WASHINGTON — Look up “corrupt” in the dictionary and you could expect to find an illustration of Donald Trump looking right back ― yet that has not kept the president from repeatedly calling others corrupt in recent weeks.
Trump has given his daughter and son-in-law prominent White House jobs, steers lobbyists and political groups seeking his favor toward using his Pennsylvania Avenue hotel, and even successfully pushed the U.S. government to host the next G-7 meeting at his own golf resort, which will put tens of millions of American tax dollars into his own cash registers next June.
“He has no shame,” said Joe Walsh, a former Illinois congressman who is running against Trump for the 2020 Republican nomination. “He’s incapable of shame. That’s not normal.”
Indeed, such actions, had they been taken by a mayor, a county executive or a governor, would in all likelihood result in state or federal public corruption charges. While laws and rules vary by state and locality, ethics laws generally prohibit public officials from profiting from their offices.
Giving oneself a large government contract ― as Trump’s White House announced Thursday with the selection of his troubled Doral, Florida, golf course as the site of the next summit of the world’s largest democratic economies ― would almost certainly result in a criminal prosecution, ethics experts said.
“This is a president who believes the powers of the presidency are bestowed on him to advance his own personal interests, political and profit-seeking, rather than those of the American people,” said Robert Weissman, president of the liberal watchdog group Public Citizen.
But as the sitting president, Trump is immune from both ethics laws and criminal prosecution, and not only has he openly engaged in nepotism and self-dealing, he has, in recent weeks, started accusing political opponents and the news media of “corruption.”
At an Oct. 2 news conference, for example, he called former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter “stone, cold corrupt.” At an Oct. 11 rally in Lake Charles, Louisiana, he broadened that to all Democrats: “The radical Democrats’ policies are crazy. Their politicians are corrupt.” In an Oct. 14 statement he posted on Twitter, Trump called The New York Times corrupt. Just two days later, during a photo opportunity with the visiting president of Italy, he called his predecessor Barack Obama corrupt, as well as the entire 2016 election.
Others Trump has labeled “corrupt” in recent weeks: former FBI director James Comey, former FBI agent Peter Strzok, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, the entire Mueller investigation into the help Russia gave Trump in winning the 2016 election, all of the news media, California Democratic congressman Adam Schiff and CNN.
“He is the most corrupt president in modern times. He has to convince his followers that everyone is corrupt so they will ignore his corruption.”
To Trump critics, the president’s attacks are part of a predictable pattern: Accuse others of the inappropriate behavior that he himself engages in.
Bandy Lee, among a group of mental health professionals who have been warning of Trump’s state of mind for years, said Trump is exhibiting typical behavior for a “paranoid, delusional” leader. “He accuses others exactly of what he is responsible for,” said Lee, a Yale Medical School professor of psychiatry. “It is a psychological defense called ‘projection.’”
Josh Schwerin, a former spokesman for 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, recalled Trump’s response when Clinton accused Trump of behaving like Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s puppet. “No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet,” Trump replied at the third and final presidential debate.
“He accuses other people of doing the bad things he’s doing,” Schwerin said.
“He is the most corrupt president in modern times,” said Jennifer Horn, a former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party. “He has to convince his followers that everyone is corrupt so they will ignore his corruption.”
The White House did not respond to HuffPost queries regarding Trump’s self-dealing and nepotism.
One top Republican National Committee member, though, said he is not bothered by any of Trump’s behavior, and instead attacked the news media for not reporting sufficiently on the Clinton Foundation, Hunter Biden or the money former Obama has made since leaving office.
“A few dollars on his hotels, which are actually a legitimate business, I’m not going to lose much sleep over,” said Shawn Steel, a longtime RNC member from California, urging more scrutiny of Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
Damaging Joe Biden’s 2020 candidacy was a key objective of Trump’s newfound interest in rooting out “corruption” in Ukraine, according to a top Trump adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity. Trump believes Biden would be his strongest opponent and has sought to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate a conspiracy theory that Ukrainian officials seeking to help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 election planted false evidence to make it appear that Russia had helped Trump.
According to that conspiracy theory, which also manages to tie in the Bidens and Hungarian billionaire George Soros and the framing of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, the hacked Democratic National Committee server and Clinton’s 33,000 deleted emails have been hidden away somewhere in Ukraine.
Trump’s former homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, has called the claim “completely debunked” and warned that Trump’s obsession with it would be the “white whale” that could bring him down.
Indeed, it was Trump’s request of Ukraine’s president in a July 25 phone call to investigate both the Bidens and the 2016 election conspiracy that sparked a whistleblower complaint against Trump, which in turn led to the ongoing impeachment inquiry.
White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney admitted Thursday that those considerations played into Trump’s policy toward Ukraine. “Get over it: There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy,” he said.
Kendal Unruh, a former GOP activist from Colorado who led the unsuccessful effort to dump Trump at the 2016 party convention, said it was distressing to see Republicans tolerating the president’s actions. “The Republican Party has become completely corrupted to the core in their habitual defense of Trump’s behavior,” she said. “It’s sad to watch the death of a party that once actually stood for morality and the rule of law.”
Yet Yale psychiatrist Lee said increasing pressure on Trump with the threat of impeachment will create a far greater danger to the country than the mere diminishment of a political party.
“His emotional drive to project all his own corruption and ineptitude onto others will overwhelm any ability on the part of others to correct or redirect his lies,” she said. “This drive will become more severe with greater pressure and, paradoxically, the sicker he is, the more effective his pathology will be in overcoming any resistance, starting with himself.”