News Release

“A Field Guide to Trump’s Swamp”

JANINE WEDEL, jwedel@gmu.edu@janinewedel
Wedel, an anthropologist, is a University Professor in the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs at George Mason University. She just wrote the piece “A Field Guide to Trump’s Swamp.” Her books include Unaccountable: How The Establishment Corrupted our Finances, Freedom, and Politics and Created an Outsider Clasand Shadow Elite: How the World’s New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market.

Wedel writes: “[Trump’s cabinet, a] collection of primarily white men includes the wealthiest Cabinet members in U.S. history, chosen by the man who will be the wealthiest president ever. Many of them are slated to take charge of missions and bureaucracies they have vowed to thwart or even eliminate. And the vast majority of this homogenous group exhibit some form of conflict of interest, just like their chieftan, who, indications are, may take conflicts of interest to an unprecedented level for a U.S. president. Trump busts presidential norms not only in his own personal conduct but also in the number of conflicted players surrounding him—and in the magnitude of their conflicts. …

“But perhaps an even bigger concern are some of Trump’s other picks, advisers, and associates who qualify as ‘shadow lobbyists.’” To name a few:

  • “Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, who is Trump’s choice for national security adviser, runs his own consulting firm (as do many other retired military peers), called Flynn Intel Group Inc. As is often the case these days, Flynn’s firm is registered as a lobbyist, but the top player – Flynn himself – is not. One of his clients has been linked to the Turkish government in the press, casting suspicion on Flynn’s motivations for writing an op-ed this past fall supporting Turkey’s autocratic leader. None of this kept Flynn out of classified briefings during the presidential transition from Obama to Trump.
  • “A consulting company owned by Newt Gingrich, a regular from the Trump campaign trail and an apparent adviser to the transition team, earned more than $1.6 million from Freddie Mac, a government-backed home mortgage and loan company, in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis. Gingrich denied direct lobbying (at one point arguing he was merely a ‘historian’ for Freddie Mac), but his firm ‘reported directly to Freddie Mac’s public policy and lobbying office,’ according to one account. This one-step-removed arrangement is now commonplace and enables shadow lobbyists plausible deniability. Gingrich also denied lobbying for ethanol interests, so it raised eyebrows when industry IRS filings revealed he took in more than $300,000 from that industry in 2009. He also founded a so-called think tank, the Center for Health Transformation, to promote the policy desires of its health industry sponsors. Gingrich is now making money from his association with Trump, reportedly increasing his speaking fee by $15,000 because of his close ties to the president-elect.
  • “Myron Ebell, serving as the leader of the Environmental Protection Agency transition team, is a longtime climate change denier with the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a self-described libertarian think tank funded by the energy industry, among other donors. CEI is viewed as an advocacy arm for an array of polluting industries and the billionaires who help to support it. Trump has installed similarly compromised “think tank” influencers as transition leaders at both the Energy Department and the Interior Department.
  • “Rudy Giuliani, a still-vocal Trump advocate who Trump shortlisted as a candidate to run the State Department, owns the consulting firm Giuliani Partners, which has any number of potential conflicts. Clients have included the governments of Qatar and Venezuela, controversial painkiller giant Purdue Pharma, and a Canadian energy firm behind the Keystone XL pipeline, among many others. While it has been extremely unusual for secretaries of state to have significant and diverse connections to big business, none of Giuliani’s disqualified him from the shortlist. Merely being shortlisted for such a post is useful to his firm in generating new business. Nor did his connections exclude him from being named a cybersecurity adviser to the president-elect, an arena in which Giuliani has any number of conflicts. His firm has reportedly advised identity protection company LifeLock Inc. and insurer Aon on cybersecurity, and he is on leave as chair of the cybersecurity practice at the global law firm Greenberg Traurig.”