But why? Surely Gingrich doesn’t believe his own BS here that Trump is planning to be more “dignified” as president. As recently as two weeks ago the guy was still flaming nobodies like that Carrier union local boss on Twitter. If he’s not above that, he’s not above “drain the swamp.”
Besides, it’s a great line for a populist president. It’s Trump’s version of “yes we can.”
On Trump’s often-stated promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington
I’m told he now just disclaims that. He now says it was cute, but he doesn’t want to use it anymore. … I’d written what I thought was a very cute tweet about “the alligators are complaining,” and somebody wrote back and said they were tired of hearing this stuff. …
I’ve noticed on a couple of fronts, like people chanting “lock her up,” that he’s in a different role now and maybe he feels that as president, as the next president of the United States, that he should be marginally more dignified than talking about alligators in swamps. I personally have, as a sense of humor, like the alligator and swamp language. … I think it vividly illustrates the problem, because all the people in this city who are the alligators are going to hate the swamp being drained. And there’s going to be constant fighting over it. But, you know, he is my leader and if he decides to drop the swamp and the alligator, I will drop the swamp and the alligator.
True, Trump did try to steer his fans away from chanting “lock her up” recently, but his aversion to that is understandable. The more the idea persists on the right that Hillary Clinton should go to prison, the more pressure Trump will be under as president to do something about it. That’s a recipe for disappointing his base. And it’ll make it harder for Trump to get together on major initiatives like the infrastructure bill with his new buddy, Chuck Schumer, if rank-and-file Democrats are up in arms over the Trump administration seeking criminal charges against their reigning nominee. There are sound reasons for putting an end to “lock her up” beyond the fact that it’s “undignified.”
The real reason for Trump’s newfound hesitation towards “drain the swamp” is probably as simple as the fact that it creates an impossible standard for him as president and he knows it. For better or worse, it’ll be his swamp on January 20th. The “swamp” rhetoric will be thrown in his face every time there’s an instance of cronyism or corruption, whether he has anything to do with it or not. It’s already happening: Lots of Trump critics, me included, had fun with the swampiness of him appointing several Goldman Sachs alumni to top positions in his administration. Draining the swamp is a utopian ideal, useful for a change-oriented political campaign but unhelpful to an official who now heads the new Washington status quo. And it’s especially fraught in Trump’s case, with conflict-of-interest questions swirling and close allies like Gingrich publicly spitballing ways Trump can dodge federal law in order to give his kids White House jobs. The swampiness of the ethical dilemmas presented by Trump’s business holdings is far worse than the fact that Steve Bannon once worked at Goldman.
Speaking of which, Gingrich says elsewhere in this interview that he’d recommend appointing a panel of independent-minded wise men, like former AG Michael Mukasey, to monitor the administration of Trump’s businesses and make sure that any obvious conflicts are promptly resolved. That’s noble of him, but the whole point of this saga with Trump and his kids trying to figure out who’ll run his operations is that they don’t want to give up control. Certainly they don’t want to have to answer to a by-the-book official like Mukasey who really would ride herd on them. Here’s the latest lame idea for “resolving” Trump’s financial conflicts:
Aides responsible for setting up ethics firewalls have held discussions with officials at the Office of Government Ethics about establishing what’s known as a “discretionary trust,” according to two sources briefed on the talks…
[W]ith a discretionary trust, the conflicts almost magically disappear because the investments aren’t considered to belong to the incoming official at all — even if they’re producing a steady stream of income for the official. Instead, the assets are held in a trust that is often overseen by a family member who can, but is not legally required to, send revenues from the assets to the government official. Another benefit: there’s no explicit prohibition on the official talking with the trustee about the financial holdings…
The option the Trump team is said to be exploring seeks to build on legal memos the Office of Government Ethics issued in 2008 and 2013, ultimately concluding government officials who are beneficiaries of trusts did not have to report them on financial disclosure forms if the officials were not legally entitled to payments or assets from the trusts.
If I understand that correctly it’s actually one of the worst arrangements Trump could create, even more so than him simply retaining an interest in his businesses as president. The typical solution in a case like this would be a blind trust, in which Trump’s assets are transferred to a trust managed by independent trustees who have no contact with him and who are free to sell his assets to eliminate conflicts. That would create a double-blind dynamic in which President Trump can’t be tempted to benefit himself financially because he wouldn’t know which assets are in the trust and the trustees can’t be tempted to trade on insider information about forthcoming policies because they’re not communicating with Trump. A blind trust would be difficult in Trump’s case, though, because he owns lots of real property along with financial instruments. A discretionary trust, though, has none of the benefits of a blind trust: The trustees could be Trump’s kids; they could have contact with him; Trump could know what’s in the trust; and Trump, as the beneficiary, could receive payments from it. The only wrinkle is that the trustee wouldn’t be required to pay Trump anything. It’d be within his or her discretion, which is where the name of the trust comes from. None of that solves any of the problems inherent in Trump’s conflict of interests. Rather, it makes the problem worse because it would allow Trump to avoid the disclosure obligations mentioned in the excerpt. Because the payments he’ll receive are discretionary rather than something to which he’s legally entitled, he wouldn’t have to reveal them. It’s essentially a way for Trump to keep earning money from his businesses, with all of the ethical problems that implies, while being less transparent about it.
Oh well. We were destined to have an ethically dubious president next year one way or another. Exit question from the NPR interview: Gingrich won’t say “drain the swamp” anymore because Trump, his “leader,” won’t say it? What?