From an article in the Times we learn today that President Trump importuned his Ambassador to the United Kingdom to get the UK government to hold the British Open at his struggling Golf Resort in Turnberry, Scotland. It is hardly the worst act of corruption or criminality by this President or those who work for him over the last three and a half years. It is most notable for the sheer casual brazenness of the President’s corruption and the fact that we are only hearing about it two and a half years later. It wasn’t a secret. Numerous diplomatic staffers at the US Embassy knew about it. It was reported back to State Department. It was apparently part of an Inspector General’s review that has never been released.
It reminds of us what most of us already suspect, which is that the President’s corruption is vast, both political and venal. It has touched every sinew of the President’s administration and the great majority of it almost certainly remains unknown. For all the administration’s notorious leaking, remember that it took one CIA whistleblower to inform us about the President’s plot to use military to aid to coerce a foreign leader to help sabotage an American Presidential campaign. Except for the decision of that one anonymous individual we would still not know any of it had happened. All of the President’s appointees cover for him, even those who know his actions are wrong and say they deplore them yet keep his secrets.
As the middling example of this golf resort corruption makes clear these corrupt acts now likely litter our bilateral relationships with numerous foreign governments. Standing policies now likely rest on or were influenced by such corruption. They are like so many landmines across the landscape of America’s relationship with the rest of the world.
We simply cannot move forward as a society or a political system without a thorough accounting of the totality of what happened during this unparalleled era of lawlessness, corruption and mis-governance. This does not mean Trump and Trumpism are an aberration or historical accident. Indeed, Trumpism has deep roots in American political culture and grows out of the last twenty-plus years of trajectory of the Republican party. But this makes an accounting more necessary not less.
I wrote about this at length a few weeks ago. Then I made the point prosecutions frequently work at cross purposes with disclosure and full accounting for public wrongs and that a full accounting of what has happened is more important than judicial punishment for individual wrongdoers. Accounting should be the first priority and we should pursue it even at the expense of criminal prosecutions.
This is logical from a number of perspectives, not least of which is that you can’t really decide how to deal with something before you even know what the something is. And the reality is that so much remains hidden that we don’t really know even what’s happened.
The corruption of the Trump era also involves numerous acts of corruption and mis-governance which are simply not statutory crimes. As Warren Hastings wrote more than two centuries ago, “The only redress for a fraud for which the law had made no provisions is the exposure of it.”
What is critical now is that people be getting Vice President Biden and leading congressional Democrats on the record now to commit to such a process if Biden is elected and becomes President in January. If that happens Biden and congressional Democrats will face a daunting range of problems ranging from an ongoing public health crisis to a shattered economy to a globe destabilized by the xenophobia and militant nonsense of Trumpism. They will also face Republicans newly fixated on austerity and wrongfooting the new administration at every turn. Anything not committed to in advance will fall by the wayside.
This doesn’t mean a criminal investigative process. That both defeats the focus on accountability and disclosure in many cases and involves choices that are premature to entertain and appropriately left to prosecutors. It means an audit. Getting the facts on the table. Disclosure and thorough accounting. The executive branch needs an audit to move forward and Joe Biden and all top Democrats need to commit to it.