Monday, January 09, 2017

The Manchurian Candidate's Ethical Dilemmas

In less than than two weeks the inauguration of the most unpopular presidential candidate in modern American history will take place outside the steps of the U.S. Capitol Building, and with it our nation is headed into uncharted waters.

The release of the declassified version of an intelligence report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence last Friday confirms that Russia, under the direction of Vladimir Putin, used targeted cyber attacks to intentionally smear the reputation of Hillary Clinton and the DNC.

But just about the only person in America who still denies that Russia interfered in the November 8th elections is the president-elect - the man who benefitted most from their meddling.

The anxiety surrounding the incoming PEOTUS isn't just based on his political inexperience, unpredictability and petty childish petulance.

It's the ease with which he lies, his penchant for distorting the truth to fit his own narrative and immediate needs, and the ongoing intentional deception about his personal finances.

His tangled web of business ties, including a staggering list of foreign entities including banks, companies and wealthy individuals whose financial interests will be directly influenced by the policy decisions he and his administration will soon make, is made even more problematic by the fact that he refuses to release his tax returns or make open disclosures about potential conflicts of interest.

Trump's incoming administration (contrary to his snarky campaign rhetoric) is replete with billionaires with murky financial backgrounds and hyper-conservative Republican Party insiders with radical social agendas who seem to have very little in common with the thousands of "Average Joe" Trump supporters who packed those rallies around the country last year.

Adding to the collective anxiety are growing concerns on Capitol Hill that the Republican-controlled Senate is pushing forward with confirmation hearings this week for some of Trump's cabinet picks even though exhaustive background checks are still incomplete.

Different standards for different nominees? McConnell
But missing disclosure information and incomplete financial background records aren't stopping Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In an interview, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told MSNBC's Chris Hayes that the complex financial backgrounds of some of Trump's cabinet picks "cry out for hearings. Not six at once, two hours each and then we're finished. The American people demand to know who these people are."  

Interestingly, eight years ago McConnell was singing a much different tune about the "Constitutional duty" of the Senate "to provide its Advice and Consent on Presidential nominations" when President Obama's nominees were facing confirmation hearings.

As Josh Israel reported in an article posted on on Sunday, in a remarkable display of overt partisan hypocrisy, a copy of a letter he wrote to the former Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid back on February 12, 2009 (click the link to read it) spells out a laundry list of standards to be met before Senate confirmation hearings for Obama's picks could take place.

The very first item on McConnell's list back then? "The FBI background check is complete and submitted to the committee for review and prior to a hearing being noticed."

I guess McConnell's strict adherence to "Constitutional duty" with regards to the Senate confirmation of cabinet picks depends on the party of the president-elect.

As Ed O'Keefe and Sean Sullivan reported in a Washington Post article on Saturday, ethics officials responsible for vetting the cabinet picks have warned that government staff who handle the background checks are finding themselves overwhelmed due in large part to the fact that the incoming Trump administration bucked tradition by appointing individuals without having done extensive inside pre-vetting of their cabinet picks - as is the normal practice of incoming presidential administrations.

AG nominee & civil rights opponent Jeff Sessions
Regardless, what are sure to be contentious televised confirmation hearings will begin on Tuesday morning with the controversial pick for Attorney General, Republican Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions facing two days of questioning.

Sessions faces a rough week as accusations that he used disparaging remarks (including the n-word and "boy") about African-Americans in the past are sure to come up.

Those same accusations sank his nomination to be a federal judge back in 1986 when he faced a bruising hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee when he was the then-Alabama attorney general.

Just last week members of the NAACP, including organization president Cornell Brooks, were arrested for staging a peaceful sit-in protest in the Senator's offices in Mobile, Alabama to express their opposition to Session's being nominated as the highest ranking official in charge of enforcing civil rights and voting laws at a time when the Department of Justice plays such a critical role in investigating the epidemic of unjustified shootings of innocent and unarmed persons of color by police around the nation.

Justice reform advocates, human rights lawyers, activists, politicians on both sides of the aisle and concerned citizens have all expressed concerns that Sessions being nominated as the AG could set back efforts to begin to dismantle mass incarceration and reform the U.S. prison system.

Jared Kushner confers with anti-Semite Trump advisor
Steve Bannon after exiting the PEOTUS plane
But to get back to the aforementioned PEOTUS, while Trump's cartoonish praise of Putin (whom former CIA field officer Bob Baer called one of the most corrupt leaders on the globe during an interview segment on The Brian Leher Show this morning) paints the former reality TV star as something of a foreign policy simpleton in the eyes of many, it's his Byzantine maze of relationships that's most troubling.

Nowhere are those complex business ties more apparent than in Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner.

The wealthy scion of a family that owns a vast real estate business, Kushner is said to be one of the closest advisers to the new PEOTUS, but his complicated and not always transparent business ties represent a huge ethical dilemma for the incoming administration - especially after Trump announced plans to tap him as a senior White House advisor.

If you haven't already read it, I highly recommend taking a few minutes to read the article by Susanne Craig, Jo Becker and Jesse Drucker published in Saturday's New York Times that offers a piercing and troubling overview not just of Kushner's pursuit of a real estate development deal with the head of shadowy Chinese insurance behemoth Anbang Insurance Group.

But also the web-like network of business ties the Kushner family's real estate company has established in order to solve massive debt issues accrued as a result of a multi-state buying spree of buildings and properties that expanded the family's holdings but leveraged the company to the hilt.

"Nothing to see hear folks!" Reince Priebus
Kushner advising Trump on U.S. policies that could affect any number of the Kushner family's global business dealings potentially represents yet another dicey ethics issue for an administration already under fire for it's stubborn refusal to acknowledge the findings of U.S. intelligence officials that Putin ordered Russia to interfere with American elections to intentionally sway the outcome in Trump's favor.

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus even had the gall to blame the DNC for lax Internet security that allowed Russian hackers to infiltrate its Website during an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News.

The 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate, based on the 1959 novel by Richard Condon, centers on the scion of a wealthy conservative American family who is brainwashed by the Soviets as part of a secret Communist plot before going on to a political career.

That Oscar-nominated film starring Frank Sinatra, Lawrence Harvey, Janet Leigh and Angela Landsbury is pretty strange.

Now I don't know about the rumors that the Russians have something damaging on Trump which is allegedly why he acts like an enamored school girl with a crush anytime he mentions Putin.

But his Twitter man-crush on the Russian president is pretty weird.

I don't know if Trump's praise for the Motherland is related to reasons that are financial, political, or both; but regardless, in this case it seems as if truth really is much stranger than fiction.

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