Citizens International

Pick Your Favorite Ethics Offender in Trumpland

President Trump and his administration are offering the country a graduate-level course in the selling of the presidency. Much attention has focused on how Mr. Trump is using the White House for personal gain, but many other officials, including members of his family, friends and close aides, also stand to rake it in at the public’s expense.

Mr. Trump has driven right over the Constitution by allowing foreign governments to funnel money to him through his hotels and golf courses, in violation of the emoluments clause. So it comes as no surprise that the people who work for him have felt free to abuse their positions and run roughshod over ethics rules. He has created an anything-goes culture in which some aides and advisers are openly working to bend government policy to serve their personal interests. In other cases, the potential for corruption is less obvious but no less dangerous. Here are some of the most egregious offenders.

THE FAMILY The mere fact that Mr. Trump has appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his daughter Ivanka to positions in the White House is deeply disturbing. The biggest dangers are that the president is not seeking the best possible candidates for important jobs and that other government employees will be reluctant to speak up for fear of contradicting his family. That’s why Congress enacted an anti-nepotism law in 1967. But the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel said in January that the law prohibits the hiring of relatives at federal agencies, not at the White House — an interpretation that goes against several previous opinions by that office.

Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump have been given broad and sweeping authority within the administration, which will raise a raft of conflicts. Their lawyers have said they will comply with federal ethics law by putting some of their assets in trusts and giving up management control of their businesses. Ethics filings released Friday night show that they could be beneficiaries of as much as $741 million worth of investments and that Ms. Trump continues to hold a stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

Such arrangements make a mockery of the ethics laws and rules. Mr. Kushner is handing control over his real estate business to his family. His relatives could hand those assets right back to Mr. Kushner once Mr. Trump has left office. The same goes for Ms. Trump, who has also put her business interests into a trust managed by Mr. Kushner’s family. Yet, Ms. Trump will still have the final say on new deals, and the choice of when and whether to recuse herself from government business will be hers alone. It will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, for the public to know whether they are using their positions to aid their businesses.

WALL STREET PAL Where Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump have tried to apply a patina of ethical compliance to their affairs, others don’t even seem to care about appearances. The standout in this regard has to be Carl Icahn, a brash investor whom Mr. Trump has named as a special adviser on regulatory reform. Mr. Icahn has been pushing the Trump administration to change an Environmental Protection Agency rule that guides the way ethanol is blended into gasoline. It just so happens that this would directly benefit an oil refiner, CVR Energy, in which he owns a majority stake. The company has said that it would have saved $205.9 million last year had the change Mr. Icahn is advocating been in place then.

Still, Mr. Icahn and the administration claim that he is not subject to conflict-of-interest laws and rules because he is not a government employee. This is an obvious ruse. He is operating like an employee, and the president has given him tremendous access and influence — for example, Mr. Icahn interviewed the head of the E.P.A., Scott Pruitt, for that job. Mr. Icahn’s use of his proximity to the president to advance his own financial interests is a flurrying ethical red flag if there ever was one.

A HEALTH INDUSTRY INSIDER Mr. Trump has nominated Dr. Scott Gottlieb to run the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Gottlieb has been a consultant to and investor in health care companies, including pharmaceutical businesses seeking F.D.A. approval for their drugs. He says he will recuse himself for a year from any decision the agency takes involving 20 companies with which he has worked. Those recusals are fine, but they don’t solve the underlying problem. His deep industry ties make Dr. Gottlieb a bad choice to run the F.D.A.

He has argued that the F.D.A. is too cautious about approving new drugs and medical devices, a frequent criticism of industry executives. But many public health experts say that this is not true. The agency, in fact, approves most of the new drugs it reviews, and it approves them faster than regulators in Europe and Canada. A former top official at the F.D.A. in the George W. Bush administration, Dr. Gottlieb has already left the agency once to work for industry. He will have a strong incentive to keep drug makers happy, knowing that he will have another opportunity to walk through the revolving door between government and special interests.

THE ETHICALLY CHALLENGED GOVERNOR Mr. Trump’s nominee for agriculture secretary, former Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia, is dragging a trail of controversies into the federal government. For example, a state legislator, who happened to be his personal lawyer, engineered a change in Georgia law that gave Mr. Perdue a $100,000 break on capital gains taxes by making a new policy retroactive. While in office, Mr. Perdue collected $25,000 in gifts and benefits from companies and individuals in apparent violation of rules he put in place. And the State Ethics Commission ruled that he had violated state ethics laws twice on other issues and fined him during his tenure.

BANNON’S BACK CHANNEL Along with other senior White House officials, Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, signed an ethics pledge that he would refrain from having any meetings or communications with former employers for two years. But two editors at Breitbart News, a platform for the alt-right that Mr. Bannon ran before he joined the Trump campaign last year, say they have been speaking to him, including about the website’s coverage of the administration. Unsurprisingly, the administration has taken no apparent steps to sanction Mr. Bannon, making it clear that ethics pledges by senior officials are largely meaningless in this White House.

PLAYING BOTH SIDES Chris Liddell, an assistant to the president and director of strategic initiatives, appears to have violated criminal conflicts-of-interest law prohibiting government employees from participating in discussions and policies in which they have a personal financial interest. Mr. Liddell took part in meetings between Mr. Trump and executives from companies including International Paper and General Motors in which he and his wife apparently have held stock.

These are just a few examples of the ways in which this administration is skirting ethical standards. The financial disclosure forms for high-level officials the White House has begun releasing may make for interesting reading, but they will do nothing to resolve these conflicts.

In an ideal world, Congress would take on that challenge and investigate. Alas, Republican leaders seem unconcerned about the integrity of the government when the president is a fellow Republican. That means both the offending officials and the party will be forever tarred by their association with one of the most ethically challenged administrations in modern history.