KING OF THE SWAMP: How Trump has turned the federal government into a thieves paradise.

AuthorRosen, David
PositionPresident Donald Trump

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump declared, "It is time to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C. This is why I'm proposing a package of ethics reforms to make our government honest once again."

A year or so after his election, Trump gave up on ethics reforms and proclaimed, "By ending excessive regulation, we are defending democracy and draining the swamp."

In fact, throughout his first--and, hopefully, only--term in office, Trump has turned the presidency into a huge swamp, rife with corruption.

"The Trump Administration is uniquely corrupt in a number of ways," says Benjamin Waterhouse, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "There has been a violation of norms or standards of behavior which were once respected and are no longer respected. Broadly, the system doesn't know how to deal with that."

Financial scheming, questionable business deals, and charges of corruption have dogged Trump from his earliest days in the New York City real estate market. Two of the many issues concerning Trump's corrupt business practices, in particular, stand out.

First, the New York state attorney general sued Trump and three of his children for illegally using his nonprofit foundation as a personal "checkbook" for their own benefit, including Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. The foundation was dissolved by court order.

Second, in early July, the Supreme Court issued a split decision on subpoenas for Trump's tax returns and personal financial records. The court unanimously rejected his broad claims of "absolute" immunity in a New York state criminal investigation but ruled that lower courts did not do enough to scrutinize Congressional subpoenas for similar records.

Trump, of course, is not the first U.S. President to be dogged with corruption scandals.

Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) introduced the "spoils system" by which approximately 10 percent of federal officeholders were replaced by his political loyalists. This system remained in operation (with a two-year exception) until the adoption of the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 that established merit tests for office seekers (except top posts).

"Jackson had promised to root out corruption in Washington, D.C., so it's fair to charge him with hypocrisy," says David Huyssen, associate professor in American history at the University of York in the United Kingdom. "The presidential powers of appointment and the realities of the electoral system make the U.S. political and judicial systems structurally vulnerable to corruption. That's the bigger problem."

Huyssen adds that while Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) "was not personally corrupt," he was President during two major scandals. One involved an elaborate system of overbilling, kickbacks, and political bribery set up by the Union Pacific Railroad. The other saw more than...

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