Juan Williams: Trump refills the swamp

Juan Williams: Trump refills the swamp

At this point, it isn’t just government ethics watchdogs who are pointing out the contrast between candidate Donald Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp,” and the charade taking place at President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats' CNN town halls exposed an extreme agenda Buttigieg says he doubts Sanders can win general election Post-Mueller, Trump has a good story to tell for 2020 MORE’s White House.

The American people are catching on.

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A Monmouth University poll taken last month found that 32 percent of Americans said Trump is “actually making the swamp worse.” In fact, 35 percent said he has done nothing to change Washington’s swamp culture. Only 24 percent said he is making good on his promise to drain the swamp.

 

And now the Trump administration is stirring outrage among Republicans with a recent memo to federal agency employees instructing them not to answer questions from members of Congress unless the request comes from a committee chairman.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOn The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost The 7 most interesting nuggets from the Mueller report Government report says new NAFTA would have minimal impact on economy MORE (R- Iowa) fired off an angry letter to the Trump administration calling their claim “nonsense.”

"Oversight brings transparency, and transparency brings accountability,” Grassley wrote. “And, the opposite is true. Shutting down oversight requests doesn’t drain the swamp, Mr. President. It floods the swamp.”

Even Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzLawmakers contemplate a tough political sell: Raising their pay Top Utah paper knocks Chaffetz as he mulls run for governor: ‘His political career should be over’ Boehner working on memoir: report MORE (R-Utah), the strident Republican who harangued the Obama White House and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDavis: The shocking fact that Mueller never would have accused Trump of a crime Trump says he would challenge impeachment in Supreme Court The Hill's Morning Report - Will Joe Biden's unifying strategy work? MORE on ethics questions as chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is now aiming his fire at the Trump administration.

“The reality is, sadly, I don’t see much difference between the Trump administration and the Obama administration,” Chaffetz, who is leaving Congress at the end of the month, told reporter Sharyl Attkisson on her program “Full Measure.”

“In many ways, it’s almost worse because we’re getting nothing, and that’s terribly frustrating and, with all due respect, the attorney general has not changed at all. I find him to be worse than what I saw with [Obama-era AG] Loretta Lynch in terms of releasing documents and making things available.”

Wow. These charges are particularly damning since they come from two Republicans. Grassley and Chaffetz have credibility with conservatives for their endless investigations and hounding of the Obama administration.

Trump’s supporters respond to questions about his record on government ethics by pointing to his January 2017 executive order placing new restrictions on lobbyists working in his administration.

But even that defense is fraying. Last month brought news that the Trump White House had asked the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) for even more ethics waivers for Trump staffers to get around the lobbying rules. The Trump administration has requested more of these ethics waivers in its first six months than the Obama administration did in eight years.   

“They are circumventing what they touted as their signature ethics achievement,” Robert Weissman, the head of the liberal watchdog group Public Citizen told the New York Times at the time. “It’s utterly at odds with candidate Trump’s ‘drain the swamp’ rhetoric and it suggests that the Trump executive order is not worth the paper it is written on.”

And the ethics quagmire – or swamp – is getting deeper.

Case in point: The Trump International Hotel in Washington. This week, Trump will hold the first fundraiser of his 2020 reelection campaign at his luxury DC hotel. This glitzy affair for “major donors” is a glaring reminder of the unprecedented conflicts-of-interests and ethical problems that have defined the Trump presidency.

Recall Trump is leasing this hotel from the General Services Administration (GSA), a federal agency which he oversees as President, effectively making him his own landlord.

His visit to his hotel serves as free publicity and boosts his bottom line since he refused to divest. And now he is using the hotel as a venue for a fundraising event held in partnership with the Republican National Committee.

Former President Obama's chief ethics attorney, Norman Eisen, told the Associated Press the fundraiser showed Trump is "becoming more and more brazen in his efforts to monetize the presidency."

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) calls the Trump hotel “the symbol of complete disregard for the lines of ethics, the boundaries of ethics, and the conflicts of interest."

“He's headed towards increasing darkness. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and unfortunately he is slowly but surely shutting out the sunlight," said Rep. Denny HeckDennis (Denny) Lynn HeckExclusive: Guccifer 2.0 hacked memos expand on Pennsylvania House races Heck enjoys second political wind Incoming lawmaker feeling a bit overwhelmed MORE (D-Wash.).

And don’t forget there has already been at least one major lobbying scandal in the Trump administration, when it was revealed that former national security advisor Michael Flynn failed to disclose his lucrative lobbying work on behalf of Turkey and other foreign governments on official government forms.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if Flynn implicates the Swamp-Drainer-In-Chief in the Russia scandal in exchange for leniency for his own lobbying transgressions?  

Liberals have spent the last six months wondering aloud what it would take for congressional Republicans and conservative media types to turn on President Trump.

Perhaps his administration’s litany of indefensible ethics violations combined with their disrespect of congressional oversight powers will be the breaking point. 

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.