The best way to spot a con artist is by paying attention to what you don't see, as well as to what you see. Donald Trump says he represents working people, but he has already moved aggressively to tilt the scales in favor of Wall Street's criminal elite.
As Trump moved to rob Americans of some basic financial protections, his choice of companions only added insult to injury.
Now You See It, Now You Don't
Last year Wells Fargo became enmeshed in scandal when it was learned that 2 million false accounts were opened in its customers' names without their knowledge. It turned out that the bank's employees, many of whom are poorly paid and dependent on bonuses and commissions, were being threatened with loss of income or termination if they fell behind on production. Those who complained to higher-ups or authorities risked retaliation. There were reports of other unfair labor practices as well.
The bank paid a fine. In a rare moment of executive accountability, its CEO resigned and was forced to forgo some deferred income. The Department of Labor set up a special page to register employee complaints and protect whistleblowers.
The "Resources for Current and Former Wells Fargo Employees" page included links to resources for whistleblowers. It offered guidance as well as for employees who felt they had not been properly paid, had concerns about their retirement benefits or believed they had faced discrimination for race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability or veteran status.
Shortly after Trump took office, Sen. Elizabeth Warren noticed that visitors to that webpage now encountered a very different message:
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In response, Sen. Warren wrote a letter to the acting Secretary of Labor that documented past Wells Fargo offenses. She added,
I am concerned that the Department of Labor has removed the website where Wells Fargo's employees who were victims of the company's fraudulent actions could file labor complaints or report illegal activity. Taking down this website enables Wells Fargo to escape full responsibility for its fraudulent actions and the Department to shirk its outstanding obligations to American workers.
The Trump Administration has attempted to shift the blame by claiming that the page was taken down before the inauguration. That claim has been challenged. But the fact that the website has not been restored as of this writing suggests that the Trump team was more than happy to see it disappear.
But this vanishing act pales in comparison to those that would soon follow.
Unleashing the Fraudsters
On February 3, President Trump signed executive actions rolling back financial regulations that were put into place after Congress passed the Dodd-Frank banking reform bill in 2010.
That bill didn't include all of the measures some believe are needed to rein in bank fraud and mismanagement. But, as Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen notes, it represents an improvement over the status quo that led to the 2007-08 financial crisis. The Dodd-Frank provisions endangered by Trump's announcement are designed to increase financial stability, reduce risky bank behavior and limit predatory mortgage lending.
Trump also moved to end something called the "fiduciary rule," a technical-sounding name for something that serves a relatively simple goal: to prevent people who give advice about retirement accounts from having hidden financial incentives that conflict with their clients' interests.
Trump didn't just declare war on these fundamental financial protections. He also showed the public where his loyalties lay. As he announced the gutting of controls on big bankers, Trump gave a special shout-out to one of the worst of them: Jamie Dimon. As CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Dimon has led one of the most criminally inclined institutions on Wall Street. The long list of documented crimes committed under Dimon's leadership includes money laundering for drug cartels, foreclosure fraud, and violation of sanctions against Cuba, Iran and Sudan.
Trump chose Gary Cohn, the new head of his Council of Economic Advisors, to announce the change in the fiduciary rule. Cohn is the former COO of Goldman Sachs, and one of many Trump appointees from that Wall Street powerhouse. When it comes to criminal behavior, Goldman is arguably JP Morgan's only challenger for the title of "most corrupt" investment bank.
With these actions, Trump has let the American people know whose side he's on, and it's not theirs. Millions of people are now more likely to be robbed of their savings, their homes and their retirement security.