In late December, CNBC's Larry Kudlow, an advisor to Donald Trump's team for months, wrote a piece celebrating the Republican's presidential transition, and touting the wealthy people who would serve in top administration posts."Why shouldn't the president surround himself with successful people?" Kudlow wrote. "Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption."It's a curious argument: wealthy people don't bother lining their pockets, because their pockets are already full.Oddly enough, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) made effectively the identical argument to The Atlantic's McKay Coppins, explaining his indifference towards allegations of Trump corruption.
On a recent afternoon in his Capitol Hill office, I read through a litany of headlines detailing potential entanglements between President Trump's business and his administration with the congressman. As he listened, Chaffetz leaned back in his chair -- jacket off, an ankle resting casually on one knee.... I asked Chaffetz if he was concerned about Trump reaping financial rewards from his presidency, but he just shrugged."He's already rich," Chaffetz said. "He's very rich. I don't think that he ran for this office to line his pockets even more. I just don't see it like that."
Asked specifically about reports that the president's son-in-law was exploring a lucrative deal with a Chinese company while advising the president on foreign policy, Chaffetz suggested the story was irrelevant. "I don't see how that affects the average American and their taxpayer dollars," the Utah Republican said.In other words, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, with direct responsibility for establishing checks on possible White House excesses, effectively declared that Team Trump corruption is improbable, and possibly even impossible.This is, to a very real extent, bonkers. The idea that wealthy people don't commit crimes to acquire more wealth is plainly at odds with millennia of human history.Indeed, we don't even have to look too far to find good examples. As New York's Jon Chait noted in December, "Trump himself ... had no need to steal or engage in corruption, yet cheated hundreds of contractors of their money, defrauded thousands through scams, and frequently boasted of his success at corrupting politicians. Clearly, it is not impossible for already-wealthy people to steal and to engage in corruption."As for the idea that conflicts of interest only matter if they "affect the average American," Chaffetz is describing an untenable standard that would dismiss all kinds of illegalities.It sometimes seems as if there's a race underway to see which Republican House chairman can look the most ridiculous, and the contest is pitting House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), both of whom too often seem preoccupied with shielding Donald Trump's White House from any real scrutiny. At this point, the loser in this race is ... us.