Ethics and Our White House
One of the great media myths that has followed the Trump presidency is that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were going to be “moderating” forces in the White House, tempering the Toddler-in-Chief’s behavior, Twittering, etc. It’s June 4th and we’re still waiting for those “moderating” forces to kick in. Of course they won’t because this notion of Ivanka and Jared being more level-headed or rationale than this man-child President is “fake news” at its most extreme. That Kushner is now part of the whole Russian brouhaha and Ivanka has been a ghost for several months speaks, in some part, to their “influence” on the “Covfefe”–in-Chief. Imbedded in the Kushner couple presence, too, are a gaggle of ethics problems that are not receiving as much attention as they probably should (because there are so many other spectacular headlines every day in both the real and “fake” news).
You may have missed, for example, that White House “special advisor” Ivanka recently received four new trademarks in China so that her “brand” (Ivanka Trump Marks) can now sell jewelry, watches, wedding dresses, and electronic devices in the world’s most populous nation. At the same time, the President himself received a new trademark in China allowing his “brand” to provide catering services! (The man who railed against the Chinese throughout the campaign is now, officially, going to cater to them! You have to love that irony) While we have been assured that none of this is profiting the First Family while they are in office no one at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has divested themselves in any way, shape, or form from their businesses in any appreciable manner. Maybe it’s not a big enough story, maybe the news outlets have simply given up on all this, but the level of potential corruption is at an all time high. If we slide over to the Kushner side of the household we already know Jared sister’s is hawking visas in China for $500, 000 a pop and unabashedly using Trump's name and her brother's position as the lever in her snake oil sales. And then, of course, there’s the Princeling himself, the beloved Jared, the man whose voice we have yet to hear, the handsome Zelig in the background of every picture with our Bloated-in-Chief.
I find it interesting that Jared Kushner had, until very recently, been given such an all-access pass by the media. Was it because he never spoke in public? Or because he has a kind of Tom Bradyesque sheen to his cute/handsome looks? Whatever the case, and for anyone interested, the young Kushner is cut from the same cloth as his father-in-law: he is a real-estate-inherited-wealth scion who even bought a newspaper (the New York Observer) and was stunned when he learned he couldn’t use it against real estate rivals for political purposes/revenge. (He is known to loathe reporters and the press, btw, particularly b/c of the reporting on his father’s arrest, trial, and conviction for tax evasion, witness tampering, and illegal campaign contributions! That's the ethical tree this young apple fell off.) Of course, our Incompetent-in-Chief has reneged on his “I, alone, can fix it” promise by appointing young Jared “Secretary of Everything.” (he has at least a dozen different “assignments”) when, of course, the young man has NO experience in government of any sort. And now we have the “Russia” mess.
As Saturday’s New York Times noted, “Mr. Kushner . . . is in way over his head.” Despite only being 36, Kushner seems to have the memory of an Alzheimer's patient, failing to recall numerous meetings with a variety of Russians during the Trump campaign and transition, right into the early days of the administration. His meetings with Russian Ambassador Kislyak and oligarch banker Sergey Gorkov are particularly troubling, if not outright illegal and certainly unethical. That Kushner (through lawyers) is claiming not to “recall” these meetings is laughable, of course, and led the Times, in its editorial, to note the following:
At a minimum, this pattern of meetings and concealment, whether by design or through carelessness, raises larger concerns about Mr. Kushner’s fitness for the hugely consequential role Mr. Trump has given him — a vast portfolio of responsibilities that includes negotiating Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and reinventing the federal government.
While I doubt any criminal behavior regarding Kushner will be revealed, we certainly have to raise some red flags about the ethics surrounding him. When the Donald promised to “drain the swamp” we didn’t realize he meant to replace it with a sewer filled with unethical actors from his own family.
And while we’re on that subject, let’s throw in one more questionable ethics move for good measure. A Friday, June 2nd, New York Times story (by Steve Eder & Eric Lipton) opened with this paragraph:
The Trump administration may have skirted federal ethics rules by retroactively granting a blanket exemption that allows Stephen K. Bannon, the senior White House strategist, to communicate with editors at Breitbart News, where he was recently an executive.
More than a dozen undated ethics waivers were granted to White House personnel which “allows all White House aides to communicate with news organizations, even if they involve a ‘former employer or former client.’” Walter Shaub, the director of the Office of Government Ethics said, “There is no such thing as a retroactive waiver. If you need a retroactive waiver, you have violated a rule.” So, this waiver, which seems to specifically protect Mr. Bannon’s continued influence over Breitbart News, raises yet another ethical cloud over the administration which, like the rest, will probably go nowhere.
Ethical behavior --- apparently a take-it-or-leave proposition in the Trump/Kushner business world --- is definitely in the backseat in Washington these days. The Republican Party, in control of the House and Senate Ethics Committees, apparently sees no need to investigate any of this as long as there is a slim chance their tax-cuts for the wealthy and evisceration of all that was Obama agenda might have a chance of being signed by the Charlatan-in-Chief. As the Flynn and Manafort investigations proceed it will be interesting to see if the banking trail somehow snakes back to bite the handsome Jared in the butt. Teflon Don will probably two-thumb his way around it all with pithy “covfefe” Tweets but the best, ladies and gentlemen, is yet to come.