Buckle Up DC! We’re going on a Swamp Tour

Newsletter 21: There’s so much more to Trump’s corruption than Ukraine

This Thursday, we’re taking our corruption analysis to the people via DC’s first ever Swamp Tour. A what? That’s right, in partnership with the Progressive Change Institute, we are packing swing voters and reporters onto a bus and treating them to a sampling of this city’s most vile swamp creatures. We’ll pass by well-known landmarks, executive offices, and a few lavish homes in a whirlwind tour of Trump era corruption.

It’s no secret that Donald Trump has failed to “drain the swamp” - in fact, it is so often highlighted as to have become a bit tired. Periodically, however, it is important that we shake off the cloud of corruption fatigue and give some thought to what that betrayed promise really means. It’s not “mere” lawlessness, but lawlessness with real life consequences. That’s what this tour is all about. 

In this oversaturated news environment, Trump’s unhinged tweets too often eclipse stories about what his administration is actually doing to hurt regular people. It’s a lot. From Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ efforts to enrich for profit colleges and student loan servicers at borrowers’ expense, to the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler’s decision to repeal protections on drinking water — selling out regular people at the behest of the coal lobby (his former, and likely future, employer) — the DC swamp is looking swampier than ever. 

If you are a member of the press interested in learning more, please feel free to reach out at oversight@cepr.net . And check out swamptourdc.com to see more information on some of the featured swamp creatures (including, eventually, a video with tour highlights to be shared widely)!

Congressional Oversight of the Executive Branch

In the context of impeachment, we think that it is more, not less, important to draw the public’s attention to the full scope of this administration’s corruption. The Swamp Tour is our case for why oversight should not be limited to the impeachment process, and why the impeachment inquiry should not be limited to the Ukraine scandal. House Democrats can, and should, do it all! 

Of course, Democrats are quite adept at erecting barriers to their own success. Last week, in a conversation with The Nation, the Project’s Jeff Hauser argued that the choice between a narrow and a broad impeachment inquiry is just such a self-imposed obstacle. House Democrats can simultaneously move quickly to draw up articles of impeachment based on the Ukraine scandal while continuing to investigate other impeachable offenses on a less-accelerated timeline. 

Choosing to only pursue the narrow inquiry, as House Democrats seem to be favoring, might not only weaken their case for impeachment, but also undermine other worthy investigations. As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent writes, throwing the weight of impeachment behind the Ukraine investigation alone could undercut the case the House Judiciary Committee has been making in court that it requires expedited access to materials and testimony because it is in the midst of an impeachment inquiry. 

With reports of at least one new whistleblower coming forward to provide information on the Ukraine affair, it is also important that Democrats consider how a narrow inquiry might chill other civil servants’ willingness to report wrongdoing. As we’re seeing now, when committees’ fight on whistleblowers’ behalf, more people with damaging information are, unsurprisingly, spurred to speak. By the same token, however, if lawmakers make clear that they are uninterested in any case other than Ukraine, they send the message that they will not fight for other whistleblowers, thereby disincentivizing others from taking the risk of coming forward. That could mean that important information needlessly remains hidden. 

2020 (and Potentially 2021)

We’re fast approaching another debate and this time twelve candidates will share a single stage. That will likely mean more time devoted to quibbling and overly-rehearsed one-liners and, amazingly, even less time for substantive discussions of how the candidates would wield presidential power. Moderators who are pressed for time, for example, will likely pass up the opportunity to, e.g., use Elizabeth Warren’s executive branch heavy labor platform to spur a robust debate on government policy with respect to workers’ rights.

Overcrowding is not, however, the only problem we have with the DNC’s decision to only hold one October debate, on October 15th, instead of splitting the field into two debates on the 15th and 16th. That decision means that the only debate will occur hours before the Federal Election Committee’s (FEC) third quarter filing deadline, significantly reducing the likelihood that moderators abandon the right wing talking points in favor of questions about candidates’ donors. That’s a real loss. We wrote all about it for the American Prospect last week, check it out! 

Independent Agencies

Trump’s repeated, flagrant violations of election law serve as a near constant reminder of why the FEC’s incapacitation is a matter of urgent concern. This latest violation is no different. 

Last week, Georgetown Law professors Neal Katyal and Joshua Geltzer drew attention to the fact that the Department of Justice (DOJ) seems to have failed to refer the whistleblower’s complaint to the FEC, something it is required to do under a standing Memorandum of Understanding between the two agencies. Had DOJ referred the complaint, the FEC could have opened an investigation and made the whole affair public. 

Except that it couldn’t have because it currently lacks a quorum and is, therefore, unable to take any action. That, of course, did not occur by chance. Trump has been exceedingly slow to nominate people to fill the FEC’s vacant and expired seats.

Unable to ensure the loyalty of independent commissions, Trump seems to favor their incapacitation. Disturbingly, however, he is getting away with these quiet attacks almost unchallenged. We are keeping a close eye on this situation via our Independent Federal Agency Monitor and publish a summary of our findings each month. Check out the update for the month of September!

Want more?

Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to since last week’s Technology-focused newsletter:

The DNC’s Debate Gambit Prevents Donor Accountability

Proposals for Reform Volume II: National Task Force on Rule of Law & Democracy

Freddie Mac Using Shady AI Company for Mortgage Loans

Revolving Door Project Joins Partners to Tell Trump: Rescind Executive Order Cutting Federal Advisory Committees

Politico Morning Transportation, 10/8/19

'Partisan': White House refuses cooperation in impeachment probe

Big Tobacco Lobbied to Save Vaping. Now It Controls the Leading E-Cigarette Company