Reporting Raises Questions About Washington's Potential Political Conflicts Of Interest

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This message comes from on points sponsor indeed. If you're hiring with indeed, you can post a job in minutes. Set up screener questions, then zero in on your shortlist of qualified candidates using an online dashboard. Get started at indeed dot com slash NPR podcast. From NPR WB. You are Boston. I'm Meghna chucker birdie. And this is on point, government officials under scrutiny for conflicts of interest. The latest is US secretary of transportation, Elaine Chao after reports that she tried to include family members who run a major shipping company in official meetings with the Chinese government, then came a report that the department of transportation has a special intermediary to help Kentucky navigate federal grants. That's chows home state, Representative course by her husband's Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. But the transportation department says, Kentucky hasn't been given grants out of scope with the state size. So is there a problem here? Those aren't the only ethical questions in Washington right now. Their lobbyists becoming capital, cabinet officials congressman becoming lobbyists, so this hour on point ethics in the nation's capital, and you can join us what kind of firewalls, do you want to see between government officials and the companies they used to work for or companies? Their families zone and shouldn't that family firewall rise all the way up to the White House. Do you want to close the revolving door between lobbying and government? Join us anytime at on point radio dot org or Twitter and Facebook ad on point radio. We'll joining us I today from Washington is Eric Lipton investigative reporter for the New York Times. He's been looking at potential conflicts of interest in the Trump administration. His most recent reporting looks at secretary, chows ties with her family shipping, business. Eric is a three time Pulitzer prize winning journalist, and in two thousand fifteen he won for his reporting about lobbying state attorneys general and congress Eric Lipton. Welcome to on point. Thank you. So I want to say first of all, that we did also reach out to secretary, Chow, and the department of transportation, the department declined to provide anyone for this conversation, but they did send a statement which we will discuss a little later in the program. But Eric first of all, walk us through this a little bit tells the story about the shipping company and the. Ties between that company and Elaine Chao family and herself now in the department of transportation. Sure. For decades now, her family has been very involved in dry bulk, carriage, which is, you know, things are in Oran, coal movements much of their ships are moving around Asia, delivering the raw materials for building steel, and the new manufacturing steel and power plants in, in China. And the company has many of its ships built in Shanghai at a government subsidized, shipyard and some of the ships are actually funded with systems from the government of China to help finance, the construction of these ships. And so what we were examining is that the same time is Elaine. Chao runs the US department of transportation which among its missions is to promote. US. Maritime American flag. Ships and also provide grant funds and other assistance to American flag. Ships, her family is is pretty intertwined with the Chinese government's program to boost its. Own maritime pro system. And what we were particularly interested in was moments in which she participated with her family in, you know, events, for example, in August the two thousand seventeen when she was in New York City with the former scoop, which is the name of her family's company, and she was attended a an event in which they celebrated the signing of the construction of new ships on behalf of the foremost group and the company that was going to build a new ships in that case was Simone which is a Japanese company, but some Oto is also a company that makes American railcars and her the department's transportation set standards for, you know, the hiring of, of companies like Simodo. So we are particularly interested in moments where her official duties overlapped with that, that her family was involved in and the, the conflicts that could present. Well, so just for clarity's sake. Does the secretary have a financial stake in the shipping company that her family owns she is not an owner of the company on? She has not worked at the company. For several decades. Right. When she came out of college as a young person she worked there for a few years, but she has financially benefited because when her mother died, several years ago, her father gave a gift to her Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader now and Senator from Kentucky worth, you know, millions of dollars and that, that money would have presumably have come from the wealth that they built from the shipping company. So she stands to potentially inherit money from her father who's now in his ninety s but she does not have a direct ownership. And so she does not have a formal conflict of interest, but she, she is financially connected through her family to that company. Now, you reported in your story that the secretary recently had wanted to take members of her family on an official trip to China, but that, perhaps that idea was scuttled when someone from the State Department department balked at that what happened. This is what got us started at looking at secretary, Chow and her relationship with her family and the family. Was that we had heard in October twenty seventeen which is quite a while ago. Now that she was heading to China. And that, that while she was preparing to make this trip. She was speaking her aides were talking to the State Department about arrangements that would involve potentially her father, who was at that time was still an executive of the company and her sister who now is the chief executive of the company, and that they the idea was that they were going to be present during certain get togethers with Chinese state, government officials and the State Department was uncomfortable with that. And there was an emails that were sent from Beijing to the headquarters of the State Department raising an ethics question and the concern was that, you know, again, her her family has a office there in, in China, where they where they help run foremost than they are building ships there. And so her participating with them, and, and government officials in China was, was going to help potentially boost the standing of the company and, and one way for China. This send a positive signal to Elaine Chao into the United States was perhaps to help her family's business there. And so the State Department was concerned about that raise questions about it. And within a matter of days, the trip was cancelled, and this, the department of transportation, does not attribute the cancellation of that trip to these ethics questions that were raised, they say that the other reasons but the fact that a matter is that the, the ethics questions are raised and the trip was cancelled. Okay. But is the State Department raising similar ethics questions, when, for example, the president's sons who are in control of the Trump trust Trump businesses just recently went with him to his state visit to the United Kingdom. They were photographed on the balcony of Buckingham Palace standing next to the, you know. Standing next to their father, and, and British officials. I mean how is that any different? Yeah, it is, certainly, you know, as unusual to see that the sons who also then went to the golf course that the Trump family owns that the president visited as well on that same trip. And so they were both in an official events, and then essentially helping promote their their golf business. And I think that it was already pretty brave for a State Department career employees in Beijing to raise a question about a cabinet member. You know sending an Email to, to headquarters which is a very unusual step for someone to do and, and puts that person at Pearl to put the raise their hand and, and potentially scuttle a trip by cabinet member on the president. Although as well as to some extent is exempt from conflict of interest rules, he the vice president and the president or the only executive officers that are exempt from these conflict roles. And so as the press. Himself says he can't have conflicts. I mean you can have the perception of conflicts, but legally he is exempt from these things. But it it is it's a valid question. And we are seeing conflicts of interest, or at least the appearance of conflicts of interest at across the federal government, not only the cabinet level. But among the top, you know, appointees Senate confirmed appointees at agencies across the federal government, we're seeing more conflicts, not only, you know, certainly than the Obama administration, but the Bush administration prior to that, and more than we've seen in many generations, in terms of the number of people who, who are frequently writing stories about that raise questions about conflicts of interest. Well, as we noted we did reach out to the department of transportation and secretary Chao to see if either she or anyone for the department could join us, they declined that invitation. But Erica wanna read to you the statement that they sent to us, this is from department of transportation spokesperson who said this article your article, Eric demonstrates deep misunderstanding of the work of the department of transportation and. The US maritime industry important context is intentionally missing and it implies conflicts of interest where none exist. The secretary has been one of this country's greatest advocates for the US flagship industry and today, the maritime administration has the largest operating budget in its history in no small part due to her advocacy, a how do you respond to that? Eric. I mean it, it is true that the, the maritime budget has gone up as the agency is in the midst of replacing aging ships that are used that the maritime academies in the United States. And the story noted that there had been particularly during the first two years of the Trump administration proposals for deep cuts in maritime funding both in grant funds, and that the ships, which they're now replacing the Trump administration proposed buying you ships instead of new ships, and that would the Senate and house representatives. You know, mocked that proposal and rejected, and then allocated funding to buy the new ships, which had a process that started under the Obama administration. And I mean, you know, the, the, the point has been made to me, a number of times that a number of the budget cuts that we identified in the maritime sector, we're sort of forced on the department transportation by the off management of budget, and the White House. And you know, we're not I'm not the story did not say, I would not say that I think that, that she. That the secretary transportation has taken actions with the intention of helping her family's company. I've we see no evidence of that. The store doesn't assert that but what we did see was that. It's just fascinating to observe that as the head of the OT. She, she's helps run maritime policy. United States at the same time as her family is so deeply intertwined in maritime efforts in China. That's fascinating and worthy of public discussion and examination and whether or not that actually creates a conflict of interest. I can't really answer that question. I think it is something that is unusual, and worthy of public discussion. Well, they say that important context is missing though. The department claims what context is that they think that, that her family, her presence with her family as part of a traditional Chinese y ways, and that the photograph that she frequently takes with her father, and the presence at that, for example, that, that event in New York City, where there is celebrating this Emoto signing of new ship construction. Was that, that, you know, as a as a traditional Chinese family when their families having events you go and you take photos, and that we don't understand the culture of the Chinese traditions. But to me, I mean, if you are the secretary transportation, some Moto is one of the biggest manufacturers of railcars United States, and your agency funds railcar construction, and, and then that company is signing a contract with your father and sisters company. You don't go to that event. You, you should recognize that, that is something you should just stay away from because that company can have a reason to try to be subsidizing your father's business, if they want to show you a favor. Well, Eric Lipton investigative reporter for the New York Times, covering the Trump administration standby, we're talking about ethical questions at the department of transportation. We'll be right back. This is on point. This podcast and following message sponsored by xfinity. Some things are hard to control like over caffeinated co workers other things are easy to control. Like you're in home wifi with xfinity, X fi, set WI fi curfew change your password, and create user profiles all with the x fi app. Another reason why xfinity is simple easy. Awesome go online. Call one eight hundred xfinity or visit a store to learn more restrictions apply. A language was about to die. Once it gets wiped out. That's it. We will have nothing in our language to pass door children and the people trying to save it, we're still learning how to speak it to hurry up time was working against us. We were like hundred years late. You know it's code switch. Ula, co lo fi. Listen and subscribe, this is on point. I'm Meghna Tucker Bharti. We're talking this hour, about questions of conflict of interest at the department of transportation. Typically around the secretary of transportation, Elaine Chao, and her connections to her family's shipping business. I'm talking today with Eric Lipton. He's investigative reporter for the New York Times, and he's written an extensive story about this. We have linked to it'd on point radio dot org and Eric. You have really gotten the department of transportation's attention. Because here's some more of what they told us in reaction to your piece, and I just want to share it with you. The department of transportation is telling us that they say there is absolutely zero interaction between US shipping and what secretary chows family's company operates in DOT's, saying, it's not even in the same kind of shipping known as dry bulk shipping, and they go even further. They're telling us that, that the foremost company does no business with the US government does not receive any US government financing does not engage in US flagged shipping. So that's why they say they've told you repeatedly that there's no intersection, even if the secretary participates in family events with her dad's. So they're there. Flat out rejecting even the, the perception of conflict of interest. Yeah. I mean, it is true that the foremost company is at dry bulk carrier, that largely serves Asia, and that they, they build their these giant ships, and then they often charter them out, and they're carrying raw materials that are feeding industrial policy in China. But again, that's sort of interesting that the, you know, the, the, the family of the secretary transportation is engaged in commerce, which is helping fuel the steel industry in China, by moving raw materials, to China at the same time as a Trump administration is combating the steel industry in China by arguing that they are dumping, you know, government subsidized steel onto the United States. So I mean I we the story does not assert that, that she was taking actions are that the department of transportation or at the Trump administration was taking actions to try to undermine, you know, US maritime so that they could help specifically the business that foremost does. But again, you know the. She is the she as as the head of transportation, she is helping run maritime policy United States, and, and that's worthy of, of, of discussion is as much as I would say, well, Eric stand by here for just a moment because joining us now, also from Washington is Kathleen Clark, professor at the Washington University in Saint Louis, the school of law, they're working in the areas of legal and government ethics. She's also a practicing attorney in Washington, where she provided legal advice and assistance in matters involving government ethics. So professor Clark. Welcome to you. Thank you. So give us your, your take on this are there important questions of potential ethical issues surrounding secretary Chow and her family shipping business. Absolutely. And the deep dive that Eric Lipton, and the New York Times, went in really exploiting in quite a bit of depth the range of connections here, and in particular how her family business could benefit from her government. Position. So one of the things that the article talks about is that she actually requested that her family members meet be part of these official meetings in, in China when she was going to travel to China in the fall of two thousand seventeen and given that her family actually does business with the Chinese government is involved in various ways, with the Chinese government, the that, that kind of arrangement absolutely raised flags with the ethics officials at the State Department, and so it one of the one of the things I really wanna highlight is the. The positive side of this story is that the, you know, behind the scenes the government ethics officials in the State Department and possibly in the transportation department were doing their jobs of flagging of, you know, something that would be really problematic. If the family members had participated in these official meetings in China, when Elaine Chao plans to go there in the fall of two thousand seventeen because that would give China the impression that the government of the United States was endorsing her family's business. What the heck were they doing in those meetings with AB doing in those meetings, otherwise, and there's actually a specific government regulation that prohibits the use of public office for private gain, or taking action? Taking action that would give someone the impression that the government is endorsing, a private business or sanctioning a private business. And it sure looks like there was an attempt to do exactly that with those meetings, but at the risk of repeating myself isn't this is is that is that not the image? That is presented by actions of the president of the United States regarding his family's business. Oh, absolutely. And in fact, the president has, you know, made a habit practice of, you know, using the government to in endorse to make money off of his his private clubs his hotels, etc. So, yeah, if you want to see a really good example of violations of government ethics standards, one need look, no further than this White House. So I suppose ethics enforcement only happens when at an administration cares to enforce it. And you just appropriately appropriately highlighted. The fact that it, perhaps, in this case with the secretary of transportation, that indeed did happen. But are we seeing across the board? Professor Clark less of that in this administration in comparison to previous administrations. Or is it simply more public now than it was before? No, the, the ethics violations that are happening in during this administration are on a whole other level. An whole other magnitude than what we've seen before. But let me just clarify one thing you mentioned ethics enforcement what those State Department ethics officials were doing wasn't enforcing in a sense. They were trying to prevent a violon, good point. Okay. And so ethics violations that have already happened in if you're going to, like, enforce the ethics laws provide some. Sanctioned for violation then there would be an they would need to be an investigation, say by an inspector general or say by congress. If the inspectors general aren't doing their job or in the case of the White House, there is no inspector general at the EPA, and how when Scott Pruitt at the PA was asking his aides to help his wife get a potentially a franchise Chick-fil-A in emails. And so there's no, there's no Emba Guti their, their emails on the EP government accounts sent to Chick-fil-A setting up a meeting to discuss the possibility of his wife getting a franchise, the inspector general shutdown that investigation after Scott Pruitt resigned. And there is no there was no sanction. There was no conclusions. So frequently what we see is that is you have these ethics apparent violations. Then you have a resignation or departure of the official, and that's the end of it. So that, that's a cycle that we've seen most frequently Zinke at interior with Pruitt at EPA and other places across the government. Well, let's go to a caller. Here quickly. Let's go to Bruce, is calling from Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Bruce, you're on the air. All right. Thank you. When I was in the military, one of the most important things we had to watch out or for who's the appearance of impropriety. And that was almost as important as improprieties at self. You know when you look at all the conspiracy theories that are out there. I've heard stories about McConnell being I've heard him described as a tool of the Chinese government and such. I think that's something that really, you can't understate and it's, it's almost as important as impropriety itself are alleged impropriety. We'll Bruce, thank you so much for your call. Kathleen clark. Would you like to respond to Bruce? I would Bruce makes it very good point. And in fact, our ethics standards prohibit not just sort of actual violations, but you could say it's than than your occasion of a violation. So, for example, there are there's an ethics rule ethics regulation that requires that executive branch officials when they're dealing with some kind of proceeding or say, awarding a, a grant that they have to be impartial, but they also have to be in a position where a reasonable person with knowledge of the facts would not question their impartiality. In other words, the appearance standard that Bruce alluded to and so. When the department of transportation tries to defend its actions, the secretary's actions by by, you know, saying that she didn't actually, you know, engage in, in wrongdoing or criminal conduct or that she didn't mean any harm. What matters isn't necessarily. What's in her mind? But what he reasonable person would believe based on the facts in the facts, look bad. So all secretary Chao yes on that point. Let me let me just say that the, the department transportation is here's how they here's how they're addressing vis executives about perception, professor Clark. They're telling us that Elaine chose secretary chows father's ninety two years old. And they say that he's not he doesn't run the company now. He's been widowed since two thousand seven and that the secretary spends a lot of time with him. I mean he's her father after all they've traveled together for much of their lives. And the department of transportation is telling us that because he is often her plus one instead of her spouse. I suppose, meaning the Senate majority leader, and that she has no children as well. So they're claiming the department's claiming that, that the times once readers to think that, that means that there'd be that, that she's being involved in family business, but it's something entirely different is just innocence accompaniment of being a daughter with her father. Well, I'm glad that the secretary is a good daughter to her father that, you know, we, we, that's, that's, that's terrific. And that might explain why he would appear at a social event, okay? At a at a dinner say where all of the people there, bring their spouses or their plus ones. But that's not what, you know, business meetings between US government officials and Chinese government officials. I think minder standing is, is that's not the that's not the norm. And even if it were. Were the norm under these circumstances where it would appear that she's helping out her family business, perhaps to the detriment of the United States interest that there's, there's no no justification for that. There are other ways that Elaine Chao can be a good daughter to her father than bringing him to these meetings. With Chinese government officials, Eric, you want to quickly respond to that again. I mean, I certainly, you know, I'm fine with her participating as frequently as possible, and family events. But when she brings her father to the headquarters of the department transportation, and then has photographs of him in front of the DOT insignia and in front of the flag of the department, and that's then you know, put out on into the Chinese language media at the same time until twenty eighteen he was the chief executive of the of the family company, and it's still a on has an honorary title. The family company, you know, that again, it's just sort of it's its signal. That, that she is, you know, a some type of endorsement of that company because he, he is still affiliated with that company. And, and so m Shimin she goes to the Emoto formal signing of the, the ships being, you know, the again, and the photographs are taken and distributed publicly, there's no need for her to a photograph with her father at business, events and have those photographs scripted publicly she's certainly, entitled and encouraged to, to be with their father is frequently she can be for personal reasons. Well, Eric and Kathleen Clark, hang on here for just a moment because I want to bring into the conversation now, Robert Weisman joining us also from Washington Roberts president of Public Citizen. A nonprofit ethics group focused on limiting influence of corporate interests in government Public Citizen recently released report that has been cited by both Representative Alexandria, Cossio Cortez, and Senator Ted Cruz a report that states two thirds of retired congressmen, employed outside of politics are now lobbyists. And we will talk about congress here. A second. But Robert Weisman welcome to on point. It's great to be with you. So I we will move to the legislative branch here in a couple of minutes. But I wanted to get your view, first of all, on what professor Clark and Eric Lipton are have been discussing with us about about the role of the executive specifically here, the department of transportation and e and whether or not not whether or not whether the department is taking adequate steps to even a void the appearance of conflict of interest with secretary Chao. I think we can come to this question with sort of a lot of common sense to it. It's not a close call. It's really obvious why this was done, and it's even more obvious that it shouldn't have been done, irrespective of what their intentions were. I think the, you know, in some ways the most important point moves beyond the department other. There are other massive very serious issues of conflicts of interest inside the department transportation, besides those related to the secretary herself to the question you were asking about the president himself, and why does this stuff happen? And does it matter? And the answer to why it happens is, we have a president who does not care. And exemplifies the fact that he does not care about ethics standards by his own behavior, and that enables and emboldens officials throughout the government to act in ways at violate conflict of interest standards. Lead to really fundamental corruption of policy making and give control over the levers of government to the regulated entities to corporations that regulators are supposed to be overseeing. So it really comes from the president who is mocks every norm about ethical, standard and government. And then it spreads throughout the government in ways that are really consequential not just on shipping policy. But if you look just at the apartment transportation, what's going on about the regulation of Boeing, the FAA you have to ask questions about conflicts of interest there? Why the department of transportation involved in rolling back the most important auto efficiency greenhouse gas standard of the Obama administration one that would save consumers one hundred billion dollars you have to look at conflict of interest there. And then if you leave the department of transportation and look almost anywhere you throw a dart at the organizational charter, the government, you're gonna find conflicts of interest in. Deregulatory actions that are direct result or at least appear to be the direct result of the conflicts of interests that are pervasive in this administration. So Robert Weisman, I'm curious though it has it this administration. Is it the logical? I don't wanna say end point. But the logical progression of where politics and corporate interests have been heading for a long time, though. I mean that, that the nexus of, of money and power, it is a nexus. They're not separate threads anymore. It almost seems that the United States government inevitably ends up where we are. No, I don't think so. I mean, it's easy to say that, and there's a lot of reason to be deeply suspicious about how government serves corporate interests and is involved in insider deal making, and I think that's a bipartisan problem and it goes back decades. And in the modern form to be sure, however as professor Clark was saying the kinds of conflicts of interest. We're in this administration or both categorically different and of orders. Of magnitude worse than what we've seen in prior administrations. And we have a very interesting AB test between this administration and the Obama administration, which had many flaws, but conflicts of interests were not among them. Well, Robert Weisman. And Kathleen Clark stick with us. Eric Lipton investigative reporter for the New York Times, and then have to let you go here, but thank you so much for joining us today. Eric, thank you. And we've got links to Eric Lipton's reporting about secretary Elaine Chao, and our family's shipping business. Those links are on point radio dot org. I'm making chocolate bar. This is on point. Hey, it's been an Ameri, and we're the hosts of endless thread, the show, featuring stories found on the website, read it but you don't have to be a or to enjoy the kinds of stories. We tell like a couple experimenting with non monogamy or board game that may have predicted the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Subscribe to endless threat on apple podcasts or wherever you listen. I'm Gregory Warner and this week on rough translation. We follow a rescue mission in real time after an Iraqi photo journalist goes missing on the front lines. We don't believe it. I don't believe it leaves his family and his friends to try to save him. When he said, who is this? Who are you? They respond. We are the Slavic state this week on rough translation. This is on point, a magnitude crowbar do you. We're talking this hour, about questions of ethics and conflicts of interest in the department of transportation, I'm joined today by Kathleen Clark. She's professor at the Washington University in Saint Louis school of law, working in the areas of legal and government ethics Robert Weisman also joins us. He's president of Public Citizen, nonprofit ethics group focused on limiting influence of corporate interests in government. And let's go to the phones Steve, is calling from Sharon Vermont Steve, you're on the air. Hi. So I wanted to just bring up the point that the administration and the agencies involved here seem to be sort of greatly misrepresenting to the public, what the standard is, and always has been for conflict of interest, or at least for most federal employees. I do not know about fictive branch, but, and it's one of appearances, or as we say optic, if there's even the appearance of a conflict of interest, or the central competent, just that is they problem. And I know that because it was for me, personally, I used to be employees of government lab. Well, my wife owned a business that, that one eight federal contract from a separate agency and, you know, disclosed that ethics council government ethics conflict, the lab, and they told me they would challenge the award my wife company or I what I, ultimately, opted to do was to leave them point of, of that land. And it was completely different branch of government, but because of. The optic, they considered that a conflict of interest. Well Steve, thank you so much for your call. Kathleen clark. So it sounds what, what Steve is describing to your point earlier is the way the system to work, but as Steve was saying are the rules, the same for executive branch employees as they are for sort of more front of rank and file federal federal employees. So the, the rules that I've been discussing on impartiality and not using public office for private gain, those regulations apply to just about everybody in the executive branch of the government, except the president and the vice president. So I don't I I don't really understand how the ethics of folks who were advising Steve, what exactly the problem was there, because as he described the facts, it wasn't clear that it would actually be a problem, but, you know, but, but, but on the larger point Steve is correct, that on these on these ethics regulations. We care, not just we, we don't just want to prohibit corruption. We want people, the government officials to act in a way that the public can have confidence that the government officials are acting in the public interest, not in a pri- private interest, not on behalf of, you know. Their family business in so appearances do come into play along those lines. Well, Robert Weisman. If I may I wanted to bring in another a little thread here on the question of goings on in the department of transportation because politico has also recently reported that the department has a special liaison to help the state of Kentucky navigate the grant making process in through the department of transportation, and of course, Kentucky being secretary chows home state and that of her husband, the Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, is there a problem there. Yep. Of course it could have been especially as end for Ohio. But for some reason, they picked Kentucky. You know this one is in the scale of, of wrongdoing by the Trump administration. These aren't these probably don't rank that high. But and this one is made more complicated by the fact that the secretary is not just benefiting her husband's political interests. She's benefiting the political interests of the majority leader and the Senate, which is something that other cabinet secretaries would likely try to do even if they weren't married to him. But obviously the this, this story that politico reports is that she's got this special as on, and she's probably facilitated or at least it suggests she's facilitated grants for projects in Kentucky that otherwise would not have been approved or at least that she's elevated those projects above ones from other states. That's you know that's not the thing that's kind of supposed to go on. It is probably the case that. Cabinet secretaries. Do that for powerful members of congress. It is obviously worse when that powerful member of congress his her husband, and of course, it's it would be wrong to look at it and 'isolation from the story, we're talking about, or from, for example, another story that Eric Lipton reported about her failure to divest from investments and an asphalt making company, which has some significant interest in the goings on of the department of transportation or from the broader Tableau of these massive conflicts of interests that are pervasive in the administration. You know, this is these are people, and this is an administration that has long ago lost the presumption of innocence or good faith when it comes to ethics question. But Kathleen Clark here's how first of all, Senator, Mitch McConnell response to that we did reach out to the senator's office didn't hear back from his office. But Senator McConnell did speak to reporters yesterday in response to this political politico story. And Senator McConnell said. Quote, you know, I was complaining to her meaning secretary Chao just last night, that one hundred sixty five projects and Kentucky just got five a hope we do a lot better next year. So he's being a little tongue in cheek about it. But the department of transportation tells us more specifically that they don't see any issue here because for example, population estimate estimates put Kentucky at twenty six in the country and Kentucky ranks twenty fifth of all states in terms of discretionary grant awards made by this administration, so in line with its population, and they also point out that in the evaluation process for these grants that they go through, you know, ranks of dedicated career staff that are only advanced, the projects really advanced if they're higher highly rated anyways, so your take on, if there's a an issue here or not. I think that Senator McConnell and the we'll certainly the department of transportation is doing a really good job of cherry, picking evidence to try to rebut the problem that they have here as though. Relative population really, has any relevance to the award of these grants, which are in response to specific applications. So no, I think that the, the problems that the journalists have identified in the department of transportation, but the political story in the New York Times story, these main, the I wouldn't claim that these are the most significant ethics violations in this administration because frankly, the emoluments problems of the president, the foreign emoluments problems, probably the most, you know, the one most serious along with innumerable hatch act violations of government officials endorsing a partisan political candidates on official time. So, so there are other problems, but I guess there's the, the, the, the regulation that I think comes into play with regard to this political story. Is really this impartiality standard, and whether or not a reasonable person would determine that the department of transportation officials were being impartial when it came to these Kentucky grant applications or not, and it may well be that, you know, other other cabinet officials would want to perhaps put a thumb on the scale with regard to, you know congressional leadership. That's a possibility. But I don't know whether the evidence actually bears that out with regard to these grants, and I don't think we'll know until there's an inspector general investigation of these allegations. If there's ever an investigation as well. Right. So, so let's go to Nancy, though. He's calling from cub run Kentucky Nancy. You're on the air. Thank you. I've always wondered holiday shall got a cabinet seat in the first place. There is some arrangement with Mitch McConnell and the president. Some quick pro quo was his unwavering support for his. His agenda. NFC behavior. Nancy? Thank you for your call, and Robert Weisman. Let me ask you about that. Because the to Nancy's point cabinet posts are vetted by congress. So did these s going back to the her family leagues at any of that come up in the in the approval process? Or confirmation process, I should say. I think it was written about at the time, but she had served in, in prior cabinets and against the backdrop of the unbelievable selection of unqualified in conflicted appointments, that Donald Trump put forward, Elaine Chao, Tze appointment was viewed as relatively uncontroversial. Okay. So we haven't focusing on the executive for the majority of this hour for obvious reasons. But Robert Weisman, you've also released this report that has brought together, congresswoman Alexandria, Cossio Cortez, and Senator, Ted Cruz eighty agreement that maybe there's a problem where when two thirds of retired congressmen are employed outside of politics. But they are employed by lobbyists. Tell us more about what you've found. So we looked at the members of congress who had departed from the previous congress, the one that had been in office from, you know, twenty sixteen to twenty eighteen to figure out what we're their, their post congress congress employment situations, some of them, went on to other political jobs. So we took them out of the equation. And if you just looked at the rest of them, those for whom we were able to identify subsequent employment about two-thirds, either are working as lobbyists or in trade associations or four corporations, leveraging their prior position and position of influence on now on behalf of new corporate clients, and how much more is that now than it has been in previous congresses? This is not a breakthrough findings. So we I think we had done a comparable study fifteen years ago or so and found about forty percent. So it's more, this is a smaller sample than an earlier study. But for the last several decades, and it wasn't true before them in the last several decades, this has been a pretty routine post congress employment practice for departing members of congress. At the risk of this being completely obvious question. But explain to us why you think that's a problem because I asked, we've done previous shows, for example, about the SEC regulators in the SEC, and it's pretty well known that, that there's a revolving door there between Wall Street or the financial industry and the SEC and, and they would claim out of necessity because you need to have a certain deep level of expertise in or oven, Evan industry like the financial industry in order to be a good regulator of it. I mean is that is that a, a, a reasonable defense of the revolving door? Does that apply to this congressional the link between congress and lobbyists that you're talking about? No, it's not a reasonable defense. You're exactly right. It's a pervasive problem with the SEC. We just did a study looking at the Federal Trade Commission. It's a pervasive problem there. And justified on exactly the same grounds, which is also true, which we can discuss, but as you point out, that's different than members of congress. They what they're doing is leaving. They're not looking at taking technical jobs based on their technical expertise. They're taking lobbyist jobs or lobby type jobs, leveraging their prior relationships. I think the problems are twofold, one is that these people are available for a higher by really deep-pocketed corporate interests. And so those interests have a leg up and the policy making processes against citizen organizations, a grassroots organization, so on that is a no position to, to pay the really big bucks to a former member of congress to try to push a, some provisions in tax Bill Ford or anything else that a former member might be doing. There's anoth-. Other problem that is probably deeper and more troubling, which is if members of congress while they are serving as members of congress have somewhere in the back of their head that their future employment is likely to be as a lobbyist or a consultant of some kind on behalf of corporate interests. They're not that likely to go hard at those exact same interests while they are serving in congress, and it doesn't have to be anything, as corrupt as someone already known what the next job is or having been paid off of that has on occasion occurred. It just means. It's going to affect the overall way. They go about doing their job. They're going to pull their punches one way or another. And there's so many things that a member of congress does every single day. Not just when it comes to a final vote up or down on a Bill. Right. But whether or not they introduced an amendment, whether they work behind the scenes to block something from going forward. What do they make a call on behalf of somebody whether or not they take advantage, take the interests of this constituent, or that whether or not they pound a cabinet official to do something all these kind of subtle things, I think are influenced by the idea that future employment is going to be on behalf of, of corporations or doing something else that advances public service or some private enterprise work altogether. That doesn't involve trading on their prior service, as a member of congress. Well, Kathleen Clarke, I think this is a very important point. And I wonder. How you view it. Because if what we're talking about here is a cultural problem essentially in Washington. I mean, do we have are the ethical guidelines ethical rules that we have in place adequate to a address this? The mindset issue that Roberts talking about the cultural problem is a result of the regulations that we have right now, the outlook of looking forward to a big pay off or payday after leaving congress is, is, is, you know, is possible because we don't have potato strict limits on what former members of congress can do. Our post employment ethics rules are relatively narrow in scope. And so no, I think that this, this cultural problem requires some some legal changes in legal performs. And, and stricter, stricter regulations than we have right now is such as the longer term prohibitions of against lobbying after serving in congress, something like well and and how we define lobbying whether will allow from members of congress to, you know, go behind the scenes in advise, you know, private industry on matters, even if they don't make contact with their former colleagues, because a lot of this happens behind the scenes, if, if what we restrict our communications, then they engage in advising without the communications to government officials will Kathleen Clark, professor at the Washington University in St Louis school of law, working in the areas of legal and government ethics professor Clark, thank you so much for joining us today. Thank you. And Robert Weisman, president of Public Citizen. A nonprofit ethics group focused on limiting influence of corporate interests in government, Robert Weisman. It was a pleasure to speak with you. Thank you so much. Thank you. And listeners head over to on point radio dot org and let us know what you think about this issue of ethics in government. And while you're there, you can subscribe to the on point newsletter at our website, you can take a deeper dive into our shows catch up on the stories. We're following here from the hosts that would be me and my colleague, David Folkenflik that's all at all point radio dot org. I'm Meghna chocolate bardy. This is on point.

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