WASHINGTON ― Republicans settling in to defend the president’s actions in Ukraine as part of “anti-corruption” efforts face one small problem: There is no evidence that Donald Trump has evinced interest in ending corruption anywhere in the world, ever.
Trump and his defenders have cloaked his efforts to use $391 million in military aid to the besieged nation as leverage to try to coerce Ukraine to conduct politically useful investigations as simply an attempt to clean up corruption there.
“President Trump outraged the bureaucracy by acting skeptically about foreign aid and expressing concerns about foreign corruption,” House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said in his opening statement at Wednesday’s first public impeachment hearing.
Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, a top Trump ally from North Carolina, told reporters afterward, “The president has a deep-rooted concern about corruption.”
Trump himself, during an Oct. 4 media availability, said his sole interest was corruption: “I don’t care about politics, but I do care about corruption. And this whole thing is about corruption. This whole thing ― this whole thing is about corruption.”
But asked what other corruption he has sought to root out, Trump responded, “You know, we would have to look.”
If the White House actually did try to look, it appears not to have found anything. Despite numerous queries over a number of weeks, Trump’s aides did not provide HuffPost a single instance in which the president has concerned himself with ending corruption anywhere on the planet.
His critics were not surprised.
“Trump has never been concerned with corruption in Ukraine or anywhere else, except when it directly relates to furthering his petty political interests,” said Ned Price, a onetime CIA analyst and a spokesperson for the National Security Council under former President Barack Obama.
According to witness testimony as well as the rough transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president, Trump demanded that Ukraine investigate the Democrat he most feared as a 2020 opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as support a conspiracy theory which falsely claims that Russian intelligence agencies did not help Trump win the 2016 election but rather it was Ukrainian officials who framed Russia using fake evidence. He made the congressionally approved aid contingent on Ukraine publicly announcing the probes but then backed down after the White House learned that a whistleblower’s complaint on the matter was about to reach Congress.
George Kent, the State Department official in charge of anti-corruption efforts around the world, said Trump’s demands make it much harder for U.S. diplomats to insist that countries, including those receiving U.S. aid, implement reforms.
“There’s an issue of credibility. They hear diplomats on the ground saying one thing and they hear other U.S. leaders saying something else,” Kent testified Wednesday.
Leaders in other nations are also fully aware that Trump has openly made money off his presidency through his hotels and golf courses, with dozens of countries using his hotel a few blocks from the White House during official visits to the city. Trump has also profited from the U.S. government, which must pay his properties for the room and board of Secret Service, State Department and other officials when Trump chooses to visit his resorts. Trump even awarded himself an eight-figure contract to host the next Group of Seven summit at his own golf course next to the Miami airport before backing down in the face of negative media coverage.
Ironically, that precise type of behavior was described as corrupt during Wednesday’s hearing by both Kent and the Republican staff lawyer questioning him.
“He used his regulatory authority to award gas exploration licenses to companies that he, himself, controlled,” Kent said of a former Ukrainian minister of energy. “That would be considered an act of corruption in my view, yes.”
“Certainly self-dealing,” agreed Steve Castor, who was questioning witnesses on behalf of GOP committee members.
In fact, Trump’s own self-dealing, critics said, means that if he really wanted to find corruption, he could start by looking in the mirror.
“President Trump is certainly interested in corruption, but we haven’t seen evidence that his interest extends to ending it,” said Jordan Libowitz, with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Ending corruption starts at home, or five blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue, as the case may be.”
“Trump has ended corruption as we know it,” added Robert Weissman, president of the liberal group Public Citizen. “Instead, he’s introduced a hyper-corruption involving personal enrichment, abuse of power, constitutional transgression and a handover of government power to corporations on a scale that so far exceeds past history that it has entered an entirely new realm.”