When Senator Al Franken faced a sexual misconduct scandal last fall, the outcome was painful accountability. Allegations of unwanted touching – and intense pressure from senior members of his own party – forced the Minnesota Senator to resign.
The contrast to the GOP of Donald Trump is striking. For Republican politicians, accountability has lost all meaning. In recent months, America has seen GOP leaders, appointees and candidates violate the public trust – and in several cases, likely the law – with zero accountability within the White House or the party.
The deformation began at the top. Trump governs outside the ethical bounds of the presidency. And from day one, Republicans in Congress have effectively suspended the rule of law for him – in particular, permitting the president, his children and in-laws to profit from his office, without fear of reproach or reprisal.
The infection in the GOP body politic that began with Trump has spread throughout his cabinet, and to state level Republican politicians and candidates. These are men whose scandals – under the old rules of engagement, in the party of personal responsibility – would have forced them from the arena. But in the Trump era, they have hung on, often following the president’s lead in painting themselves as victims of “witch hunts” and “fake news.”
What follows is an all-star roster of post-accountability Republicans.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt
Trump’s scandal-plagued EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has broken the law, according to a review by the Government Accountability Office. The administrator’s decision to spend more than $43,000 installing a sound-proof phone booth in his office broke statutory limits on Pruitt’s office redecoration budget: $5,000 without a notice to Congress. By misappropriating funds “in a manner specifically prohibited by law,” the administrator also violated a law called the Antideficiency Act, GAO concluded.
Yet even this lawlessness appears to be a low-level scandal in the Pruitt pantheon. He has signed off on lavish raises for favored deputies. He’s raised Congressional ire for extravagant spending on first-class air travel and for wasting millions on round-the-clock security protection. He’s taken international trips with little connection to his duties as EPA administrator, and his security detail has attended to him during his personal travel – even on a trip to Disneyland.
The administrator has additionally sought security perks more familiar to tin-pot dictators, such as a bulletproof SUV with run-flat tires. He’s also demanded that emergency lights be used to speed him through D.C. traffic, including to make dinner reservations. (Pruitt fired the EPA staffer who signed off on a report concluding: “EPA Intelligence has not identified any specific, credible, direct threat to the EPA administrator.”)
Apart from his expensive paranoia, Pruitt has been exposed for dubious real estate transactions. In his home state of Oklahoma, Pruitt reportedly bought a house at far below market rate from a lobbyist, obtaining a mortgage from a banker – now barred from practicing finance – who has become one of his top EPA deputies. In a separate housing scandal, Pruitt is under fire for paying a laughably low $50-a-night rent on a condo owned by the wife of lobbyist with business before the EPA.
Pruitt has clung to his job – with praise by President Trump: “Scott is doing a great job!”– despite at least 170 representatives and senators signing a letter calling for his immediate resignation. In the upside-down world of Trump’s Washington, K Street now has stronger ethics than the White House. After the condo scandal broke, the lobbyist J. Steven Hart resigned from his firm.
Instead of taking responsibility for his actions, in testimony this week before Congress, Pruitt painted himself as a victim of a political vendetta: “Let’s have no illusions as to what’s going on here,” Pruitt said. “Those who have attacked EPA and me are doing so because they want to derail the President’s agenda and priorities. I am simply not going to let that happen.”
Missouri Governor Eric Greitens
Missouri Republican Eric Greitens is a former Rhodes Scholar and Navy SEAL. Following his election victory in 2016, Greitens was a rising star for the GOP. He’s now facing a pair of felony indictments, but clinging defiantly to office.
The governor of the “Show-Me” state faces a felony invasion of privacy charge for photographing a partially nude woman without her consent. A recent investigation by the Republican-controlled legislature into the 2015 encounter details the account of Greitens’ accuser, who was described as “an overall credible witness.” The alleged victim testified to being tied up and blindfolded in Greitens’ basement, where he allegedly ripped her shirt, pulled down her pants and then snapped a photo, threatening to post it online should she speak out: “Everyone will know what a little whore you are,” she alleges Greitens told her. According to the woman’s account, Greitens then coerced her to perform oral sex: “I felt as though that would allow me to leave,” she said. In a separate encounter, the woman reported that Greitens slapped her face.
Grietens has denied wrongdoing, telling the Associated Press: “This was a consensual relationship. There was no blackmail. There was no violence. There was no threat of violence. There was no threat of blackmail. There was no threat of using a photograph for blackmail. All of those things are false.” Addressing the state investigation, Grietens invoked Trump’s favorite phrase: “This is a political witch hunt,” painting himself as the true victim. “Smearing, lying, and attacking people who want to change how things are done is wrong in Washington and it’s wrong in Missouri.”
Alleged sexual misconduct is only the start of Greitens’ legal troubles. In recent days, Greitens was hit with a second felony indictment for computer tampering: a donor list from a veterans’ non-profit Greitens started was allegedly improperly transferred to benefit his political operations. Thumbing his nose at those calling for his resignation, Greitens delivered a keynote address this week at a prayer breakfast honoring law enforcement.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke
The Secretary of the Interior has been getting a free pass in comparison to Pruitt, despite a scandal sheet nearly as robust. Zinke has an ego as big as the horse he rode in on. (Literally, he rode into Washington on a horse.) He has demanded a special flag be flown when he’s in the agency’s headquarters and minted a commemorative agency coin with his name on it. Zinke’s infrastructure improvements dwarf Pruitt’s. He commissioned the replacement of six doors to department headquarters – at an initial cost of $139,000 to taxpayers.
Zinke’s travel budget has also drawn Congressional scrutiny. He’s used helicopters to fly around D.C. – once to make a horseback riding date with the vice president. He took a $40,000 helicopter tour of Nevada, initially tapping wildfire preparedness funds to pay for the ride. He’s also chartered pricey private flights, among them a $12,000 a trip from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana, when traveling commercial would have cost as little as $300.
Zinke’s travel is the subject of an Inspector General investigation. In November, the IG’s office upbraided Zinke: “Our investigation has been delayed by absent, or incomplete documentation for several pertinent trips and a review process that failed to include proper documentation and accountability.” The IG also blasted an ethics review process by Zinke’s staff for lacking “legal and ethical analysis … to distinguish between personal, political, and official travel.” Misappropriating public funds is reportedly a longtime habit of Zinke’s; he was called out for a “pattern of travel fraud” when he was a Navy SEAL.
Dismissing his travel scandal a “a little B.S.,” Zinke has been accused of improperly mixing official and political business, leading to multiple complaints that he has violated the Hatch Act, which strictly limits the political activities of cabinet members.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
Trump’s Treasury secretary has spent at least $1 million traveling in military aircraft, according to documents obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, including $40,000 on a flight to Miami, where the commercial equivalent would have cost one-tenth of that. (Mnuchin has claimed he needs secure communications at all times and cannot be out of contact even on short domestic flights.) Mnuchin’s travel expenses sparked an
Mnuchin even used a military aircraft on a $33,000 trip to inspect Fort Knox – which just happened to lie in the “path of totality” on the day of last summer’s solar eclipse. (Think Progress has newly obtained photos of Mnuchin’s eclipse party.)
Mnuchin’s travel expenses sparked an investigation by Treasury’s inspector general, who found no violation of the law but hit Mnuchin for failing to justify his deluxe habits: “In almost all cases,” the IG wrote, “a single boilerplate statement constituted the whole analysis and justification for designation and use of military aircraft.”
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney
Mick Mulvaney, who wears dual hats as OMB Director and head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, admitted to a conference of bankers this week that he operated as a pay-to-play Congressman before he joined the Trump White House. “We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress,” Mulvaney said. “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.” Mulvaney took more than $60,000 from payday lenders during his time in Congress. At the helm of the CFPB, he has appeared to pay them back by moving to reverse Obama-era regulations protecting consumers from the notorious industry. Mulvaney reportedly concluded his remarks to the bankers by underscoring how personal lobbying was “fundamental underpinnings of our representative democracy. And you have to continue to do it.” The takeaway for the Trump era seemed abundantly clear: Pay up or get shut out.
Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore
Despite being credibly accused of past molestation and assault of teenage girls, former Alabama Supreme Court Judge Roy Moore enjoyed the support of the RNC and President Trump during his 2017 campaign for the U.S. Senate. “VOTE ROY MOORE!” tweeted Trump into the late days of the campaign, adding: “Roy Moore will always vote with us,” and: “Need your vote to Make America Great Again!” Republican party chair, Ronna McDaniel, fell in line: “The president has said he wants to keep this seat Republican,” she told CNN. “The RNC is the political arm of the White House.” The GOP, whose platform celebrates “family values,” spent more than $322,0000 backing Moore, who rejected the allegations of sexual misconduct as “fake news.” Conservative Alabama voters ultimately rejected this monstrous bigot – Moore also called for outlawing homosexuality – by more than 20,000 votes.
Veterans Affairs Nominee Dr. Ronny Jackson
Most famous for alleging the president stands 6’3″ and weighs only 239 pounds, the Navy rear admiral and White House physician Ronny Jackson was dubiously qualified to lead the VA under any circumstance. But as he prepared for Congressional hearings this week, whistleblowers came out of the woodwork, telling senators that Jackson is a “candyman” who has doled out Percocet opioids and Ambien sleep aides to White House staff. Jackson is also alleged to have been drunk on the job – including to the point of incapacitation on a trip abroad when his services as a doctor were needed – and to have crashed a government car while drunk after a Secret Service party. (Jackson has denied the allegations.)
Additionally, his skills as a manager were described as kiss-up and punch-down, leaving subordinates “walking on eggshells” afraid of a man they called “abusive,” “unethical,” “vindictive” and “belittling” would unleash his fury in one of his “screaming tantrums.” The Trump White House nonetheless backed Jackson to the hilt, insisting his record was “impeccable.” Even after Jackson withdrew his nomination Thursday, Trump insisted his doctor was the victim of “false accusations” seeking to “destroy” a good man. “There’s no proof of this,” Trump insisted. “He’s got a beautiful record.”