Tracking Corruption and Conflicts of Interest in the Trump Administration–May 2018 Update

For the last year (beginning in May 2017), GAB has been tracking credible allegations that President Trump, as well as his family members and close associates, are seeking to use the presidency to advance their personal financial interests, and providing monthly updates on media reports of such issues. Our May 2018 update is now available here. Despite the flurry of news reports over the past month concerning ethical issues and allegedly unlawful conduct in the Trump Administration, there have been relatively few new reports of activity specifically related to the profiteering-type activities our tracker emphasizes, and hence relatively few changes since the April 2018 update.

As always, we note that while we try to include only those allegations that appear credible, we acknowledge that many of the allegations that we discuss are speculative and/or contested. We also do not attempt a full analysis of the laws and regulations that may or may not have been broken if the allegations are true. For an overview of some of the relevant federal laws and regulations that might apply to some of the alleged problematic conduct, see here.

The Backstory on Brazil’s Extraordinary War on Corruption

 

Hardly a day passes without news from Brazil that a senior politician or business person has been charged with corruption or has admitted guilt or found guilty of a corruption offense or is cooperating with authorities in their ever-expanding investigation into the rot that has infected Brazilian politics.  Brazil is not only the envy of corruption hunters everywhere, but for those living in countries where big time, grand corruption is the norm, it provides enormous inspiration and hope.  “If the Brazilians can do it, we [fill in the blank] can do it too,” is a refrain I have heard in more than one country.

But just how Brazil has “done it” has remained a mystery.  Or at least it has until the recent release of The Sum Of Its Parts: Coordinating Brazil’s Fight Against Corruption, 2003 – 2016, the latest in a series by Princeton University’s Innovations for Successful Society on how countries are combating corruption. Through revealing interviews with key participants and observers, author Gordon LaForge chronicles how a handful of reformers built the law enforcement institutions now bringing corrupt Brazilian politicians and their private sector co-conspirators to heel. Investigating and prosecuting complex corruption cases takes coordinated action across numerous agencies, and the emphasis throughout is on the painstaking, time-consuming efforts required to build the needed inter-agency cooperation.

The Sum of its Parts is essential reading for those trying to make their country “the next Brazil.”  It should also be valuable for those trying to understand the process of political change in developing nations.  One of its strengths is that it never loses sight of the fact that human agency is critical element.

The Purity Potlatch and Conflict of Interest Revisited

A potlatch is a competition once found among tribes in the American Northwest.  Contestants took turns destroying things of value to them to demonstrate their wealth and status in the community, and overtime the combat escalated until eventually the only way to win was to reduce oneself to material ruin.  In a 1964 essay Stanford Law School Dean Bayless Manning, a member of the President’s Advisory Panel on Ethics and Conflicts of Interest in Government, compared the then current race in Washington, D.C., to condemn conflicts of interest to a potlatch – with similar unfortunate consequences.  Given the conflict of interest mania now gripping Washington, D.C., the time seems right to resurrect Dean Manning’s largely forgotten classic on the perils of ethics overstretch.  “The Purity Potlatch: An Essay on Conflicts of Interest, American Government, and Moral Escalation” appeared in volume 24 of the Federal Bar Journal. Available nowhere online, excerpts follow. The emphasis are as in the original:

“Something dramatic has happened of late to the subject of conflicts of interest.  This formerly obscure topic has become front page news and Big Politics. . . .

“The significant feature of these nation-rocking exposes is that, so far as is known from the record, none of the men involved actually did anything demonstrably injurious to the public treasury or the public interest.  None figured in an alleged Teapot Dome or anything resembling it.  The charge was only that the combination of their economics circumstances and their offices did not look just right.  The worst allegation that could be made against them was that they held an economic interest or received gifts that might, upon a certain set of assumptions about the conduct of their office and about human nature generally, tempt them in the future to act contrarily to the public interest in certain limited situations. Continue reading

3 Things To Do About Corruption Rather Than Gripe

Most of what passes for commentary or learned analysis about corruption in the press, on social media, or elsewhere does little more than say (again and again and again) that corruption is a pressing problem and that it should be addressed.  However valuable such calls to action might have been in the early years of the anticorruption movement, as Matthew suggested some time ago (almost two years ago to be exact), the principle of diminishing returns has long since set in.  I have serious doubts that another newspaper op-ed, “thought piece,” or (even) blog post will prompt one more policymaker or citizen to take up the anticorruption cause. If they have not by now, they simply aren’t going to.

Rather than wasting energy and time and sending more innocent trees to their death in the hopes of enlisting the remaining holdouts to the cause, here are three projects activists can tackle that will make a difference in the fight to curb corruption. Continue reading

The SELDI Report on Combating Corruption in Southeast Europe: Good News/Bad News

In an earlier post I cataloged several studies evaluating anticorruption policies in different regions or by different agencies and promised to summarize each for time-pressed readers.  Today I review a report by the Southeast Europe Leadership for Development and Integrity (SELDI), Anticorruption Reloaded: Assessment of Southest Europe, on the state of corruption in nine states:  Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey.  SELDI is a coalition of 17 civil society organizations from the nine countries with one, the Center for the Study of Democracy in Sofia, serving as its secretariat.  The 250 page report was authored by the Center based on extensive consultations with SELDI members, assessments in each of the nine countries, and comparisons of surveys on corruption taken in 2001 and 2002 with the results of identical surveys taken in 2014.

The good news?  The report provides an exhaustive analysis of corruption trends in the nine countries, what each has done to reduce corruption, and what more needs to be done.  The focus is on critical, but often overlooked issues: corruption in the legislature and the courts, weaknesses in public financial management and how they fuel corruption.  The empirical and qualitative data are weaved together skillfully to provide a detailed picture of each country along with specific recommendations.  The really good news?  The existence of civil society organizations in these nine countries capable of producing such a high quality report.

The bad news? Continue reading

Corruption Risks in the Criminal Justice System

The U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Center has just published the introductory chapter to a new U4 issue paper, Corruption Risks in the Criminal Justice Chain and Tools for AssessmentThe forthcoming paper has separate chapters that examine where corruption is most likely to arise in the 1) investigation, 2) prosecution, and 3) trial of a criminal case and in 4) the detention of suspects and incarceration of convicted defendants.  The chapters also describe what tools exist to to assess these risks.  The introductory chapter, co-authored by this writer, summarizes the four chapters.

U4 will release the other four chapters one by one in January 2015.  Join U4’s linked-in group for updates and to interact with the authors who will answer questions and respond to comments in these weeks:

A First Draft of a Training Course for Anticorruption Investigators: Comments Please!

Last week I complained about the poor quality of the training provided to investigators in developing country anticorruption agencies.   Here I offer a (very) rough draft of the topics I think a quality course should cover.  Comments, additional sources, and (gentle) critiques requested. Continue reading