Friday, February 14, 2020


Last week, Jonathan Chait wrote about presidential buckraking:
The Washington Post has obtained Secret Service receipts from Trump’s properties. It reveals a massive profiteering scandal.

... the Trump Organization appears to be overcharging the Secret Service for the use of its cottage properties. At Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, the Secret Service paid $17,000 a month for a three-bedroom cottage. “Since fall 2017, there have been 100 rental listings for homes with three or more bedrooms in Bedminster, according to the website,” the Post finds. “None were anywhere near Trump’s rate; the average rental rate was $3,400, and the highest rent listed on Zillow was $8,500.”

... The Post notes NBC News asked the Department of Homeland Security for records of Trump’s spending at his Washington, D.C., Hotel. DHS said it spent $159,000 there in Trump’s first year. But the record did not include the rate the Secret Service paid on those stays, or explain why it is spending money to stay there at all, when Trump’s Washington residence — you know, the largeish white house on Pennsylvania Avenue, a few blocks from Trump’s hotel — is already financed by taxpayers?
I agree with Mike the Mad Biologist that this should have been a major focus of Democratic investigations -- much bigger than Ukraine:
Unlike the Ukraine charges, which involved a bunch of people with Russian names nobody can keep straight, everybody gets being charged too much–way too much. It really wouldn’t have been a hard case to make–and multiple attorneys general have filed suits which could have provided more evidence (and they would have been willing to testify). Plus, it would have been nearly impossible for Republicans to defend because it is so clearly greed and nothing more than that. Sure, they might have acquitted anyway, but this is really easy to hang around Republicans’ necks.
When I've made similar arguments, I've been told, Yes, but the Ukraine story is easy to understand. There's a one-sentence version: Trump wouldn't release aid to Ukraine unless Ukraine promised to announce an investigation into one of Trump's political enemies.

But ordinary Americans don't care about the fate of Ukraine. They cared about the Cold War, and about the hot wars we've fought over the years. They care about fighting terrorists. They may know Russia is a bad actor, but it's not a bogeyman the way Hitler, the Soviet Union, and Osama bin Laden were. If your car is in the shop and you just found out your kid needs braces, concerns about Ukraine's security seem very, very remote. And behind that simple summary is an ungainly, convoluted narrative. (A September post by Chait was titled "The Ukraine Scandal Is Not One Phone Call. It’s a Massive Plot.")

Presidential buckraking is extremely easy to understand: Trump takes advantage of his office to channel money to his own businesses. Presidents aren't supposed to personally profit from the presidency. Some of this money comes from foreign governments. The Constitution specifically forbids that. To comprehend this, you don't need to have a grasp on geopolitics. Also, when Trump pockets this money he can't claim to be engaging in a noble act, the way he can when he says he's very concerned about corruption in Ukraine.

The crimes for which Trump was impeached were serious -- but they were remote from most Americans' experience. Trump's profiteering is much simpler to understand. If House Democrats wanted to grab the attention of the public, that's where they should have turned.

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