In the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump repurposed a well-worn catchphrase at a Wisconsin rally that not only resonated with his base of supporters but seemed to sum up his outsider White House bid: “Drain the swamp.”
One year into his first term, however, Trump’s pledge to root out Washington corruption has not exactly yielded the quick and easy results his slogan promised. Perhaps as a result, a new poll finds a sharp jump over the past 12 months in the number (44 percent) of Americans who think that most or all of the officials in the current administration are corrupt.
Here are five ways in which the Washington swamp has survived, and even thrived, under Trump.
The lobbying boom
Trump’s swamp-draining project involved a five-point plan for scaling back the influence of lobbyists. So far, the president has made good on just one of those proposals: an executive order in January imposing a five-year ban on lobbying for outgoing administration officials. Questions have been raised about the legality of the ban, and it remains to be seen how it will be enforced.
Trump’s promise to push for a similar five-year ban on lobbying for members of Congress has yet to materialize. Meanwhile, the traffic has been mostly in the other direction, with more than 100 lobbyists named to positions in his administration, the majority serving at the very agencies they once tried to influence. The January executive order was meant to curb that practice as well, but within months the administration began granting waivers to allow lobbyists to take jobs regulating the industries they previously worked for.
Outside of government, a flood of lobbyists — many linked to the administration, including former Trump campaign manager Cory Lewandowski — have set up shop in Washington with the promise of selling White House influence. Through the first six months of the year, companies and interest groups spent a whopping $1.67 billion on lobbying, according to figures from the Center for Responsive Politics.
“I don’t think that anything’s really changed,” Republican lobbyist Brian Wild told Politico. “If anything, the lobbying business is booming right now.”
Amended staff disclosures
As a candidate, Trump assured voters he would appoint “only the best and most serious people” to his administration. Accurately filling out financial disclosure forms, however, has proved elusive for many of his appointees.
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, has amended his financial disclosure forms 39 times, according to the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. In his July revisions, for instance, Kushner revealed that he had “inadvertently omitted” over 70 assets worth $10.6 million, and he added the names of more than 100 foreign contacts not previously disclosed.
Michael Flynn, who Trump says he fired for lying to the FBI and the vice president, amended his disclosure forms in August to include business contacts with an Iranian-American as well as consulting payments for a project to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East. This month, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and longtime Trump business associate Rick Gates have been charged with money laundering, for allegedly moving millions of dollars through foreign shell companies. Three days after Gates surrendered and the terms of his bail agreement were being set, his lawyers admitted that their client had failed to disclose that he was in possession of a second passport.
The Trump Organization
Despite the establishment of a revocable trust meant to insulate the Trump Organization’s business dealings from the presidency, a change to the document added in February allows Trump to tap profits “at his request,” ProPublica reported. Essentially, this means that Trump can still directly benefit from such holdings as his golf courses, his Washington, D.C., hotel, and foreign real estate transactions, despite conflict of interest claims.
“A president is not permitted to receive cash and other benefits from foreign governments,” Norm Eisen, who advised President Obama on ethics and government reform, told NPR’s Terry Gross. “And yet, Donald Trump is getting a steady flow of them around the world and right here in the United States.”
For a president who has spent nearly a third of his time in office at a Trump-owned property, where taxpayers also foot the bill for Secret Service lodging, the advantages of such an arrangement are apparent.
Meanwhile, Trump’s family has worked hard to expand the Trump Organization’s deals around the globe, the profits from which could put the president in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution.
Despite assurances that the president would be kept in the dark about his business empire while in the White House, Eric Trump told Forbes that he briefed his father on a quarterly basis “on the organization’s bottom line, profitability reports and stuff like that.”
While running for president, Trump refused to make his tax returns public — as candidates and presidents have done for the last 40 years — on the grounds that he was under audit by the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, there is no legal prohibition on sharing audited returns, leading to widespread speculation about what Trump didn’t want the public to see.
As the Republican tax plan took shape in Congress, Trump attempted to sell it to the public on the grounds that it would increase taxes for the wealthy, including himself. “I’m doing the right thing,” Trump said, “and it’s not good for me. Believe me.”
There is no way to verify that assertion, but tax experts doubt it.
“Trump will make out like a bandit on all the big items,” Steven M. Rosenthal, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, told the New York Times.
Still, without Trump’s actual tax returns, it’s hard to know exactly how much the bill will personally benefit the president and his family. As White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made clear this month, the chances that Trump will ever release them rates somewhere between slim to none.
“My understanding — and I will double-check — but the president’s taxes, no matter who the president is, actually immediately go under audit after being filed,” Sanders told reporters.
All in the family
There is little denying that the president has stacked his administration with family members and close friends. As Abraham Lincoln recognized in assembling a Cabinet that would function as a “team of rivals,” such an arrangement rewards loyalty above actual government experience, let alone expertise.
While past administrations adhered to a 1967 anti-nepotism law that forbade the appointment of family members, the Trump administration procured a Justice Department ruling that paved the way for unpaid White House roles for first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner.
“In choosing his personal staff, the President enjoys an unusual degree of freedom, which Congress found suitable to the demands of his office,” Daniel Koffsky, deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel, wrote in a legal opinion.
Almost overnight, Kushner, a real estate developer with no discernable diplomatic experience, was tasked with jump-starting an intractable Middle East peace process.
Ivanka Trump, meanwhile, has attended high-level meetings with foreign leaders and continues to advise her father.
“I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the President in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules, and I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House Office, subject to all of the same rules as other federal employees,” the president’s daughter said in a statement. “Throughout this process I have been working closely and in good faith with the White House counsel and my personal counsel to address the unprecedented nature of my role.”
Also unprecedented was the promotion of Ivanka’s clothing brand by counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway.
“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would tell you,” Conway said during a Feb. 9 appearance on “Fox & Friends.” “I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody.”
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