Tag Archives: conflicts of interest

Ethics Observations On President-Elect Trump’s First News Conference

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1. I watched the introductions and about half of Trump’s opening remarks, and had to bail. I just had to. Not that Trump’s manner and speaking style were any worse than before; it’s just that the thought that young people will see this as acceptable public presentation and speaking clarity was too horrible to bear. Even with the verbalization-challenged Bushes, the level of basic language skills and vocabulary wasn’t nearly this bad.

I had to watch an old video of JFK wittily fencing with reporters to get the thought out of my head:

2. Thus this discussion is based on the transcript. I had to search a bit to find an online transcript that wasn’t constantly interrupted by editorial comments and “fact-checks.” These contained a lot of nit-picking and suggestions of deception (and some useful clarifications).  It seems to me that the “fact-checks” of Trump feel adversarial, while the recent fact-check of President Obama’s final speech were consistently friendly, and voluntarily refused to take issue with genuinely misleading statements. For example, Obama said, “If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce.”  NPR’s annotation:

“Via The New Republic: “From 2000 to 2010, a decade during which the white population as a whole grew by just 1.2 percent, the number of white children in the United States declined by 4.3 million. Meanwhile the child populations of Hispanics, Asians, and people of two or more races were increasing.”

But that’s not the fact to check. Who says that anyone is “unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants just because they don’t look like us“? That’s a straw man, and should have been called out (I threw a pillow at the TV screen) as one. Clear-thinking citizens are unwilling to invest in the children of illegal immigrants because they shouldn’t be here, and the more we “invest” in them, the more encouragement we give to foreign citizens to break our laws.

But NPR likes illegal immigration, so this wouldn’t occur to them, I guess.

3. I think it’s fair to say that no previous POTUS or PEOTUS press conference began with a frontal assault on the press for publishing fake news. That’s how this one began, with Sean Spicer attacking the already infamous Buzzfeed story. He also attacked CNN for reporting on Buzzfeed’s report. Here was NPR’s annotation, in part:

“BuzzFeed and CNN both reported on Tuesday about documents alleging that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump,” as CNN reported, though the two news organizations presented the information in vastly different ways. CNN mostly focused on who had seen the documents and when, citing unnamed sources and U.S. officials in different places. However, CNN said that while it had reviewed the “35-page compilation of the memos” alleging that link, it was “not reporting on details of the memos, as it has not independently corroborated the specific allegations.”

NPR’s distinction doesn’t excuse CNN. The news media does this kind of thing all the time, it’s true: it reports the fact that an irresponsible news source has reported a rumor, unsourced claim, ora lie, and thus further circulates an account that never should have been published in the first place. Later, Trump was asked about his tweet asking if we were now living in Nazi Germany. (It’s cute to see my Facebook friends fuming about that tweet, when they have been absurdly calling Trump a Nazi for months. Has anyone contacted Harry Belafonte for his comments?) Trump’s response:

“I think it was disgraceful — disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that — and I say that, and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do. I think it’s a disgrace that information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public. As far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they’re going to suffer the consequences. They already are.”

Crude, but fair. It would be been nice if Trump had the wit and historical perspective to remind the assembled, and perhaps teach his audience,  what the Big Lie technique championed by Josef Goebbels was and how the Buzzfeed-CNN handoff would have pleased him. I’ve got to learned to lower my expectations. Nevertheless, the Nazi reference in that context was well-earned. It is disgraceful that the dossier was leaked by U.S. intelligence personnel. “Failing pile of garbage”  is not Presidential rhetoric (sigh) but the sentiment is correct. CNN capped a week of neon-bright biased and inaccurate reporting across the news spectrum by giving this slimy story greater visibility, thus advancing a Big Lie. CNN deserved its comeuppance, which was soon to come. Continue reading

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Ethics Observations On The Trump Sons’ Influence Peddling Story

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To catch you up: Celebrity gossip website TMZ  hyped the launch of new Texas nonprofit led by Donald Trump’s adult sons Donald Jr. and Eric based on what it called a “draft” of a soon to be released event brochure. The non-profit was offering, we were told, access to the new President during inauguration weekend  in exchange for million-dollar donations to unnamed “conservation” charities.  Prospective million-dollar donors to the “Opening Day 2017” event on  January 21, the day after inauguration, were to receive a “private reception and photo opportunity for 16 guests with President Donald J. Trump,” a “multi-day hunting and/or fishing excursion for 4 guests with Donald Trump, Jr. and/or Eric Trump, and team, ”as well as tickets to other events” and “autographed guitars by an Opening Day 2017 performer.”

The Center for Public Integrity was on this like a shot…and so was the news media. I received a link in an e-mail from someone who archly noted that “You seem to be interested in influence peddling,” a reference to my many posts about the real purpose behind the Clinton Foundation, “so perhaps you will find this of interest [Unsaid but understood: “…you Donald Trump enabling, racist, fascist bastard!”] In the link, TIME took the hand-off from the Center, and got a series of quotes from critics, like Larry Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan campaign reform organization.“This is problematic on so many levels,” Larry said.  “This is Donald Trump and the Trump family using a brand new organization to raise $1 million contributions for a vague goal of giving money to conservation charities, which seems a way of basically just selling influence and selling the ability to meet with the president.”

Noble cautioned that the details of the event and its association with the new nonprofit listing the Trump brothers as directors were still unclear. “It’s really hard to identify all the problems when they’re so vague,” he said.

True. As of today, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are no longer listed as directors of a that non-profit. Papers removing their names from the Opening Day were processed by the state of Texas,  a spokeswoman for the Texas secretary of state told CNN Money.

Never mind!

Observations: Continue reading

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Now THIS Is A Conflict Of Interest…Or Is It?

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Is it a conflict of interest for a lawyer to represent a client suing herself? Lawyers are all forbidden to bring adverse actions against their own clients; it is the conflict of all conflicts, a pure breach of loyalty. Does this mean, then, that even when a statute requires a plaintiff to sue herself as a defendant, it can’t be done without breaching the ethics rules?

The case is Bagley v, Bagley, and both Bagleys are the same Bagley.

State Farm Insurance Company handled Barbara Bagley’s car insurance. She was driving when her car flipped and killed her common law husband.  To compel State Farm to indemnify her, Bagley, in her dual capacities as sole heir and personal representative of the estate of her husband, was required to bring this suit against herself as the negligent driver. Bagley as plaintiff and as her husband’s heir brought a cause of action pursuant to Utah Code section 78B-3-106, Utah‘s wrongful death statute, alleging that the defendant—her— negligently caused her, that is, the plaintiff’s husband’s death, thereby depriving his sole heir –the plaintiff, but also the defendant—of his “love, companionship, society, comfort, care, protection, financial support, pleasure, and affection.”  She also brought a second cause of action pursuant to Utah Code section 78B-3-107, Utah‘s survival action statute, alleging that the defendant—her again— negligently caused the deceased to experience pain and suffering prior to his death, entitling Bagley’s late husband’s estate to other damages. Continue reading

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Note To Prof. Painter On His Teeth Gnashing Over Trump’s Conflicts: “If You Have No Option, You Have No Problem,” or “NOW You Tell Us?”

Ethics expert Richard Painter, who was White House ethics counsel from 2005 to 2007, has authored a thorough, convincing and I’m quite certain accurate brief about all the problems arising from soon-to-be President Donald Trump’s vast business connections, and the conflicts of interest they can and will involve. It’s an automatic ethics train wreck. Here’s Painter:

Even absent a quid pro quo, the Emoluments Clause bans payments to an American public official from foreign governments. Yet they will arise whenever foreign diplomats stay in Trump hotels at their governments’ expense; whenever parties are organized by foreign governments in Trump hotels (Bahrain just announced such a party in a Trump hotel this week); whenever loans are made to the company by the Bank of China or any other foreign-government-owned bank; whenever rent is paid by companies controlled by foreign governments with offices in Trump buildings; and whenever there is any other arrangement whereby foreign government money goes into the president’s businesses….How can we expect a Trump administration to rein in loose lending practices, particularly in the real estate sector, when the president himself owes hundreds of millions of dollars to banks? What will he do when a foreign dictator acts up in a country where there is a Trump hotel?

Yikes. Yikes and true. Also Yikes, true, and why are you bringing this up now when there is absolutely nothing that can be done about it? Continue reading

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Presenting Rationalization #63, “Yoo’s Rationalization,” And How It Missed Getting On The List This Long, I’ll Never Know

no-means-yesRationalization #63, the eighty-first rationalization overall when you add up the sub-rationalizations on the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List, is a major one, and should be near the top. (One of these days I’ll re-arrange and renumber them.) It is in evidence almost every day, and embodies the human fallacy of denial, as well as confirmation bias and contrived ignorance. Named after John Yoo, the Bush lawyer who wrote the infamous memo declaring that waterboarding, an “enhanced interrogation technique,” wasn’t technically torture, Rationalization #63, Yoo’s Rationalization or “It isn’t what it is,” is one of the most effective self-deceptions there is, a handy-dandy way to avoid logic, conscience, accountability and reality.*

I saw a prime example of it this morning, in former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s op-ed about the “Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals Program,” a euphemism for “amnesty for illegal immigrants who arrived as kids with their parents, so they can grow up and vote Democratic.”

She writes,

“This narrative about an initiative that has given temporary haven and work authorization to more than 700,000 undocumented minors, the so-called Dreamers, still has critics howling about presidential overreach, about brazen nose-thumbing at the rule of law and about encouraging others to breach the borders of the United States. But there’s a problem with this take on the program. It is dead wrong.”

What the program really is, she explains, is “prosecutorial discretion,” like the case by case discretion prosecutors have to use to avoid misusing resources.  This is Rationalization #63. Continue reading

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Trump, Master Of Rationalizations, Scores A Perfect #4 AND A Perfect #5!

Former District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry attends a news conference on the steps of Washington's city hall Monday, July 6, 2009. At the news conference Barry's attorney Frederick Cooke said Barry vehemently denies the allegation by Donna Watts-Brighthaupt, and that he's confident the stalking charge will be dropped. Barry, 73, stood behind Cooke but said nothing. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Somewhere, Marion Berry is smiling…

This is juuuust the beginning…

I have noted before that our President Elect never expresses any ethical awareness, and uses rationalizations exclusively to explain and justify his conduct. This is typical of say, 12-year-olds, but is less common among professionals in responsible positions.

Trump just authored a classic example, following the expression of concerns about his conflicts of interest, which are massive, unavoidable, and which should have been addressed seriously long ago, like in a Presidential debate, and at length. Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton and various journalists felt it would be more helpful to their cause to spend time talking about what Trump had said about an over-weight Miss Universe and in a private conversation with Billy Bush. How did that work out for you, guys?

Now various lawyers and ethics experts are saying that Trump “must” sell off his business holdings because his company’s myriad business entanglements will cast many White House decisions under a cloud. The President Elect has a neat answer for them, to wit:

“The law’s totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”

— Donald Trump, interview with the New York Times, Nov. 22, 2016

Bravo! This is a perfect expression of Ethics Alarms Rationalizations #4, and #5

4. Marion Barry’s Misdirection, or “If it isn’t illegal, it’s ethical.”

The late D.C. Mayor and lovable rogue Marion Barry earned himself a place in the Ethics Distortion Hall of Fame with his defense of his giving his blatantly unqualified girlfriend a high-paying job with the DC government. Barry declared that since there was no law against using the public payroll as his own private gift service, there was nothing unethical about it. Once the law was passed (because of him), he then agreed that what he did would be wrong the next time he did it.

Ethics is far broader than law, which is a system of behavior enforced by the state with penalties for violations. Ethics is good conduct as determined by the values and customs of society. Professions promulgate codes of ethics precisely because the law cannot proscribe all inappropriate or harmful behavior. Much that is unethical is not illegal. Lying. Betrayal. Nepotism. Many other kinds of behavior as well, but that is just the factual error in the this rationalization.

The greater problem with it is that it omits the concept of ethics at all.  Ethical conduct is self-motivated, based on the individual’s values and the internalized desire to do the right thing. Barry’s construct assumes that people only behave ethically if there is a tangible, state-enforced penalty for not doing so, and that not incurring a penalty (that is, not breaking the law) is, by definition, ethical.

Nonsense, of course. It is wrong to intentionally muddle the ethical consciousness of the public, and Barry’s statement simply reinforces a misunderstanding of right and wrong.

Continue reading

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President Trump’s Massive, Unfixable, Unwaivable Conflict Of Interest…And Why Weren’t We Worrying About This BEFORE The Election?

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Donald Trump, as President of the United States, will have an unprecedented conflict of interest—many, actually—that realistically cannot be fixed and never could. He will be President, and he will own a global set of businesses worth billions of dollars that his policies and decisions will unavoidably affect for better or worse, usually to his long term benefit or disadvantage.

Almost nobody, including me, and it’s my business to do so, focused substantially on the problem during the campaign. Trump, as  usually, airily dismissed the issue when it came up as if it was nothing, saying, “If I become president, I couldn’t care less about my company. It’s peanuts,” during one debate. “Run the company, kids. Have a good time.” Typical, stupid, and neither Clinton nor the moderator had the wit or information to follow up with the required, “Wait a minute, that doesn’t deal with the problem. Will you also not care about your kids, Mr. Trump? Your companies’ stockholders? Business partners? Employees?”

At least we know why Hillary was reluctant to pursue this issue, don’t we?

The Trump Organization’s executive vice president, Alan Garten, similarly brushed the problem away, saying in September, “His focus is going to be solely on improving the country. The business is not going to be a factor or an interest at that point.” That’s an incredible statement, naive at best, dishonest at worse. Of course it will be an interest. How could it not be? The question is whether it will be a factor. Human nature, and Trump’s nature, strongly suggest that it will be.

Who can tell with Trump? Maybe he really believes there’s no problem. After all, as I have written repeatedly and all evidence proves, the man doesn’t know ethics from ambergris. Whether he knows it or not, however, this is a massive  and potentially crippling problem for him and his administration, not to mention his children and his businesses. It is especially a problem because the same journalists who dismissed Hillary’s family foundation’s influence peddling while she was Secretary of State and after as another overblown conservative attack (after all, why should venality and hidden conflicts of interest interfere with electing the First Woman President?) have the long knives out to eviscerate Trump on any hint of impropriety, real or not, they can find.  This is real. Continue reading

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