President Trump, his family, and more than a few of his appointees have used his presidency to enrich themselves, spending taxpayer dollars for their own benefit, accepting sweetheart deals from foreigners and harnessing the power of the federal government on behalf of their own businesses and brands.
The venality and double-dealing of this administration is so overwhelming that we might think we have a Saudi prince in the White House. Trump, his family and his cronies are bilking us so often and so offhandedly that ordinary people like us can hardly imagine the sheer, unadulterated arrogance of it all.
As I’ve pointed out in previous columns, the word for that is corruption writ large. We’re living in a remake of history. The Trump administration is the most corrupt since the disgraced President Warren Harding’s nearly 100 years ago.
David Leonhardt, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist of the New York Times has racked up many instances of Trumpian corruption, and it’s a really impressive list.
Foreign governments have realized they can curry favor with Trump by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars at his hotels and golf clubs. The list of governments includes Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Turkey, China, India, Afghanistan and Qatar. Because the president is still connected to his huge real estate empire, the profits are going to him.
Our Constitution forbids federal officials from accepting gifts, known as emoluments, from foreign powers, unless they have congressional approval. Congressional Democrats have sued Trump for violating this clause and the case is now in federal court.
American officials and business leaders spend public money that ultimately goes into Trump’s cash register, sometimes in an apparent effort to please the president. Paul LePage, the governor of Maine, for instance, has stayed at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Other Republicans have held campaign fundraisers and party events in Trump’s hotels and clubs. So have corporate lobbyists.
The State Department paid a Cairo hotel $95,050 of our money for a single day of services during First Lady Melania Trump’s one-day stop in Egypt on Sept. 30 when she toured Africa. Except she didn’t even stay there that night.
Her husband has visited or stayed at his own hotels or golf clubs very often — almost one out of every three days that he has been president. Like previous presidents, Trump travels with a large group of staff and security personnel. We American taxpayers typically foot at least part of the bill for the trips. Unlike previous presidents, Trump is directing money to his own business, and his own riches, on his trips.
Trump officials have made a habit of billing American taxpayers for their personal travel. After giving a 12-minute speech to a hockey team owned by a businessman who donated to his congressional campaign, Ryan Zinke, Trump’s secretary of the interior, chartered a $12,000 flight to fly out of Las Vegas where the hockey team played.
David Shulkin, when he was Trump’s secretary of veterans affairs, charged taxpayers for a trip to Europe that included stopovers at Westminster Abbey and the Wimbledon tennis tournament, plus a river cruise for him and his wife.
Scott Pruitt, Trump’s former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, chartered flights for questionable travel, among many other things. He also preferred to fly Delta Airlines, rather than the government’s contract carrier, so that he would accrue frequent flier miles. He flew first class and stayed in hotels that were more expensive than those allowed by government standards. And he let lobbyists help arrange foreign trips for him.
Brock Long, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, spent $151,000 on his use of government vehicles without authorization, including travel to his North Carolina home. The government caught him on that one.
Tom Price, epitomized corruption in the Trump administration. Before Trump appointed him as his first secretary of health and human services, Price had a history of using his seat in Congress to make money. He had a long record of putting the interests of drug companies above those of taxpayers and patients — and then investing in those drug companies on the side.
If you want to make money, be smart and get into politics.
(Bomboy has written for more than 60 national magazines and is the author of six books. He taught for more than 30 years in colleges and universities, and he has been a Ford Foundation Fellow at the University of Chicago and in Washington, D.C.)