For those who know something about American political history, or are old enough to remember, that name is synonymous with scandal. As President Dwight Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Adams accepted a gift of a llama’s-wool coat from a textile manufacturer under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission. Even though Eisenhower depended heavily on Adams, the president relented to his firing in 1958. It was a really big deal, making blazing headlines across the nation.
A lot has happened in the 60 years since then. Today, we have a presidential administration filled with corruption by officials whose boss may be more corrupt than all of them combined. At the moment, President Trump’s pick for Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, is deeply embroiled in financial scandal, yet is supported by Trump.
Why? Because both are deniers of man-caused climate change, and Pruitt is embarked on doing his boss’ bidding in tearing up the environmental regulations put in place under the Obama administration.
What corruption has Pruitt been accused of? It’s far from nitpicking, as Republican (what else) Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota labeled it Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. As National Public Radio reported today, it includes: requesting a large security detail (even when on personal travel to Disneyland); flying first class on the taxpayers’ dime (though flying coach when he was paying); renting a room in Washington from the wife of a lobbyist for $50 a night, far below the market price; providing pay raises to aides close to him after the White House apparently rejected the hikes; using an EPA staffer to help him search for housing on weekends; and firing the head of his security detail, who objected to using sirens to get Pruitt through traffic to a dinner engagement.
As a pundit said of Pruitt last week on MSNBC, in what might be regarded as an understatement, “He seems to have a sense of entitlement.”
Excuse me, Senator Rounds, but are you sure it wasn’t the gifting of a coat to Sherman Adams you were thinking of when you spoke of nitpicking?
During his campaign for the presidency, Trump trumpeted, “We’re going to end the government corruption campaign, and we’re going to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.” He labeled Hillary Clinton “the most corrupt person to ever run for the presidency.”
But it appears that the new president has drained the swamp of turtles and replaced them with alligators.
As far back as November, a piece in Newsweek observed, “Now, a year after the election—and more than a year after Trump first made that pledge to the American people—many observers believe the swamp has grown into a sinkhole that threatens to swallow the entire Trump administration. The number of White House officials currently facing questions, lawsuits or investigation is astonishing.”
The news magazine noted that Trump’s national security adviser, the since-fired Michael T. Flynn, was indicted on money laundering charges in late October for undisclosed lobbying work done on behalf of the Turkish government. Remember him — the “Lock ‘er up” guy? He’s currently trying to avoid getting locked up.
Paul J. Manafort, the second Trump campaign manager, was indicted on money laundering charges in late October. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and consigliere, was accused of failing to disclose $1 billion in loans tied to his real-estate company. And at least six Cabinet heads were being investigated for or asked about exorbitant travel expenses, security details or business dealings.
Tom Price, secretary of health and human services, resigned in September 2017 over his use of private jets for government travel. He took as many as 26 chartered planes during his short tenure, spending about $1 million of taxpayer money on both the domestic trips and military flights to Africa, Asia and Europe.
The Great Emolumenter
Trump himself was being sued for violating the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution by running his Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. (To that, we now can add the profits his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach makes from industry big-wigs attending various functions.)
Most recent was the firing of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin for allegedly doctoring e-mails to justify bringing his wife along on a European trip, which was mostly a vacation, at taxpayers’ expense.
And then there is the long list of other Trump administration officials who have resigned, been reassigned, or fired. In March, ABC News put the figure at 34 percent of the total during the first year. During Obama’s first year in office, there was a 9 percent turn-over rate, and 11 percent in the Clinton administration.
Newsweek quoted Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor, as saying of Trump, “The most corrupt presidency and administration we’ve ever had.” Teachout authored a book titled Corruption in America: From Ben Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United.
The magazine further quoted presidential historian Robert Dallek: “‘No American leader has acted with more unadulterated self-interest as Trump.’” ‘In terms of outright corruption,’ Newsweek said in paraphrasing Dallek, ‘Trump is worse than both Ulysses S. Grant and Warren G. Harding, presidents who oversaw the most flagrant instances of graft in American political history. In both cases, the fault of the president was in his lack of oversight.’
“‘What makes this different,’” Dallek is quoted as saying, “‘is that Trump isn’t just allowing corruption, but encouraging it.’”
Said Dallek, “‘The fish rots from the head.’”
In the midst of all this, Trump’s approval rating is rising.
So which is it: Is the big fish contaminating the body politic, or was the body politic already decomposing?
Or are they simply simpatico?