A Rubio Scandal, And Now The Test: How Does He Handle It?

lit fuse

It looks like the Washington Post has Republican Presidential candidate Marco Rubio dead to rights on a substantial conflict of interest scandal, or worse. It dates back to 2002, when the Florida Senator was a rising politician serving as majority whip of the Florida House of Representatives.

The Post convincingly documents that Rubio used his official position to urge state regulators to grant a real estate license to his brother-in-law Orlando Cicilia, a convicted cocaine trafficker released from prison 20 months earlier. Rubio sent a letter on his official statehouse stationery to the Florida Division of Real Estate, recommending  Cicilia “for licensure without reservation.” The letter did not disclose that Cicilia was married to Rubio’s sister,  or that the convicted cocaine dealer was then living with Rubio’s parents. Rubio merely wrote that he had “known” Cicilia “for over 25 years.”

This is deception by omission, as well as an abuse of power and position. There is also the unanswered question of whether Rubio or his family received financial assistance from Cicilia when he had access to drug money from $15 million worth of cocaine he was convicted of distributing in 1989. The federal government seized Cicilia’s home, but the money has never been found. Moreover, the Post reports, Rubio-affiliated PACs and campaigns, including his current one, have paid Cicilia’s two sons more than $130,000 in the past decade.

The test for Rubio now is how he responds to the Post’s revelations. My advice, as an ethicist, would be that he should agree that the letter was misleading, that it was wrong for him to write it, that he was simply trying to help his wife’s brother, who was struggling, and that he honestly believed ( assuming he did) that his brother-in-law had reformed and deserved a second chance, but that he went about helping him the wrong way. Rubio should also, if he can do so honestly, explain that this favor was not a quid pro quo for Cicilia’s past financial assistance using dirty money.

If he can’t truthfully deny that his letter was in part a repayment for a financial loan of gift from a drug-dealer, Rubio would be obligated to withdraw from the race for the GOP nomination.

I can’t imagine a valid excuse for the $130,000 payments, but Rubio better have an explanation for that, too.

The signs so far are not good. Rubio has thus far refused to respond to the Post’s inquiries, which suggests some furious strategizing is going on. You don’t need to strategize if you just tell the truth. What Rubio’s campaign has said initially is ominous. Rubio’s presidential campaign adviser, Todd Harris, said in an email:

“Orlando made some very big mistakes almost 30 years ago, served his time, and has paid his debt to society. Today he is a private citizen, husband and father, simply trying to make a living. It is appalling and shameful that The Washington Post continues to drag him into the spotlight.”

This… is bad.

Harris is using the debate fallacy known as “The Blind Man’s Trap,” spinning off a part of the Post’s story as if it were the whole, like handing a blind man an elephant’s tail and telling him it’s an elephant. Unfortunately for Rubio, we aren’t blind, or as stupid as Harris wishes we were. The Post doesn’t care about Cecilia; the issue is Rubio, a candidate for President, and the ethics principles and possibly laws he violated to help Cecilia. For the first response of the Rubio campaign to be such a blatant deflection—“How dare you pick on this poor ex-drug dealer?”—suggests both desperation and a low opinion of the public’s Republican voters’ intelligence….which, to be fair, is somewhat justified by the poll numbers of Donald Trump.

For Marco Rubio, the Post scoop is an opportunity to demonstrate character, or proof that he lacks it.

We shall see.


22 thoughts on “A Rubio Scandal, And Now The Test: How Does He Handle It?

  1. Jack said, “For Marco Rubio, the Post scoop is an opportunity to demonstrate character, or proof that he lacks it.”

    I agree. This could be a turning point for him, it’s his choice which direction he choose to turn. I’ll be listening for his response and waiting for your blog regarding his response.

    Just to stir the pot a bit…

    He could use the Hillary Clinton response, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”; oh wait, that would show a lack of character for anyone except Clinton. 😉

  2. The problem with this and why Rubio will not be able to make it go away is that the facts seem pretty straight-forward. Getting to the heart of a Clinton scandal requires patience, advanced degrees, forensic accountants, and someone adept at finding needles in haystacks. By the time we even think we have figured out the ethics breach (or even crime), the public is bored and moves on. The Rubio scandal though? He’s dead in the water.

    I predict Cruz is going to take the nomination. With Rubio out, a ton of support is going to flow his way.

    • A Clinton scandal only requires that because their supporters act as insulators. “You had a separate Email server in the washroom of an apartment building that you used to conduct State Department business on?” “Your daughter was paid $600,000 a year to work part time at NBC?” “There wasn’t any connection to a YouTube video?”

      I mean… Really Beth…. Did any of these required forensics? Or were the stories just buried because people rushed in and created noise?

    • But I agree with you about Cruz though, Trump is only ahead because the rest of the vote is Split, and Rubio supporters will find many comfortable similarities with Cruz. And once Cruz is ahead, I think that people will jump over simply because they’re supporting the guy with the most support.

  3. Frankly, it’s as much a test for the media as for Rubio himself. If they go after him like a pack of rabid dogs and just won’t let go of this, a la the Valerie Plame non-affair, vis-à-vis their light touch on Hilary’s multiple issues, then what does that say about them?

  4. “Rubio made a trivial mistake almost 15 years ago, and learned from it. Today he is a presidential candidate, husband and father, simply trying to make the USA a better place. It is appalling and shameful that The Washington Post continues to drag him into the spotlight.”

    SIGH. The script writes itself.

  5. This is bad. This behavior by Rubio is awful. True third world, banana republic, corrosive, tribal, Cuban-American, Iberian, Caribbean corruption. Right out of “Scarface.” Sorry Marco. I was rooting for you but, “Adios, Senor. Via con Dios.”

    I can’t wait until we get the following rationalization from the Rubio camp: “Are you kidding? What South Florida realtor hasn’t dealt a little coke? Dios mio!” All they need to do is hire Mary Matalin’s hubby.

  6. I didn’t know all the details until now. Thanks, Jack. Obviously, this is damn serious stuff. This is Roger Clinton all over again, in fact. There is a limit to what a man of authority can do for a family member, even if he honestly thinks that person has reformed himself. Forgiveness is one thing, but one must be prepared to pay the piper for misdeeds. It’s not the role of a legislator to use his influence to extend that forgiveness to escaping the consequences under law of that relative’s actions. Then there’s the additional factor of drug money to his campaign fund. This is utterly unacceptable and should be cause for an (otherwise) ethical public official to suspend any political activity until a judgment can be rendered. Does he or his spokesman really think they can fluff off something like this by attacking the messenger (even the Washington Post) and labeling Rubio’s actions “a mistake”? “Mistake” has come to be a euphemism for sordid and illicit dealings revealed on a politician or other celebrity! Unless Rubio can come up with a Mafia-like apparatus that rivals that of the Clintons, he might as well withdraw gracefully now while he can.

  7. … You don’t need to strategize if you just tell the truth…

    Isn’t that like “you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide”, “you don’t need guns as the police will protect you” (what with being from the government and there to protect you), and so on? Considering what some people will do with a narrative, it’s only sensible to be careful what you let them do with the truth.

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