Here are some stories you might have missed this week:
1.It’s almost a cliché by now to point out how Trump is failing to live up to his famous campaign promise to “drain the swamp.” But this report from the New York Times about how the Trump administration is just swirling with potential conflicts is still eye opening. According to the Times, Trump is filling the White House and his federal agencies with former lobbyists and consultants who are now making policy that affects the very industries for which they were just working mere months ago. Trump’s own “ethics rules” may be violated by some of these cases, but no one can say for sure, because in some cases, Trump is secretly issuing waivers to his own rules:
One such case involves Michael Catanzaro, who serves as the top White House energy adviser. Until late last year, he was working as a lobbyist for major industry clients such as Devon Energy of Oklahoma, an oil and gas company, and Talen Energy of Pennsylvania, a coal-burning electric utility, as they fought Obama-era environmental regulations, including the landmark Clean Power Plan. Now, he is handling some of the same matters on behalf of the federal government . . .
[T]he Trump administration is more vulnerable to conflicts than the prior administration, particularly after the president eliminated an ethics provision that prohibits lobbyists from joining agencies they lobbied in the prior two years. The White House also announced on Friday that it would keep its visitors’ logs secret, discontinuing the release of information on corporate executives, lobbyists and others who enter the complex, often to try to influence federal policy. . . .
Mr. Trump’s appointees are also far wealthier and have more complex financial holdings and private-sector ties than officials hired at the start of the Obama administration, according to an Office of Government Ethics analysis that the White House has made public. This creates a greater chance that they might have conflicts related to investments or former clients . . .
2. And news broke on Thursday that Trump secretly met with two ex-Presidents of Colombia at Mar-a-Lago last weekend. The Miami Herald reports – based on reports from the Colombian news media – that the meeting was arranged by Sen. Marco Rubio, who opposes the $450 million aid package arranged by President Obama to help end a long conflict between the Colombian government and a rebel group there.
The meeting wasn’t on Trump’s official schedule and was not disclosed to reporters. After news of the meeting broke, the Trump administration tried to deny there was any meeting and claimed Trump simply said hello to the ex-leaders who were dining there with a guest.
This situation is a perfect example of why there has been concern from reporters and watchdog groups about Trump spending so much time at Mar-a-Lago and conducting so much of business there, away from the eyes of the public and the media, while giving very limited disclosures about what he’s doing or who he’s meeting with. Three ethics groups recently filed a lawsuit to try to compel the Trump administration to release visitor logs from both the White House and Mar-al-Lago.
3. Trump is expected to make a decision soon about whether to keep the United States in the Paris Climate Accord. Throughout the presidential campaign, he had promised to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. But it now appears as though – with Steve Bannon losing influence – many of Trump’s top advisers (such as Ivanka, Jared Kushner and Rex Tillerson) will push him to remain in the agreement. These advisers were originally scheduled to meet to discuss the issue this past Tuesday, but the meeting was canceled and a new schedule for the meeting has not yet been announced. Trump’s EPA head, Scott Pruitt, is a notable voice pulling in the other direction, saying that the Accord “is a bad deal for America.”
Whether the U.S. remains in the agreement or not, Trump’s other moves on climate – such as reversing Obama’s Clean Power Plan – already mean that the U.S. won’t be able to meet its obligations under the agreement. Still, it would be undeniably good news for us to remain in the Accord, as the U.S. would at least still have a seat at the table for shaping policy, and more importantly, it means we would avoid a scenario of totally thumbing our nose at our allies.
Most of corporate America, even many fossil fuel and major oil companies, support the U.S. remaining in the agreement. The notable exceptions – according to Axios – are big coal companies, particularly those that are privately owned and don’t have to worry about shareholder perceptions.
4. Last week I told you about the GOP targeting the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray. Republicans have hated the agency since its inception in 2010, but they’ve mostly focused their ire on Cordray and have spent years trying to get him fired. But now there’s concern among some members of the GOP that if Cordray does get the pink slip, he’ll go home to Ohio and run for Governor to replace John Kasich (whose term limited out). Political analysts think he might be one of the few Democrats who’d have a real shot at winning there:
While Cordray might look unpopular in Washington, in Ohio he has a far different reputation. If he does run, he could be the only Democratic candidate with the chops to defeat a strong Republican opponent. “He would clear the field,” said Republican strategist Mark Weaver. “There’s nobody else who has the credibility in the Democratic Party. He is a credible candidate who would come into the race and instantly be able to raise money.”
5. Reuters reports that a Putin-controlled Russian government think tank drew up written plans to help Donald Trump win the U.S. presidential election. U.S. Officials described to Reuters 2 separate documents prepared by the think tank, which is run by retired Russian foreign intelligence officials. The first paper was written last June. The second of the two papers was written in October, when the think tank thought Hillary Clinton would win the election. That paper urged Russia to push a message about voter fraud to undermine the legitimacy of her election. Hmm, pushing claims of vote fraud when they thought Hillary would win. Why does that sound so familiar??
6. I’ve posted several times in previous round-ups about Trump winning lucrative foreign trademarks that seem to have appeared like magic since his winning the presidency. Well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as the AP was out with a report this week about all of Ivanka’s ethical entanglements since joining the White House, particularly when it comes to her business with China. She too had a bunch of Chinese trademarks approved recently. And what do you know, that very same evening she and Jared dined at Mar-a-Lago with the Chinese President and his wife.
[T]he week of the summit, 3.4 tons of Ivanka Trump handbags, wallets and blouses arrived in the U.S. from Hong Kong and Shanghai. U.S. imports of her merchandise grew an estimated 40 percent in the first quarter of this year, according to Panjiva Inc., which maintains and analyzes global shipping records.
Gorelick, Ivanka Trump’s attorney, said that she and her husband would steer clear of specific areas that could impact her business, or be seen as conflicts of interest, but are under no legal obligation to step back from huge swaths of policy, like trade with China.
Ivanka has given up management of her brand, but she still owns it, and the assets are being held for her in a family-run trust. And through the trust, she still has the ability to approve or veto certain business deals. The trademark issue is not limited to China. Like her father, Ivanka has trademark applications – and other possible sources of conflicts – pending all over the globe.
In last week’s roundup, I explained how these foreign trademarks might cause Trump to be in violation of the “emoluments clause” of the Constitution, though no one is sure because the situation is genuinely unprecedented. This same analysis would be applicable to Ivanka as well
7. A new Gallup poll is out showing Trump losing a lot of ground on the question of whether he keeps his promises. This is significant because this had been his strongest quality. Even though his overall approval numbers have been pretty abysmal since the very first poll of his presidency, he started out with quite strong numbers on the issue of keeping promises. In the week of Feb 1-5, he scored 62% on this question. Now, in the week of 5 – 9, he’s down to 45%. And he’s lost ground with pretty much every demographic group, even those that tend to support him.
Interestingly, his overall approval numbers are basically unchanged (42% in February, 40% now). But I wonder if a few more months of failing to keep promises will put a dent in the approval. His supporters are probably willing to give him a lot of leeway on coming through on promises, but will they eventually turn on him if they don’t see some action on the things he promised them?
8. Forgive me, I know it’s petty, but I just can’t help it: the hypocrisy here, after the way Trump (and many on the right) harassed Obama over golf (and other vacations), it really makes me angry. And remember, Trump’s the guy who said on the campaign trail, “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf.”
9. And finally, a fun story from the NY Times about a change in the style of their datelines & bylines. The new style is meant to make clear to readers that the dateline indicates that the writer was in that location to write the article.
Though few Times journalists have such lofty datelines to their credit, almost all have their favorites.
“For me it has to be CRAPSTONE, whose existence inspired me to write a whole story about rude British place names, and what it’s like to live in a place when the name is inherently embarrassing,” Sarah Lyall said.
While thinking about doing an article on roller-coaster design, Henry Fountain reached out by phone to a manufacturer in Cincinnati. “One of our best ones is just a couple of hours from here, in Indiana,” the coaster maker said, and offered him the chance to come learn about its design — and ride it — in person.
When Mr. Fountain learned the roller coaster was in a town called SANTA CLAUS, the deal was sealed.
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