Trump is flooding the swamp that Obama drained
Last week’s bombshell revelations reinforced a sad truth: Corruption, waste, fraud and abuse run rampant in President Trump’s administration. Far from draining the swamp, Trump and his political appointees have filled it to the brim.
The American people now know – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that President Trump directly (and corruptly) withheld crucial aid to an ally at war for personal gain. Moreover, Trump intervened in investigations into Chinese and Turkish businesses, undoubtedly to boost his current and future financial interests. A similar dynamic – boosting personal business interests – must explain the deference Trump shows Saudi Arabia, particularly in the face of egregious Saudi human rights violations.
Corruption, like other things, tends to roll downhill. Indeed, a steady stream of Trump appointees has followed their boss’ example: Trump’s secretary of housing and urban development broke the law by lavishly spending taxpayer dollars to refurnish his office; Trump’s secretary of health and human services resigned after bilking American taxpayers out of over $1 million; Trump’s former EPA administrator illegally spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on a soundproof phone booth and resigned amid a litany of ethical violations; Trump’s former interior secretary racked up tens of thousands of dollars in improper travel charges and resigned following revelations of his participation in a land deal with a major oil services company; Trump’s attorney general has weaponized the department of justice to protect the president politically; Trump’s personal attorney sought to profit from the president’s political dirty work; Trump has appointed more ex-lobbyists to his cabinet in three years than other recent presidents appointed over their eight-year terms.
Sadly, a relentless conservative propaganda effort has led far too many Americans to believe that political scandals pervaded the Obama administration at the same rate and scale that they do the Trump administration. But a closer look at a few of these controversies – IRS “targeting,” Fast and Furious, Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s email practices – sets the record straight on such inane efforts to draw equivalencies between the two administrations.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, the billionaire Koch brothers funneled vast amounts of money into the “Tea Party” movement. Many such groups applied for tax exempt status by dubiously labeling themselves “social welfare” organizations, making their tax status an ideal target for closer review by the IRS. Despite unending GOP attempts to pin the IRS’ “targeting” of Tea Party groups on the Obama administration, a self-descried conservative IRS agent at a small field office initiated the additional scrutiny. The resignation of the IRS commissioner looked particularly absurd after an exhaustive FBI investigation found no evidence of systemic political bias at the IRS. Indeed, as it turned out, both liberal and conservative organizations received extra screening.
Beyond the IRS (non-)scandal, congressional Republicans and right-wing echo chambers worked relentlessly to turn an ATF operation – “Fast and Furious” – into another Obama administration controversy. Fast and Furious has its roots in the George W. Bush administration, when career ATF agents sought to arrest drug cartel bosses by tracking illegal sales of firearms.
During one of these “gun walking” operations, a number of guns went missing; two were ultimately implicated in the tragic death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent. Republicans spent years attempting to prove that then-Attorney General Eric Holder knew of the Fast and Furious operation but did nothing to stop it. After an exhaustive review, Holder was unambiguously cleared.
But congressional Republicans – dead-set on finding an Obama administration scandal – kept digging. The GOP ultimately held Attorney General Holder in contempt for refusing to play along with their politically-motivated sham. Holder’s contempt citation centered on the Justice Department’s refusal to hand over internal deliberations from long after news of Fast and Furious broke publicly. In short, the documents demanded by the GOP were utterly useless to any legitimate investigation into how and why the “gun walking” operation began.
Fast and Furious and IRS “targeting” aside, few political buzzwords evoke as strong a reaction as “Benghazi.” While far too many Americans fault the Obama administration’s actions before and after the brutal assault on American diplomatic facilities in Libya, the then-Republican-led House Intelligence Committee cleared the Obama administration of wrongdoing following an exhaustive two-year investigation.
Ten investigations into the Benghazi attacks – at the cost of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars – found no wrongdoing by the Obama administration. Indeed, Republicans “investigated” Benghazi longer than congressional probes into the September 11, 2001 attacks, Watergate, the JFK assassination and Pearl Harbor.
It should come as no surprise that the last of the Benghazi investigations saw then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton hauled in to testify at the height of the 2016 political campaign. As in the Fast and Furious case, Republican exploitation of the deaths of American patriots for political gain – openly admitted to in the Benghazi case – is unconscionable.
Of the long list of political controversies in recent memory, few can overshadow Benghazi. But Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices may top the list. As then-FBI Director James Comey noted, Clinton was “extremely careless” in utilizing a private server for her communications as secretary of state. In explaining the decision not to prosecute her, Comey also rightly stated that Clinton did not intentionally mishandle classified information.
The absurd irony, of course, is that President Trump has intentionally leaked highly classified secrets on numerous occasions. In one particularly egregious case, Trump’s disclosure of classified information compromised a critical intelligence source and placed vital foreign intelligence at risk. Worst of all, Trump disclosed these secrets directly to representatives of the foreign power that, in favoring his election, went to extraordinary lengths to subvert American democracy.
Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.