If you’ve got negative information you want to bury, a tried-and-true strategy is to dump it late Friday.
So when the White House did just that with its big batch of financial disclosures, you knew there would be plenty to raise eyebrows:
▪ President Donald Trump appointed daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner to West Wing jobs despite the obvious nepotism. They plan to remain beneficiaries of a real estate and investment business worth as much as $740 million. Ivanka Trump plans to keep her stake in the Trump hotel in D.C.
▪ Steve Bannon, Trump’s right-hand man, reported at least $1.4 million in earnings, including $378,000 from Breitbart News Network and two other groups entities, all backed by Republican mega-donor Robert Mercer.
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▪ Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, disclosed $1.3 million for consulting, lobbying and speeches, including payments from Russian companies he failed to report in February. His ties to Russia are under investigation; the more that is revealed, the more questionable the vetting that let him get the job in the first place.
▪ Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council director, reported assets of at least $254 million and income of at least $48 million in 2016 and early 2017. He’s one of several former Goldman Sachs executives who joined the administration despite Trump railing against Wall Street.
The filings from about 180 senior officials show how many rich people are in Trump’s inner circle. Members of his senior staff and Cabinet are worth $12 billion, according to Bloomberg News, likely making it the wealthiest in U.S. history. These are the people who claim to be looking out for forgotten workers.
The disclosures demonstrate, again, that there’s far too little separation between private business and public service in the Trump administration. This utter disregard for potential conflicts of interest starts from the very top. The president has set an appalling example by refusing to divest his global business empire and put the assets into a blind trust – what every other recent president has done and the only real way to avoid conflicts.
How far it falls short from what’s necessary was made clear by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who conceded this week that Trump can withdraw money from his businesses and declined to say whether the president would make such withdrawals public.
In its tiresome game of distraction, the White House made a big deal Monday that Trump is donating his presidential salary so far to the National Park Service. That’s a nice gesture, but that $78,333 is chump change compared to what his businesses are likely reaping from his presidency. Voters will never know whether Trump claims the donation as a tax deduction because he refuses to release his tax returns.
Trump and his appointees tell Americans to trust them to be ethical, but they won’t be able to hide transgressions forever, even if they keep releasing documents on Friday nights.