Column: An Independent Audit of Trump's Companies Is Now Necessary

US News and World Report has published Simon's ninth column, "An Independent Audit of Trump's Companies Is Now Necessary," in his weekly Op-Ed series that will every Thursday or Friday.

Be sure to also read his recent column, "The Pernicious Politics of Oil - On Trump's embrace of petro-politics," in which Simon does a deep dive on why Trump 's embrace of plutocratic petro-politics should be worrisome to liberals everywhere.

An Excerpt from "An Independent Audit of Trump's Companies Is Now Necessary"

This week, President-elect Donald Trump thumbed his nose at the government agency that oversees ethics in the Executive Branch by announcing he intends to keep all of his far flung holdings as president. Whether this unprecedented and arrogant act is illegal and unconstitutional and not just unethical will be at the center of what is sure to be a vigorous debate in the coming months.

But the worry about his arrangement is far greater than the issue of propriety and legality. Let me offer a few examples:

It establishes new far weaker norms. Perhaps inspired by Trump's example, we've already seen House Republicans vote to gut their own ethics regime; the Senate GOP is holding hearings on Cabinet nominees without either their FBI background check or ethics clearance completed; challenging anti-nepotism laws, Trump is bringing his son in law, who is also not divesting from all his holdings, into the White House; and Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson refuse to recuse himself from overseeing decisions affecting his lifelong employer, Exxon Mobil. In these early days, the new GOP has made it clear it intends to weaken or ignore good government policies put into place decades ago – the very opposite of draining the swamp.

It encourages public corruption. Remarkably, Trump not only refused to adopt the many suggestions outside counsel had for how to ethically manage his holdings, he actually walked back a commitment for the Trump Organization to do no new deals while he is president. In his Wednesday press conference, Trump said the business will in fact be able to do "domestic" deals. This is a clear signal from our next president that investors/courtiers, and one would assume U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies, should begin lining up at Trump Tower to begin talks on domestic U.S. projects. The benefit of these deals would go directly to the benefit of the Trump family, and since he has not divested, Trump himself. As all of his business dealings are essentially secret, the public would have no way of knowing who was entering into business with the family of the sitting president. The opportunity for public corruption here is perhaps unprecedented in all of American history.

To continue reading, please refer to the US News link. You can Simon's previous US News columns here.

Trouble Ahead: 4 Scandals That Could Rock The Trump Presidency

US News and World Report has published Simon's sixth column, "Trouble Ahead," in his weekly Op-Ed series that will every Thursday or Friday through the end of the year.

Be sure to also read his recent column, "The West Is On the Ballot," in which Simon argues that Trump isn't running just against Clinton, he's also running against what America has become and the world it has built.

An Excerpt from "Trouble Ahead"

Democrats just spent an entire election cycle worrying that a lingering scandal could at any moment do significant, crippling damage to their presidential candidate. And in the end, we were right to be worried.

As someone who just went through this on the Democratic side, I have a message for my buoyant Republicans friends: You have far more to be worried about with President-elect Donald Trump than we ever did with Hillary Clinton. Consider that in just the few weeks since the election, Trump payed $25 million in a legal settlement to thousands of Americans whom he scammed and ripped off; he admitted to illegally using his foundation, which is subsidized by American taxpayers, for personal gain; he appeared to use discussions with foreign leaders to advance his business interests (here and here); and his newly-opened luxury hotel in Washington has rapidly become a potent symbol of the unprecedented legal and ethical challenges the president-elect's global business interests will present.

I'm pretty sure we've ever seen anything like this in modern American history.

But this is just the beginning, and there is certainly more to come. It is my take that there are at least four potential game-changing set of scandals that could alter the course of the Trump Presidency.

To continue reading, please refer to the US News link. You can Simon's previous US News columns here.

The New DOJ report

The New York Times covers it this way:

Justice Department officials over the last six years illegally used "political or ideological" factors to hire new lawyers into an elite recruitment program, tapping law school graduates with conservative credentials over those with liberal-sounding resumes, a new report found Tuesday.

The blistering report, prepared by the Justice Department's inspector general, is the first in what will be a series of investigations growing out of last year's scandal over the firings of nine United States attorneys. It appeared to confirm for the first time in an official examination many of the allegations from critics who charged that the Justice Department had become overly politicized during the Bush administration.

"Many qualified candidates" were rejected for the department's honors program because of what was perceived as a liberal bias, the report found. Those practices, the report concluded, "constituted misconduct and also violated the department's policies and civil service law that prohibit discrimination in hiring based on political or ideological affiliations."

The shift began in 2002, when advisers to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft restructured the honors program in response to what some officials saw as a liberal tilt in recruiting young lawyers from elite law schools like Harvard and Yale. While the recruitment was once controlled largely by career officials in each section who would review applications, political officials in the department began to assume more control, rejecting candidates with liberal or Democratic affiliations "at a significantly higher rate" than those with Republican or conservative credentials, the report said.

The shift appeared to accelerate in 2006, under then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, with two aides on the screening committee - Michael Elston and Esther Slater McDonald - singled out for particular criticism. The blocking of applicants with liberal credentials appeared to be a particular problem in the Justice Department's civil rights division, which has seen an exodus of career employees in recent years as the department has pursued a more conservative agenda in deciding what types of cases to bring....

Of course, this single event cannot be viewed in isolation. Add to the mix the lying over Iraq,the incredible bungling of the reconstruction and occupation of Iraq, the systemic corruption of GOP politics, the lack of any kind of response to declining incomes and the struggling middle class, the complete botching of the Department of Homeland Security that led to Katrina, the degradation of the U.S. Census process, the now-accepted repudiation of the various Bush legal theories around torture, enemy combatants and habeus corpus, and the picture of the Bush era that emerges is a national party more concerned with its power, privilege and perogative than fulfilling its basic obligations to the American people and the common good (as I wrote recently it is this failure that is at the heart of the recent collapse of the GOP brand).  

The challenge to the Democrats next year will be to uncover all the illegality and malfeasance of this era - as they are obligated to do - without appearing to be on a partisan witch hunt. The government must investigate and uncover, and inform, so as to prevent any thing like this from happening again.

The challenge for a possible President Obama will be to lift up this broken national capital and culture and create a climate and a politics that will allow the American people to have a government again as good and as fair and as smart as they are themselves. For those who have not been here in DC in recent years, it is hard to overstate how broken Washington has become, and how hard it is going to be to get it moving forward in a way that will allow us to tackle the great challenges ahead of us. But creating a politics that will help usher in an age of progress is what is required now, something Obama seems intent on bringing about, and is certainly something we focus on here every day at NDN.

McCain and the lobbyists

News this morning comes of yet another senior level resignation from the McCain campaign, yet another high-profile lobbyist stepping down. This remarkable spectacle of serial resignations, not something one sees in politics that often, speaks to the central dynamics of the emerging McCain campaign - his inability to escape the horrible politics of the Bush era, and his own very profound weaknesses as a candidate.

First, and we've written about this quite often, the Bush era brought to Washington a conservative politics more interested in protecting the perogatives, power and privilege of its leaders than serving the American people. Its economic strategies enriched the wealthy and ignored the increasingly difficult struggle of every day people. So little of consequence was done to improve the world or our life here at home, as huge problems like climate change, our dependence on fossil fuels, the aging of the baby boomers, immigration reform, our aging infrastucture and the modernization of our health care system all went unaddressed. Cherished and hard-fought civil liberties were undermined and we witnessed an almost unprecedented level of official corruption and strategic governmental deceit. So long out of power, the inability of these modern conservatives to use their newfound power for the common good has become the defining legacy of the Bush era.

Which is why by surrounding himself with dozens of lobbyists, the very symbols of this awful and corrupt political era, John McCain has done more to embrace the politics of the Bush era than his literal embrace of Bush, and the actual embrace of Bush's foreign, economic, entitlement and torture policies. Lobbyists have become for so many Americans the symbol of the triumph of the special interest over the interests of the people, and by being so - what is the word - stupid? - McCain has surrounded himself with perhaps the most potent symbols he could have imagined of what went wrong in this decade.

For those tracking this campaign, the central question that has to be answered is, "How did all these lobbyists get hired in the first place?" Is McCain that out of it, not aware of what is going on around him? Or he is just a very bad candidate and leader? As in so many other instances in this campaign, we come back to these set of questions, as we did with his serial and repeated confusion about Sunni and Shiite - is he just out of it, in a dangerous and threatening way? Or he is much less smart than we had all hoped? Either way the answer is a disturbing one - increasingly it appears that this once formidable Senator from Arizona is no longer up to the job of being President of these United States.

Update Mon 11am - The Post has a very good story on all this today as well. 

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