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Martin Schram: The muck seems to be increasing
March 09, 2018
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Candidate Donald Trump’s promises to “drain the swamp” seem so long ago. These days, President Trump’s White House is looking absolutely swamped. And the muck seems to be rising with every news cycle.

We shouldn’t be surprised. We all know this muck is what inevitably forms whenever someone tries to mix the making of policy with the making of money. And Team Trump’s West Wing and Cabinet are staffed with many folks experienced only in the latter, who’ve been trying to figure out how to do the former.

Among them: Trump (of course) and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Ivanka’s husband and the Trump White House’s adviser in charge of almost all policy things, foreign and domestic.

These days we’ve seen Trump publicly flailing and failing – as when he shocked his own staff by blurting that he was going to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. (Thus starting a trade war that Republicans say can only hurt Americans.) Trump’s similar borderline panic moves usually come after special counsel Robert Mueller seems to have achieved another breakthrough in his probe of whether Team Trump colluded in any way with Russian operatives seeking to sabotage America’s democracy in the 2016 presidential election.

In this year when Netflix has begun the final season of its “House of Cards” presidential intrigue series, Washington’s real-life special counsel has been focusing on global house-of-cards investment schemes. After all, years before this last election, Trump’s Atlantic City casino hit hard times and he had to devise house-of-cards schemes to avoid financial ruin. Trump became deeply involved with Russian oligarchs who were famously linked with the Kremlin and sometimes Russia’s mafia.

Trump’s financial house of cards was stabilised partly because Russians invested grandly in his golf courses and condos, paying top prices. That led to speculation that perhaps Russians were laundering money through Trump’s properties (which may or may not prove to be criminal).

Fast-forward to Trump’s son-in-law: Kushner is reportedly vastly over-extended financially. The New York Times recently revealed that Kushner’s family has received $500 million in loans from two financial firms since Trump-Kushner moved into the West Wing. Kushner met a number of times at the White House with one of Apollo Global Management’s founders, Joshua Harris; he reportedly wanted an administration job. He never got the job, but the Apollo private equity firm lent the Kushner family’s Kushner Companies $184 million. Meanwhile, in the spring of 2017, Citigroup’s chief executive, Michael Corbat, met with Kushner at the White House, and Citigroup then loaned Kushner Companies and a partner $325 million.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that China, Israel and Mexico had concluded Kushner’s financial needs were so desperate that they held meetings to devise ways they could manipulate him. Trump’s national security adviser, Gen. H. R. McMaster, learned Kushner met with officials from various countries but never reported the meetings to U.S. authorities, as required.

Mueller’s office is investigating an extensive list of global financial contacts and transactions involving Trump’s family and other high- and low-level officials with Trump’s 2016 campaign. Of course it is unclear, at this point, whether any of the dealings will be judged improper. But the fact that these contacts continued – and perhaps even accelerated – following Trump’s 2017 inauguration is a matter that should infuriate all of those Republicans who trusted and supported Trump largely because they believed his pledge to “drain the swamp” that is Washington.

During the 2016 campaign, Republicans were vehement in condemning Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for conflicts of interest because of instances when former President Bill Clinton accepted money for speeches, or donations to the Clinton Foundation, from corporate interests seeking certain state department rulings while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. Republicans said it didn’t matter that she wasn’t involved in the decisions. And I shared the GOP concerns and criticised the Clintons’ for allowing that appearance of impropriety.

Q: What do you think Republicans would be saying if the Clintons dared to do precisely what the Trump-Kushner folks did?

A: If a fictitious Clinton Companies had accepted $500 million in loans (as Kushner Companies did), Republicans would recycle their “Lock her up!” chant – and they’d have a good point.

So: If the Grand Old Party really wants to patriotically drain the Washington swamp and Make America Great Again, here’s an idea: the Republicans can start by draining Trump’s West Wing.

Tribune News Service

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