President Donald Trump has not released his tax returns, has not divested from his business, has not avoided the pitfalls of nepotism, has not required Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to divest from their business, has not refrained from promoting his businesses, has not leaned on his sons to avoid the impression of influence-peddling and has been slow to act, if he acts at all, when it comes to his underlings abuse of air travel, and conflicts of interest.
Early in the administration, both counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were slapped on the wrist for promoting private ventures (Ivanka’s clothing line and the Lego Batman movie, respectively). More recently, Kushner arguably violated the Hatch Act in praising, from his government perch, Trump’s 2020 campaign manager.
It should surprise absolutely no one that Conway now has been cited — by Trump’s handpicked ethics chief — for violating the Hatch Act. The Post reports:
“Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to President Trump, violated federal law on two occasions by making public comments supportive of one candidate and against another ahead of a special Senate election in Alabama last year, a federal investigator said Tuesday.
“The remarks, in a pair of televised interviews, amounted to a violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits public employees from using their official capacity to conduct political activity, special counsel Henry J. Kerner said in a report.
“The White House on Tuesday rejected the findings, saying Conway was only reflecting the president’s views when she spoke against Doug Jones, the Democrat running for the Senate seat, and in favor of Roy Moore, the Republican candidate. Jones ultimately won the seat.”
This excuse makes no sense since Trump wanted Jones to lose. In other words, she was acting as Trump’s political mouthpiece. Deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley was dispensed to mislead the public, but his excuses don’t pass the smell test. He claimed that “Kellyanne Conway did not advocate for or against the election of any particular candidate.” That is simply false. About Jones, Conway said at the time that “he’ll be a vote against tax cuts. He’s weak on crime, weak on borders. He’s strong on raising your taxes. He’s terrible for property owners.”
If that is not advocacy, I do not know what is. Gidley also insisted that “statements actually show her intention and desire to comply with the Hatch Act.” That’s preposterous. When she said of Jones, “He’ll be a reliable vote against border security. He’ll be a reliable vote against national security and keeping ISIS, and he’ll be a reliable vote against the Second Amendment, against life,” that surely violated the prohibition on electioneering. The fact that she did not say the words “endorse” or say “Alabamans go vote for Roy Moore” is immaterial.
“Make no mistake about it, if Trump does not fire Kellyanne Conway after THREE Hatch Act violations another redline will be crossed,” tweeted Norm Eisen, a former White House ethics counsel during the Obama administration. “He will be saying breaking the law does not matter — I will pardon away any sins.” Eisen added: “Well, it does matter, and the American people will not tolerate it.” Richard Painter, who was George W. Bush’s ethics counsel, weighed in as well. “In any other White House, a single major ethics violation would result in dismissal,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is her third, and all three within the same year. She needs to go.” But we surely know she won’t—at least not for this.
The expectation of compliance with the law and concern about the appearance of impropriety are entirely absent from this administration for one very simple reason: Trump has set the standard and the example. Don’t bother with the rules. If caught, just make up stuff.
Eisen and other ethics gurus warned before the president even took office that his failure to reject foreign emoluments and his retention of business would create myriad ethics violations and set an abysmal standard for the entire executive branch. They could not have been more accurate.
The brazenness with which this administration tramples rules designed to prevent both corruption and the misuse of taxpayers’ money for personal or political purposes should not surprise, but it should draw our condemnation. Congress has encouraged this lawlessness by failing in its fundamental duty of oversight and in failing to beef up ethics rules.
Going forward, no president should be able to withhold release of his tax returns, or maintain control of active businesses. No president should allow his unqualified family members to hold high government posts — especially when they cannot even qualify for a security clearance. No president should be allowed to enrich himself while in office. (It is bad enough that they do it after they leave office.)
In the November midterms, Democrats surely will run against this culture of corruption, which has been aided and abetted by congressional Republicans who believe their highest obligation is to Trump instead of the Constitution.