Impeachment seems forever ago, but Trump’s Washington still a swamp of corruption
Several close associates of President Donald Trump have pleaded or been found guilty of criminal wrongdoing since he took office. They include, from left, foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos; National Security Advisor Michael Flynn including his former national security adviser, his deputy campaign chairman and a former campaign policy adviser; deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates; campaign chairman Paul Manafort; and personal attorney Michael Cohen. The most recent to be arrested: Trump's former top advisor Steve Bannon, accused of fraud related to his collection of donations to supposedly build the Mexican border wall. | All photos credit: AP / Photo illustration by People's World

In December 2019, Republican Party leader Donald Trump was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives on two corruption counts. The impeachment hearings charged that Trump abused his power as president to manipulate Ukraine’s government into creating evidence against his political opponents, which he could use in this year’s campaign. Numerous high-level diplomats and officials in sworn testimony proved that Trump had abused his power in order to smear his political opponents.

Senate Republicans used their power, despite majority popular support for Trump’s removal from office, to block a real trial of the charges and voted to acquit. Emblematic of Senate submission to Trump’s corruption was Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who nervously told reporters that she thought Trump had “learned his lesson.”

She no longer talks about Trump’s ethical issues or criminal behaviors.

That Senate trial for corruption seems like a lifetime ago. Since the onset of the pandemic, it has been mostly forgotten. But new media accounts show the corruption keeps on rolling.

For example, as ProPublica reports, in 2014, the Obama administration had made a contract with a Dutch company named Royal Philips through a Pennsylvania-based subsidiary to deliver 10,000 ventilators by June 2019. After coming to power, Trump administration officials granted several extensions on product delivery. In September of 2019, administration officials authorized the production and commercial sale of a far more expensive ventilator than it had initially contracted.

Not only did this action signal that Trump did not believe in the urgency of stockpiling for a public health crisis, it also shows that he essentially opened the treasury to a corporate backer for private gain. On top of it all, the ventilator maker made these profits by selling a desperately-needed medical device for far more than it had initially been contracted.

By the fall of 2019, the ventilator manufacturer still had provided no ventilators to the government. The following January, after Senate Republicans signaled their intention to acquit Trump and three weeks after China had documented the coronavirus’s seriousness to the World Health Organization, public health officials knew that ventilators would be vital for treating COVID-19.

Trump, who claims to be a good deal maker, handed the problem to Jared Kushner. Kushner negotiated what a congressional investigation found to be an overpayment to the ventilator maker by $500 million and set a loose deadline for product delivery. The company got a great deal; the American public got a scam.

The deadline for delivery was so loose, in fact, that despite the urgency for ventilators, the ventilator company still had delivered none by June 2020. Instead, the company sought to leverage more money by renegotiating its contract to force the government to pay higher prices for more expensive ventilators. Savvy dealmakers in the Trump administration complied.

Only a congressional investigation that identified the fraud and waste stopped the deal from going through.

Senate Republicans did acquit Trump. Subsequently, Trump handed out pardons like flyers to his jail-bound allies who refused to testify honestly to Congress about his abuse of power. The acquittal and pardons opened the floodgates to unrestrained corruption in the full knowledge that Trump loyalists could avoid prison by presidential pardon.

In late August, New York state authorities arrested Trump’s former campaign manager and “alt-right” ideologue Steve Bannon for his role in the “We Build the Wall” scam. The board of this corrupt company includes Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s brother Erik Prince.

The scam essentially sought donations from xenophobic Americans who wanted to contribute to build a wall on Mexico’s border. The charges against Bannon include faked invoices and vendor contracts. The scam raised $25 million, none of which went to build anything. Like Trump’s claim that the wall was necessary to stop crime and that Mexico would pay for it, Bannon’s fraudulent scheme conned Trump supporters.

Bannon was arrested on the boat of Republican Party donor Guo Wengui, a.k.a. Miles Kwok, a billionaire fugitive from China. Guo is currently also being investigated by the FBI for illegal stock market practices, and is wanted by the Chinese government for corruption.

Bannon’s arrest in the company of a professional scam artist highlights Trump’s personal role in the We Build the Wall project. 2019 media accounts, also forgotten by the pandemic events, showed that he had demanded that the Army Corps of Engineers award a contract to build the wall to a North Dakota company named Fisher Industries. Fearing a swath of investigations, perhaps even criminal charges, Homeland Security Department professionals nixed the project on ethical grounds.

In his first three years as president, Trump spent every third day in power at one of his resorts, hotels, golf courses, or other properties—at government expense. In this way, millions of public dollars went to line his pockets. In 2016, former presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul criticized Trump for refusing to separate his business from his political activities. However, since then, Paul hasn’t mentioned this severe violation of U.S. law. Instead, he has become an ardent devotee of his dear leader. Is he planning on needing a presidential pardon soon, too?


CONTRIBUTOR

Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of The Collectivity of Life: Spaces of Social Mobility and the Individualism Myth, and a former editor of Political Affairs.

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