U.S. President Donald Trump looks on during a meeting with the National Association of Manufacturers in the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 31, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Pool

Giving lobbyists expansive power, Trump tries filling the swamp

Updated
As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump spoke frequently and with great pride about his plans to “drain the swamp,” reducing the influence of special interests in Washington, D.C. The Republican told NBC’s “Meet the Press” during the campaign that he’s tired of everybody in the nation’s capital “being controlled by the special interests and the lobbyists.” Trump went so far as to say he’d have “no problem” banning lobbyists from his administration altogether.

For those who believed this rhetoric was sincere, Trump seemed like an unconventional, populist candidate. For those who saw Trump as a shameless con man, it was only a matter of time before he ignored his “drain the swamp” posturing and started empowering those same special interests and lobbyists.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 12/6/16, 9:00 PM ET

Lobbyists boast of manipulating Trump

Rachel Maddow reports on conflicts of interest within the Donald Trump administration, and on Bob Dole’s lobbying firm taking credit for arranging the call between Donald Trump and the president of Taiwan.
Take now, for example.

We learned last month that the Trump White House was establishing “beachhead teams” in agencies throughout the executive branch, which included dozens of industry lobbyists. ProPublica found, “Many of them lobbied in the same areas that are regulated by the agencies they have now joined.”

The New York Times moved the ball forward with a related report over the weekend:
President Trump is populating the White House and federal agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck.

The potential conflicts are arising across the executive branch, according to an analysis of recently released financial disclosures, lobbying records and interviews with current and former ethics officials by The New York Times in collaboration with ProPublica.
The Times highlighted “at least two” instances in which the administration appointed lobbyists to government posts in violation of the administration’s own ethics rules. There may be others, the article added, “but evaluating if and when such violations have occurred has become almost impossible because the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to the rules.”
I’m not altogether sure what the point of having ethics rules is if the White House is handing out waivers – in secret – allowing officials to ignore those rules whenever Team Trump sees fit.

One example from the piece seemed especially brazen.
One such case involves Michael Catanzaro, who serves as the top White House energy adviser. Until late last year, he was working as a lobbyist for major industry clients such as Devon Energy of Oklahoma, an oil and gas company, and Talen Energy of Pennsylvania, a coal-burning electric utility, as they fought Obama-era environmental regulations, including the landmark Clean Power Plan. Now, he is handling some of the same matters on behalf of the federal government. […]

Mr. Catanzaro was registered for Talen Energy on the Clean Power Plan in 2015, yet he has worked in recent months as a senior member of the White House’s National Economic Council trying to roll back that rule, adopted by the Obama administration.

Mr. Catanzaro’s former clients, such as Talen and Devon Energy, have an enormous amount at stake in the regulations the White House is preparing to reverse — with his help. Talen, for example, helps operate the Colstrip power plant in Montana, the second-largest coal-burning plant west of the Mississippi. Federal officials have estimated that the plant could face a $1.2 billion bill as it makes updates to meet the new environmental standards, assuming it is not just closed.

Three industry lobbyists interviewed by The Times said that they recently had confidential conversations with Mr. Catanzaro about some of the same regulatory matters on which he was lobbying the federal government. And Mr. Catanzaro gave a briefing to reporters in March at the White House in which he discussed energy topics at length, including the details related to the executive order Mr. Trump signed on March 28 to weaken the Clean Power Plan.
If Devon Energy sounds familiar, it’s because Scott Pruitt also had an overly cozy relationship with the company – before Trump and Senate Republicans made him the head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Times’ article added that in several cases, “officials in the Trump administration now hold the exact jobs they targeted as lobbyists or lawyers in the past two years.”

As for just how many ethics waivers the White House has approved, no one seems to have any idea. Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub told the Times, “There’s no transparency, and I have no idea how many waivers have been issued.”

Adding insult to injury, Team Trump continues to boast as if it’s actually limited the power of special interests in D.C. In February, the White House issued a press statement in which it said Trump is “draining the swamp” and taking actions “to ensure that all members of his Administration are working for the American people.”

Last week, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed Trump has “implemented historic ethics reforms.” As recently as Friday, in a statement announcing the White House’s plans to keep its visitor logs secret, Team Trump insisted it is “instituting historic restrictions on lobbying to close the revolving door.”

As it too often the case with this administration, the truth is the exact opposite of what Team Trump claims.

Donald Trump and White House

Giving lobbyists expansive power, Trump tries filling the swamp

Updated