. As I recall, Trump criticized Obama for playing golf. This appears to be one more case of projection, as Trump has played golf far more often than Obama ever did, and has spent far more of our money doing so. And, unlike Obama, he personally profits from his golfing.


Originally posted on July 20, 2020

Goya is a large producer of Hispanic-related food items, like beans. On July 9, 2020, Goya CEO Robert Unanue appeared at the White House and praised the president. This resulted in Trump’s critics calling to boycott the Goya brand and an inevitable push by his supporters to buy Goya products.

No big deal, so far. But then Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter who works for the White House as a senior advisor, tweets about it.

Not to be outdone, Trump follows up with his own promotion.

trump goya

How many ways is this kind of behavior just wrong? Certainly it is illegal for any federal employee – and that’s what this pair is, after all – to use their position to promote private interests. This is totally corrupt with not even a hint of trying to hide it.

Send in the Troops

Originally posted on July 19, 2020

Earlier I posted on the actions of federal troops in Portland Oregon. More recently I came across the Executive Order that Trump issued on June 26, 2020 to authorize these troops, and not just for Portland. Most of it is legal justifications but there was some of it that struck me as nakedly political and aimed at Trump’s base. Below are the passages I found bothersome along with some of my own thoughts.

Many of the rioters, arsonists, and left-wing extremists who have carried out and supported these acts have explicitly identified themselves with ideologies — such as Marxism — that call for the destruction of the United States system of government. And how does Trump know this? From what I’ve seen, many (or maybe most) of those actually arrested are right-wing agitators seeking to discredit the BLM movement.

Anarchists and left-wing extremists have sought to advance a fringe ideology that paints the United States of America as fundamentally unjust and have sought to impose that ideology on Americans through violence and mob intimidation. Again, how does Trump know this? I’d bet that if you polled Americans you’d find a fair number, maybe even a majority, who would agree that America is “fundamentally unjust”.

Christian figures are now in the crosshairs, too. Recently, an influential activist for one movement that has been prominent in setting the agenda for demonstrations in recent weeks declared that many existing religious depictions of Jesus and the Holy Family should be purged from our places of worship. I tried for quite some time to see if anyone had identified the unnamed “influential activist”, without success. For all we know, Trump was watching some right-wind web conspiracy-minded web site and picked it up from there. This is nothing more than an appeal to the evangelicals, and very possibly based on a lie.

Worse, they apparently have lost the will or the desire to stand up to the radical fringe and defend the fundamental truth that America is good, her people are virtuous, and that justice prevails in this country to a far greater extent than anywhere else in the world. How many Americans would agree that “justice prevails in this country to a far greater extend than anywhere else in the world”? Again, I suspect a fair number would not, and not just U.S. citizens. As examples, the map below shows the corruption ranking from Transparency International. Note that the U.S. is light green and there are two darker shades of green, mostly in Europe, where the corruption is lower than the U.S.

Or take a look at Reporters Without Borders and their ranking of press freedoms. The U.S. ranks 45 out of 180.

The Wallace Interview

Originally posted on July 19, 2020

Several days ago Chris Wallace of Fox News interviewed Trump for over an hour. The interview aired this morning, Sunday the 19th, and immediately caused quite the stir. You can watch the entire thing or clips if you subscribe to Fox and can stand it, or you can get the “4-minute” highlights and a lot of commentary here at the Washington Post.

There were any number of things that Trump said during the interview that were either wrong or problematical.

  • He wasn’t sure if he would accept the results of the November election. Really? I didn’t know he had a choice. But it is pretty easy to see where he could declare there was fraud and he and Barr would use the levers available to see if a loss could be overturned.
  • He reiterated his ongoing claim that the U.S. doesn’t have so many covid-19 cases as other places, blaming the high numbers on the high numbers of tests (that aren’t really that high) we’ve done. Wallace tried to correct him, but either he is too corrupt or too stupid to understand.
  • He dismissed the serious consequences to some people who get the virus, like kids with sniffles.
  • He gave tacit approval to those who display the Confederate flag.
  • He accused the “cancel culture” of wanting to change history, in this case by focusing on the year 1619. I don’t think they are trying to forget 1492; rather they are trying to make sure we don’t forget 1619. I doubt Trump even knew the significance of the date – when the first slaves were brought in.
  • Schools have to open. We’d all agree that having schools closed in not good, but at what cost? Trump doesn’t seem to care about the very real consequences of opening schools without the preconditions to make it safe for everyone involved.
  • Where did he find out that schools are “teaching our children to hate America?” No answer, of course, because schools don’t. But Trump “watches” and “reads”. Really?
  • He claims Biden wants to defund the police. Actually, he doesn’t.
  • All the polls are fake.
  • Trump claims medical preconditions will be taken care of, 100%, in some unspecified new plan that he’ll release in the next couple of weeks. We’ve been waiting for over 3 years for an actual plan, as Wallace mentions, and we’re still waiting. Trump’s answer, involving the DACA dreamers, was nonsensical.

As for Trump not accepting the results of the November election, Biden’s campaign had a nice reply: “The American people will decide this election,” Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said. “And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”

Campaign Grifting

Originally posted on July 18, 2020

It seems that wherever there is money being moved around Trump and his family are there to siphon some of it off into their own pockets. Political campaigns, especially presidential ones, have a large amount of money that fairly quickly goes through the campaign’s coffers, offering numerous opportunities for personal profit. And according to Trump’s sense of morality, he’d have to be some sort of stupid to pass up the opportunity, right?

There was an opinion piece in the Washington Post that recounted some of the ways campaign cash is being diverted into Trump’s pockets. The piece was in turn based on reporting by the Center for Responsible Politics entitled All the President’s Profiting

From the WaPo article: “During this election cycle, the center reports, the president’s campaign and its related committees have steered $2.6 million of their donors’ money to Trump’s family-owned properties and businesses. The Republican Party has spent nearly $1 million as well, and GOP candidates, elected officials and their political action committees have spent another $391,000.”

Some examples include:

  • $380,000 paid to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago for “rental/catering services”. Apparently for a “donor retreat”. What stood out for me was the mention that the bill had to be split into 43 payments, since they couldn’t do more than $10,000 in a single payment. Really? I’m guessing that limit has a lot to do with the IRS’s requirement that every deposit of more than $10,000 needs to be reported.
  • $37,000 per month in rental payments to Trump’s Tower in NYC, even though the campaign’s HQ’s are in DC.
  • The list of 705 entries where some political campaign has spent money at a Trump property. As just one random sample, Christian F Acosta for Congress spent $19,764 at Trump’s National Golf Club in West Palm Beach, FL.

I think I remember Trump promising to “drain the swamp”. His ability to effortlessly project his own avarice is quite amazing.

Who’s Pendley?

Originally posted on July 17, 2020

William Perry Pendley is not a household name. He currently heads the BLM – the federal Bureau of Land Management. That bureau is responsible for the management of some 247 million acres of publicly-owned land, almost all of it in the western states.

Pendley’s history at the BLM is contentious, and not just because of any policies, although those are contentious enough. Normally the director of the BLM is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. However, in Trump’s chaotic administration finding competent and non-controversial candidates who would work for Trump is apparently fairly difficult So lots of positions are filled with “acting” administrators and the faces seem to change rather quickly.

The Department of the Interior (where the BLM resides) seems to have had significant problems finding able administrators. In what is to me a remarkable document, the Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt (who was also an acting Secretary until shortly before he issued the remarkable document, replacing Ryan Zinke a few months earlier, whew!) named seven (7!) positions that normally needed Senate confirmation that remained unfilled. He went ahead and didn’t really actually name people to those positions; rather he delegated their responsibilities. Pendley was “c” in the below list. So he was never even nominated, let alone confirmed. Here’s the gist of the remarkable document:

The purpose of this Order is to temporarily redelegate authority for the following vacant non-career Presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed positions for which there is no Principal Deputy that would automatically become acting by operation of law:

  • a. Deputy Secretary
  • b. Solicitor
  • c. Director, Bureau of Land Management
  • d. Special Trustee for American Indians
  • e. Director, National Park Service
  • f. Director, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement
  • g. Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

OK, so he isn’t entirely legit. What about his policies? One can have legitimate disagreements about the use and scale of federally-owned lands. Pendley advocates selling federal lands to various private interests, a position that doesn’t sit well with most Americans; at least most Americans who don’t stand to profit from those sales. Aside from that general policy, he has some views that are remarkably consistent with Trump’s – that is, racist and bigoted.

So why is he in the news now? Well, Trump just nominated him for the director’s job. Finally. Nobody can say why, especially so close to the election. What this nomination really does is put a number of western Senators in a real bind. If they support him they piss off all their constituents who don’t want to potentially lose access to a large part of their state. If they don’t they piss off the Trump true believers. Politico calls this an “unforced error” and it seems that Trump is making more and more of them these days.

Pardon Me?

Originally posted on July 12, 2020

As part of my research into the Roger Stone pardon I chanced upon a more complete listing of Trump’s pardons. In what should be no surprise, Trump’s use of his pardoning powers has been unprecedented for at least three reasons.

The first of these is the relatively few pardons he has (at least, so far) given – a total of 36. Obama gave 963, Bush 100, and Clinton 229. You’d have to go back to Washington and Adams to find presidents who have given fewer. Perhaps on his last day in office he’ll issue some more.

The second is that all other presidents have generally gone through the Department of Justice’s Pardon Attorney, who reviews cases and makes recommendations. The president isn’t required to do so – his power to pardon or commute is absolute and guaranteed by the constitution. Exceptions tend to be controversial though, like Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich. Of Trumps’ 36 pardons/commutations, only 5 have apparently gone through this office, and all 5 of them were done on the same day. No other president has a ratio even close to this low.

Third, and in what should be no surprise, the remaining 31 of Trumps pardons/commutations, the ones not reviewed by the pardon attorney, involve people who had some connection to Trump himself or to his sense of self-importance. In the listing referenced above they used the following 4 criteria:

  • Did it advance a clear political goal of the president?
  • Did the person who was pardoned have a personal connection to Trump or someone Trump knows well?
  • Was the person who was pardoned brought to the President’s attention by television or a television commentator?
  • Was the pardon based on Trump’s admiration for celebrity?

They also referenced a chart that details all 36. Here’s a pdf backup.

Roger Stone

Originally posted on July 11, 2020

Roger Stone is a long-time dirty trickster who most recently helped Trump win in 2016 by, among other things, coordinating the Wikileaks’ release of the Podesta and Clinton emails. Robert Mueller investigated him as part of the investigation into Russian interference in Trump’s 2016 election victory. He lied and threatened other witnesses and was convicted on all charges in November 2019 and sentenced to prison.

This treatment of a loyal ally has always rubbed Trump the wrong way. More recently he’s been tweeting about it, i.e.

So, late last Friday night (when it would be least noticed) Trump commuted Stone’s prison sentence. Notice that he didn’t pardon Stone. So Stone is still a convicted seven-time felon. The difference? If Trump had pardoned Stone, then Stone could be compelled to testify against Trump at the risk of being held in contempt of court – after all, the only reason you can not answer questions is self-incrimination, and if you’ve been pardoned that’s no longer applicable. And Stone has made comments that indicate he has a lot more information that he has so far refused to reveal. And Trump has rewarded him for his loyalty. This is apparently what Trump means by “law and order”. My ass.

Reaction was swift and almost universally condemned the commutation. Most interesting was Robert Mueller, who has largely been silent as Trump and Barr have worked to undo most of the convictions he obtained. No longer. Here’s the paragraph that stood out to me.

Congress also investigated and sought information from Stone. A jury later determined he lied repeatedly to members of Congress. He lied about the identity of his intermediary to WikiLeaks. He lied about the existence of written communications with his intermediary. He lied by denying he had communicated with the Trump campaign about the timing of WikiLeaks’ releases. He in fact updated senior campaign officials repeatedly about WikiLeaks. And he tampered with a witness, imploring him to stonewall Congress.

And Stone is not the first Trump associate to benefit from Trump’s sense of law and order. He and Barr have also interfered in the Flynn case. Trump is also the first president to pardon a murderer.

We all know that Trump only considers himself and his approach to “law and order” should be understood in that light. If the law is on his side, it’s legal; if not, it’s illegal.