After Chris Christie was removed from Trump's transition team, VP Mike Pence has taken over and made good on his boss's pledge to impose a five-year lobbying ban on anyone who joins the administration. Reported Politico today:
The lobbying ban is more stringent than Obama’s lobbying restrictions. Obama banned administration officials from contacting their former agency for two years, but they could still lobby other parts of the government.
People familiar with the transition said Trump aides were infuriated by stories detailing the many lobbyists on the transition. After taking control of the transition from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and other Trump aides insisted on making good on their five-year ban.
Of course all is not what it seems with Trump and his promises to "drain the swamp". The Politico report continued:
Democrats and Republicans alike warn that the ban could compound Trump’s problems recruiting top-tier talent. And they say it will discourage lobbyists from formally registering to avoid having to comply with the rule.
“It will only incent further motivation to avoid having to register as a dreaded lobbyist,” one Democratic lobbyist said.
As of today, we know of no lobbyists on Trump's team who have been fired (although Trump claims they were). According to Trump communications director Jason Miller and Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer, anyone who is a lobbyist must "provide a termination of lobbying form if they are a registered lobbyist."
What this basically means is that all the lobbyists in Trump's administration just have to sign a form saying they are not lobbyists. This is a neat trick that allows them to continue working in the Trump administration, get out later and call themselves a "consultant" so that they can continue lobbying. As Daniella Diaz at CNN noted:
A common practice in Washington is for key power players not to register as a lobbyist, but instead work as a consultant or adviser -- allowing them to take their experience and contacts to make hundreds of thousands of dollars on K Street.
Trump has claimed he wants to stop this well known practice in Washington, but given the people he is surrounding himself with, there's about as much chance of it happening as there is him giving up Twitter. Take for example, Trump's economic team. Politico reported today on the emergence of an administration that "looks like an investment banker's dream":
Former Goldman Sachs banker Steven Munchin has been seen at Trump Tower amid rumors that he’s the leading candidate for Treasury secretary. Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross appears headed to the Commerce Department. Steve Bannon, another Goldman alum, will work steps from the Oval Office. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon remains a possibility as Treasury secretary and will serve as an outside adviser if he doesn't get the job.
It’s a restoration of Wall Street power — and a potential flip in the way the industry is regulated — perhaps unparalleled in American history.
“You would have to go back to the 1920s to see so much Wall Street influence coming to Washington,” said Charles Geisst, a Wall Street historian at Manhattan College. “It’s the most dramatic turnaround one could imagine. That’s the truly astonishing part.”
Then, there are the oilmen like Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, and Forrest Lucas, the founder of Lucas Oil, who have been named as potential candidates to head up the departments of energy and the interior, and a list of billionaires and industry insiders for other administration positions that would make the Russian government look like a bastion of transparency.
If you know anything about Donald Trump, believing that he wants to end corruption in Washington requires a truly astonishing act of cognitive dissonance. As Jonathan Chait pointed out in New York Magazine earlier this year, Trump was "the most corrupt presidential candidate ever." He continued:
Trump’s entire business career reeks, beginning with his early associations with organized crime and proceeding through a career of swindling. “No other candidate for the White House this year has anything close to Trump’s record of repeated social and business dealings with mobsters, swindlers, and other crooks,” reports David Cay Johnston. Trump is not merely comfortable doing business with criminals and thugs — his habits of manipulating bankruptcy laws and swindling his partners have left him reliant upon, let us say, unconventional sources of investment, many of whom are the scum of the Earth.
Donald Trump the citizen and Donald Trump the President are not different people, and there is simply no evidence to suggest he's going to change. He might well be banning lobbyists in name, but he is launching a government with one explicit function: Making big business and big oil richer than they have ever been before. Trump is not "draining the swamp", he's filling it with toxic lead.
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