About a year ago, Donald Trump seemed aware of the fact that his “drain the swamp” rhetoric had become the punch-line to a sad joke, but he defended the line anyway.
“From the day I took the oath of office, I’ve been fighting to drain the swamp,” the president claimed, before conceding that “sometimes it may not look like it.”
It was those last seven words that stood out for a reason. All kinds of scandals have unfolded in recent years involving Trump and his team, leading to, among other things, a series of ethics controversies surrounding the White House cabinet. Each of them makes Trump’s “drain the swamp” assurance that much more difficult to take seriously.
Some of the controversies, however, are more striking than others. Take this amazing new report from Politico, for example.
The Transportation Department under Secretary Elaine Chao designated a special liaison to help with grant applications and other priorities from her husband Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky, paving the way for grants totaling at least $78 million for favored projects as McConnell prepared to campaign for reelection.
Chao’s aide Todd Inman, who stated in an email to McConnell’s Senate office that Chao had personally asked him to serve as an intermediary, helped advise the senator and local Kentucky officials on grants with special significance for McConnell – including a highway-improvement project in a McConnell political stronghold that had been twice rejected for previous grant applications.
The details are a little tough to summarize – you’ll want to read the full report – but the article describes a dynamic in which the Transportation secretary hired one of her husband’s former campaign aides. That aide soon took on a unique role in the cabinet agency, overseeing projects that would benefit Chao’s powerful husband’s home state ahead of his re-election campaign.
The article added, “Chao’s designation of Inman as a special intermediary for Kentucky – a privilege other states did not enjoy – gave a special advantage to projects favored by her husband, which could in turn benefit his political interests. In such situations, ethicists say, each member of a couple benefits personally from the success of the other.”
Chao’s cabinet agency denied any wrongdoing.
This report comes just two weeks after separate reporting alleging the Transportation secretary held onto stock in a transportation company far longer than she was supposed to have divested.
Last week, meanwhile, the New York Times reported on controversial ties between Chao, her family, and Chinese business interests.
How’s that swamp looking now?