Given the number of scandals surrounding Donald Trump and his team, many have made the case that it’s time for federal policymakers to strengthen existing ethics rules. With some members of the president’s cabinet having resigned in disgrace, another facing all kinds of accusations of wrongdoing, and another still facing the prospect of a criminal investigation, it’s tough to blame reform advocates.
But some in the White House apparently disagree. As CNN reported, National Security Adviser John Bolton spoke at the Hamilton Society yesterday in DC, where he argued that current ethics rules are a deterrent to public service.
Bolton said “things have gotten more bureaucratic, harder to get things done” since he served under President George H.W. Bush in the 1990s and blamed the difficulty, in part, on the “excessive nature of the so-called ethics checks.”
“If you were designing a system to discourage people from coming into government, you would do it this way,” Bolton said.
“That risks building up a priestly class” of government employees, he added.
“It’s really depressing to see,” Bolton said of the bureaucratic red tape.
I generally find it difficult to take John Bolton’s arguments seriously, but this seems like especially weak tea. If the current ethics standards are unrealistically high, how exactly did we end up with our current motley crew running the executive branch?
CNN’s report quoted Norm Eisen, the chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and former White House special counsel for ethics and government reform in the Obama administration, describing Bolton’s complaints as “totally false.”
“I know,” Eisen told CNN, “because I was in charge of vetting people for these jobs in the Obama administration and there are always more qualified people for these jobs than there are jobs.”
He added. “What we have really, truly seen, to an extraordinary extent, is that Trump himself and his Cabinet have stumbled over these rules.”
I’m not arguing that the goal should be “a priestly class,” but if the current rules have allowed Trump-level corruption to fester, weakening those rules would be a spectacular mistake.