Margaret, if you want to know just how deplorable Trumpsters are, this week they elected two indicted criminals, a Nazi and a dead brothel owner. And the fact that most people reading this are asking themselves “which Nazi?” is just bat shit crazy. To be honest, it could have been multiple Nazis, but it’s getting harder and harder to tell the difference between a GOP Congressman and a Nazi these days. Some might be just your run-of-the-mill racists. You know what they say about old, white men standing in front of a flag, pledging allegiance to Donald Trump… they all look alike.
A dead brothel owner. I’m sorry. I just had to say that again. The party of family values elected a dead pimp. Bless their hearts but Republicans are nuttier than squirrel shit.
Now, I know that some of you Democrats out there, especially in Florida, Georgia and Texas, are filling a bit blue today and not in a good Blue Wave way. We’re feeling blue because we fell in love with Andrew, Beto and Stacey and hoped that racists in red states would be standing in line at a Cracker Barrel instead of a polling station. Damn you Cracker Barrel! What happened to your all-you-can-eat chicken fried opossum steak on Tuesdays?
Honestly, it was going to be an uphill battle and we got a bit ahead of ourselves. After all, this is Florida, Georgia and Texas we are talking about. They are GOP red mixed with a little scarlet, crimson, cardinal, ruby, magenta, brick, carmine, rose, vermilion, cerise, coral, and burgundy. The fact that Beto was even in the hunt and the other two are still too close to call is pretty amazing. Sure, it stung. But we really do have a great deal to celebrate. We took back the House. Our wave was big enough to overcome gerrymandering and voter suppression, sending several hundred state and federal members of the GOP packing.
If you are feeling a bit down, maybe this will pick you up. Here are a few of my favorite casualties:
Karen Handel. Remember her? This homophobic, she-devil in wolf’s clothing managed to destroy the otherwise stellar reputation of the Susan G Komen Foundation when she picked a fight with Planned Parenthood. Komen recovered somewhat but it never returned to its former glory. Well, now a Democrat in Georgia named Lucy McBath is my new favorite person and Georgia’s 6th Congressional District’s newest Representative. Kiss my ass Karen. The only organization I liked more than Komen was Planned Parenthood and you damaged one in order to attack the other. Don’t mess with Planned Parenthood. Ever. By the way, McBath ran on more gun control… in Georgia.
Kim Davis. This walking hairball in need of a hairstyle became famous in Kentucky for refusing to give marriage licenses to same sex couples, claiming Jesus told her to hate people. She then crashed a party pretending to be the Pope’s BFF and became the white trash darling for white trash religious nutjobs everywhere when she traveled to Romania to fight gay marriage there. Wait. What? Listen, folks. The cheese slid off this gal’s cracker years ago. Thank goodness that Kentucky Democrats dropped a house on Kim. To be honest, she lost by less than 700 votes, but that was to be expected considering she was related to, married to, divorced by and otherwise had children out of wedlock with a sizable percentage of the male voting population in the county. Hypocrisy is what the GOP now calls a family value.
Jason Lewis. I bet you don’t remember this asshat from Minnesota’s 2nd Congressional District unless you’re a slut… I mean a woman… I mean a slut. Lewis complained that political correctness had gotten so bad that he couldn’t even call a woman a slut anymore without getting in trouble. He lost to Democrat Angie Craig. I don’t know you Angie, but I love you regardless of what Jason is most assuredly calling you at this moment.
Jack Phillips. He’s probably the most famous baker in Colorado, but not because his cakes taste good, bad or otherwise. Jack is the Colorado Baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple and took his argument all the way to the Supreme Court. He then tried to sue the Governor of Colorado because he didn’t want to bake a pink and blue cake for a transgender woman. Guess what? Jack now has a new Governor in Colorado. His name is Jared Polis and he’s gay. Please, please, please Governor Polis, order your inauguration cake from Jack if for no other reason than shits and giggles.
Kevin Yoder. I know nothing about this congressman from Kansas except he was a Republican in Kansas, which is rarely a good thing. He lost to a Native American woman named Sharice Davids. Now Sharice has a remarkable story and you should read about it. But I don’t want to talk about that now because I am being a little selfish. I just want to sit a minute and imagine Donald Trump watching Fox News on Tuesday when they gave a Democratic pick up seat to a woman who happens to be Native American and who also happens to be a lesbian and a mixed, martial arts fighter. Ah! Sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found thee… Sharice honey, if you meet the President, please kick him where it counts.
Barbara Comstock. When Florida Parkland Students came to talk to her about gun violence, she refused to meet with them. Barbara lost to Democrat Jennifer Wexton. Bye, bye Barbara. Don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you.
Listen. I was sad. I wanted Beto as much as anyone. I really did. But here in Texas we picked up so many down ballot Democrats because of Beto that I don’t think being sad is an appropriate way to remember Beto, or Stacey or Andrew. And maybe its not even over for Stacey who is still fighting the good fight. Good luck Stacey. Every vote counts. But no. We can’t be down. We have just too much to be excited about.
Chairman Elijah Cummings, House Oversight Committee
Chairman Adam Schiff, House Intelligence Committee
Chairwoman Maxine Waters, House Financial Services Committee
Chairman Richard Neal, House Ways and Means Committee
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the woman who gave us the Affordable Care Act the last time she had that title
That is huge. We took back the House and turned a huge section of the country blue, while Trump kept Georgia, Florida and Texas red… barely. We changed everything. He changed nothing.
Maybe the Blue Wave wasn’t as big in some parts of the country as others. As it swept from east to west across the country like an invading army of immigrants… no wait. As it swept from east to west, it hit patches of gerrymandering and mountains of voter suppression. But it indeed swept across the country no matter how large or small it seemed at times. One thing we know for sure, if left unchecked, Trump could bring out the worst in all of us. And sadly, he’s proud of that. But then again, he’s an idiot. The blue wave came, and it was big enough. I mean it. Really.
Democratic governors, including Andrew Cuomo, are grappling with a coronavirus-related fear: piss off the president and risk losing his support.
As the coronavirus pandemic has deepened, Democratic governors bearing the heaviest burdens are increasingly wary that if they complain too loudly about the federal response they will anger Donald Trump and risk losing critical support during a life-or-death crisis.
The latest evidence of the delicate, sometimes impossible line that these governors have been forced to walk came Tuesday, when the president took swipes at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a televised town-hall-style program on Fox News.
“He had a choice… He refused to order 15,000 ventilators,” Trump said, referencing a recent column by Betsy McCaughey, a hardened Trump supporter and longtime health-care policy crusader on the right. “It says that he didn’t buy the ventilators in 2015 for a pandemic, established death panels and lotteries instead.”
Trump would go on to insist he was not blaming Cuomo. But the magnanimity was short-lived. “It’s a two-way street,” Trump said of having the feds help states with a coronavirus response policy. “They have to treat us well, too.”
Under normal circumstances, such a screed would be cast aside as a classic bit of Trumpian shit-talking and thin-skinness. But these aren’t normal times. And Trump’s comment resonated not only for how callous it seemed but also for how manufactured the evidence was that he was citing.
A source on Gov. Cuomo’s team told The Daily Beast they believed McCaughey was referencing a 2015 New York government health report on ventilator guidelines for her column. The report’s data on ventilator need was based on numbers gathered for the 1918 influenza pandemic. The report’s guidelines went on to say that it was “not possible to accurately calculate the impact of a severe pandemic, including ventilator need” and that it is “likely that the approach used overestimates the number of ventilators that would be needed during a severe pandemic.”
President Trump “obviously didn’t read the document he’s citing—this was a five-year-old advisory task-force report, which never recommended the state procure ventilators—it merely referenced that New York wouldn’t be equipped with enough ventilators for a 1918 flu pandemic,” said Dani Lever, director of communications for Cuomo. “No one is, including Mr. Trump.”
For Trump, it was just the latest in an on-again, off-again relationship that has developed between him and the governor of the state he used to call home. The relationship between the two has changed from week to week, if not day to day, vacillating from gracious words to open hostility, depending on the news cycle. Such work-relationship dysfunction may seem abnormal, especially in the midst of a deadly, economy-tanking pandemic. But for those close to the president, it was standard operating procedure.
“If you’re good and respectful to [Trump], he will treat you the same—it’s that simple,” said one senior White House official. “The president has always said that he fights back when he needs to, and the situation with [Cuomo] is no different. If you keep that in mind, their sort of seesaw relationship during [coronavirus] doesn’t come as a surprise.”
Another person who had spoken to the president earlier this month recounted that one day Trump had mentioned in a meeting how well Cuomo was behaving and handling the crisis, only to, two days later, start bashing the governor in a different private conversation as “nasty.”
A source on the New York governor’s team said that Cuomo has tried to shrug off these temperamental swings over the last two weeks, saying Trump’s mood changes so often that it is hard to keep track. Another individual familiar with the relationship said it’s become expected that the pair will collaborate one day and the president will take a swipe at the governor for not doing enough the next, usually in the hours after the governor’s morning press conference.
Cuomo, the individual close to the governor noted, has praised the White House in addition to criticizing it on occasion. For example, when the administration facilitated the construction of hospitals and sent the Army Corps of Engineers to the state to help, Cuomo was gracious. And in press conferences, he has repeatedly thanked the president and noted that he and Trump speak often about what New York needs to battle the public-health epidemic. At other times, though, Cuomo has blasted the federal government, not necessarily Trump himself, for the delay and lack of much-needed essential medical supplies that health-care workers need to treat coronavirus patients.
That was true on Tuesday, when Cuomo said the state is in need of 30,000 ventilators and was getting insufficient help from the federal government to acquire more. The Trump administration said later that it was in the process of shipping about 4,000 ventilators to New York. But the governor’s office is still desperate for more and has called on the president to implement the Defense Production Act and order private companies to make more for the open market.
That Cuomo has made sharper demands than others is not lost on the White House. Nor is it lost as to why. His state has faced the brunt of the coronavirus crisis. And on Tuesday evening, Deborah Birx, a key member of Trump’s coronavirus task force, said at a White House press briefing that people who’ve left New York City recently should self-quarantine for 14 days. “To everyone who has left New York over the last few days, because of the rate of the number of cases, you may have been exposed before you left New York,” Birx said. “Everybody who was in New York should be self-quarantining for the next 14 days to ensure that the virus doesn’t spread to others.”
Trump, who was at the briefing, declined to say if he’d given Cuomo advance warning about the pronouncement. “We’re talking to them about it,” the president told reporters at the White House.
But while Trump’s attention seems to be focused on parrying with Cuomo, other Democratic governors have felt the pressure to not get on his bad side as well. One of those governors has been Jay Inslee of Washington, whose state preceded New York in having to deal with a massive wave of coronavirus infections and deaths. This month, the president called Inslee a “snake” and even instructed his vice president “not to be complimentary” of him. For weeks, the governor and president did not speak, though Tara Lee, a spokesperson for Inslee, told The Daily Beast that they connected over the weekend for the first time, during which Trump told Inslee that he was not getting a medical boat he had requested but would be “getting field hospitals.”
For Democrats working for governors on the frontlines of the crisis, the lesson taken from that episode and from Cuomo is that there are two administrations to navigate: the one doing the actual crisis response, and the one that is responsive to Trump’s id.
“It is really unclear how many decisions are made by Trump versus the actual team there. Everyone is negotiating the challenge of telling the federal government where they are falling behind versus making sure we meet the needs of our citizens by getting federal help, knowing that you risk it if you anger Trump,” said an aide to a Democratic governor involved in handling the coronavirus spread. “It’s a balance that all governors are dealing with right now. Well, not all governors. Democratic governors.”
As they deal with that balance, Democrats say they can already see potholes ahead. Trump has said in recent days that he wants to “re-open” the economy soon—perhaps by Easter—in hopes of avoiding an economic depression. But there is little the president can do to compel states to end their decrees that people stay in place or that all non-essential businesses close. Should they not bow to Trump’s demands, the fear goes, it will set up a situation in which he may once again use the bully pulpit to, well, bully.
“He’s been trying to kick the blame to the states… and I think this maneuver [to re-open the economy] is the same,” said one Democratic operative who works on gubernatorial campaigns. “It’s him being able to say: ‘Hey, I opened it up, it’s not my decision that your state kept the economy closed. It’s not on me that you lost your job. Blame your governor.’”
The lawsuit, unsealed Thursday, describes the scheme as simple, telling the judge ‘there need be no fear of complexity, for there is none.’
Four Donald Trump-licensed real-estate developments are at the center of a huge income tax evasion scheme, according to allegations in a lawsuit unsealed Thursday afternoon by a judge in Manhattan.
The presumptive Republican nominee is not personally accused. He is described as a “material witness” in the evasion of taxes on as much as $250 million in income. According to the court papers, that includes $100 million in profits and $65 million in real-estate transfer taxes from a Manhattan high rise project bearing his familiar name.
However, his status may change, according to the lawyers who filed the lawsuit, Richard Lerner and Frederick M. Oberlander, citing Trump’s testimony about Felix Sater, a convicted stock swindler at the center of the alleged scheme.
Trump received tens of millions of dollars in fees and partnership interests in one of the four projects, the Trump Soho New York, a luxury high rise in lower Manhattan. His son Donald Junior and his daughter Ivanka also were paid in fees and partnership interests, the lawyers said, and are also material witnesses in the case.
Trump and Sater traveled extensively together and were photographed and interviewed in Denver and Loveland, Colorado, Phoenix, Fort Lauderdale, and New York. The two Trump children were also with Sater in Moscow, Alan Garten, the Trump Organization general counsel, has said.
Trump has testified about Sater in a Florida lawsuit accusing the two of them of fraud in a failed high-rise project. Trump testified that he had a glancing knowledge of Sater and would not recognize him if he were sitting in the room.
Sater controlled an investment firm named Bayrock, with offices in Trump Tower, and sought to develop branded Trump Tower luxury buildings in Moscow and other cities. Court papers show his salary in 2006 was $7 million, but it alleges that was a pittance compared to his real income.
Sater then moved into the Trump Organization offices. He carried a business card, issued by the Trump Organization, identifying him as a “senior adviser” to Trump.
The tax fraud lawsuit included 212 pages of documents, among them a flow chart that the plantiff claims showed how the scheme worked. The lawsuit alleges the tax fraud scheme as simple, telling the judge “there need be no fear of complexity, for there is none.”
The four developments were all handled as partnerships. Partnerships are not taxed and are rarely audited because the profits are supposed to be reported as going to the partners personally. The lawsuit says the profits simply were not reported when Sater and others took their partnership profits and other income from the deals.
The state tax fraud lawsuit is known as a qui tam case in which citizens file as private attorneys general on behalf of the government. In effect Lerner and Oberlander are acting as prosecutors in the alleged tax fraud.
Eric Schneiderman, the New York State attorney general, learned of the case soon after it was filed in state court last August and declined to intervene. His office confirmed that stance Thursday after the lawsuit was unsealed.
The suit says Sater and other defendants owe at least $7 million in New York state income taxes, a sum that would be tripled if they prevail.
If the federal government were to intervene the federal taxes would come to about $35 million.
New York state tax law closely aligns with federal tax law in defining income, deductions, and taxes due.
The case was unsealed after Sater filed an action in Israel against a rabbi who says he was cheated in a $40 million stock swindle. That was enough to persuade a federal judge to unseal another lawsuit against Sater, Bayrock, and others earlier in July. And in turn that disclosure prompted the state Supreme Court (trial court) judge in Manhattan to unseal the tax evasion lawsuit.
Sater secretly pleaded guilty to the stock swindle in 1998. The $40 million fleeced from investors went to him, the Genovese and Gambino crime families and others.
In 1998 Sater pleaded guilty in federal court, but the plea was kept secret. Sater was sentenced in secret in 2009 to probation and a $25,000 fine with no jail time and no requirement to make restitution.
That was an extraordinarily light sentence, especially given Sater’s violent past. In 1991 he admitted to shoving the broken stem of a margarita glass into a man’s face and was sentenced to two years.
Court papers, testimony by Trump and a book by one of Sater’s confederates—The Scorpion and the Frog, “The True Story of One Man’s Fraudulent Rise and Fall on the Wall Street of the Nineties”—all tell how after his arrest Sater became an operative for the Central Intelligence Agency, supposedly buying missiles on their way to terrorists, which may explain the light sentence.
As to Trump, every president starting with Richard Nixon and major party candidate since has made public some or all of their tax returns. He has not, even as Hillary Clinton has released her complete tax returns going back more than three decades.
Trump has explained his refusal to make his income tax returns public by claiming that the ones he has filed for 2012 and since are under routine audit. Mark Everson, a former commissioner of Internal Revenue has said there is no reason to hold the returns back, even assuming they are being audited.
He has offered no explanation for not releasing his returns for 2011 and earlier, years on which he has said the audits are closed.
Documents made public by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission show that despite living a lavish lifestyle, Trump did not pay income taxes in 1978, 1979, 1992, and 1994. He also paid no income taxes in 1984, by far his most lucrative year in his career to that point, according to state and city tax tribunal proceedings I reported on previously.
In January of 2017, little more than a week before Donald Trump’s inauguration, I wrote a diary comparing U.S. Presidential Administrations by the number of people arrested, convicted, and imprisoned since Richard Nixon’s Administration.
The original diary was written as a warning to Trump, who was quickly putting up Administration nominees with little vetting and before their ethical reviews could be completed. I warned that many of those candidates might find themselves in legal jeopardy if they didn’t disentangle themselves from their conflicts of interest. I really felt that a lot of his appointees would blunder their way into indictments.
The diary, which was based on Wikipedia’s list of federal political scandals in the U.S., is the closest I’ve come to having something go viral. DK’s counters show that 349 people recommended it and it was posted to Facebook 11,133 times. Since then, I’ve seen numerous people post screen captures of the table comparing crimes by Administration. And lately, I’ve seen a modified version that adds Trump Administration – but inaccurately, or at least with a different methodology.
My initial report covered number of people indicted, convicted, and imprisoned. The modified table floating around uses the total number of indictments and total convictions for each indictment, artificially inflating the already-burgeoning Trump figures compared to his predecessors.
I planned to update my analysis after the midterms to give a full two years to Trump’s portion. Given the misinformation that’s spreading due to differing methodologies, I decided to expedite the update.
Nixon’s Presidency remains the most criminal, with 76 different individuals charged with felony indictments and 55 of them convicted or pleading guilty. But Trump is hot on his heels. Though we aren’t even two years into his Administration, already 35 individuals (including 28 foreign nationals) have been indicted – more than any administration except Nixon’s. And seven have been convicted and/or pleaded guilty, more than every Democratic Administration in the past 50 years combined.
Read on for:
How the Trump Campaign provides unprecedented complications for this analysis.
A breakdown of felony indictments, convictions, and imprisonments for members of the Trump Organization, Campaign, and Administration.
How the Trump data compares with other Administrations over the last 50 years.
A review of my methodology.
Details of all of the people included in the Trump data. (Please refer to the original article for similar details for past administrations.)
Revisiting the data used for the previous administrations.
Including Trump’s Company, Campaign, and Administration
When I wrote the original diary in January 2016, I really thought the biggest legal issues Trump’s Administration would face would come from unvetted conflicts of interest. I really expected that if there were any arrests, most would come from his Administration itself.
I wasn’t quite prepared for how many people involved with his campaign would end up being arrested. We knew there was some funny business going on with Russia. The only thing the campaign changed in the GOP’s platform – written largely by members of the religious right – was its stance on the Russian invasion of Crimea. There was funny stuff with Paul Manafort, who was forced to resign as Campaign Chair in August. And we knew before the inauguration that Mike Flynn had made suspicious calls to the Russian Ambassador during the transition. But what we knew before the inauguration versus what we know now … whew!
(That could change…soon. Trump’s FEMA Director, William “Brock” Long, is under criminal investigation. Former Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price could still face an insider trading indictment for crimes similar to Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY). Former EPA Director Scott Pruitt and many others remain under criminal investigation. And so many others remain under investigation.)
The unprecedented degree of foreign interference with our elections complicates this analysis different than any previous Administration.
Trump complicates things
Under previous presidents, it was easy to focus on criminal activities of officials who were paid employees of the federal Executive Brach or paid by the president’s election campaign. (As far as I can tell, Nixon was the only previous president whose campaign staff faced felony indictments. Those individuals were included in my original report.) But under Trump, everything is complicated.
A lot of people involved the Trump Campaign worked for “free.” Not just his family, but others also Paul Manafort and others who hoped to used their role in the campaign to grift or get compensation from foreign nationals. I’ve certainly included them if they had an official campaign title or played a significant role in the campaign.
But what about illegal foreign influence? So far, 28 foreigners have been charged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller or by U.S. Attorneys acting on Mueller’s referrals. Should they be included? If it’s demonstrated that the Trump Campaign knew about their activities and actively conspired with them, then yes, they should be. But what if it’s never proven that the Trump Campaign knew about their activities, and the foreign efforts were completely independent?
For now, I’ve separated the indicted individuals into groups. You can decide for yourselves which merit including.
Felonies by Presidential Administration
Donald Trump is continuing the GOP’s trend of being the party with the most corrupt Administrations. We can measure this with more that fevered tinfoil hat conspiracies of pizza parlor pedophile rings. We can actually use indictments, convictions, and incarcerations as an impartial, statistical measure.
Trump Campaign & Administration Felonies
To date, more people in the Trump camp – including foreign nationals – have been indicted for felonies than any administration in the last 50 years except Nixon’s. These include seven Americans and 28 foreign nationals.
Felony Indictments in the Trump Campaign & Administration (to date)
# of People Imprisoned: The initial number includes everyone whose sentence includes prison time, even if they have not yet reported to prison (e.g., George Papadopoulos). The +[number] represents other individuals who have been convicted and/or pleaded guilty, and whose sentences are expected to include prison time, but because they have not yet been sentenced, we don’t yet know for sure.
Trump Organization, Campaign, or Administration: For every previous Administration, this would be everyone: people who worked with the President before they ran, during their campaign, and after inauguration. For Trump, the loose affiliation of outsiders complicates how we identify these individuals. This section currently includes Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and Michael Cohen.
Outside campaign consultant (U.S. national): These are U.S. citizens were not an official part of the Trump Campaign, but who provided illegal assistance to the campaign (specifically, Richard Pinedo and W. Samuel Patton).
Foreign assistance to Trump Campaign: This includes 26 Russians indicted for hacking the DNC servers and for other U.S. election-related crimes. It does not include the three Russian companies that were also indicted.
Foreign, direct connection unclear: This includes Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch citizen who has already served his prison sentence, as well Maria Butina, a Russian national who remains in U.S. custody. Both were arrested as part of the Mueller investigation, but it’s not yet clear whether they were involved in crimes relating to Trump, or got scooped up while investigating Trump’s corrupt associates.
For more details about the specific people involved, see People Included in the Trump Data below.
Comparing Administration Felonies
Number of Individuals with Felonies by Presidential Administration
Years in Office
# People Indicted
# People Convicted
# People Imprisoned
Convictions Per Year
2 (+3) [3 (+4)]
George W. Bush
George H. W. Bush
* Through September 17, 2018. ** Number in [brackets] includes foreign nationals.
This includes individuals associated with each President’s private business, campaign, or appointed executive office. For Trump, the top number represents Americans, while the second number in [brackets] represents both Americans and foreign nationals.
If you don’t include foreigners involved in the Trump Campaign, Team Trump already has more people indicted and convicted that any Democratic President in the last 50 years.
And if you do include foreign nationals, the Trump camp has more indictments than any other President regardless of party except Nixon. And we’re not even two years in yet.
Note that Trump’s figures currently skew heavily towards “Indicted but not yet Convicted” because of trials that are still pending, and because of the high number of Russians who may continue to evade arrest.
Note also that Clinton’s numbers have changed slightly since the last article. Please refer to Revisiting Past Administrations below for more details.
Comparing Political Parties by Felonies
Over the last 50 years, Republican Administrations have been far more felonious than Democratic Administrations, whether or not you include foreign influence.
# People Indicted
# People Convicted
# People Incarcerated
* The number in [brackets] includes foreigners arrested for crimes committed on behalf of the candidate or president. The first number only represents U.S. citizens.
Of course, Republicans have held the Presidency for 29.7 of the last 50 years versus 20 years for Democrats. But even if we normalize by averaging the numbers by year, Republicans still come off pretty bad.
# People Indicted
# People Convicted
# People Incarcerated
* The number in [brackets] includes foreigners arrested for crimes committed on behalf of the candidate or president. The first number only represents U.S. citizens.
Not all scandals are included, just those involving felonies.
This covers the total number of people indicted, convicted, and imprisoned. If someone is charge with 18 felonies, they are still only counted as one person indicted.
This only covers felony indictments, convictions, and prison sentences. It does not include misdemeanors.
Guilty pleas count as a conviction both in a legal sense and in my data. They also count as an indictment even if the plea is entered simultaneously (like with Michael Cohen).
Imprisonment only includes incarceration as a penalty for conviction. People who were held pending bail (or if bail is revoked or denied) are not included.
My data only includes individuals. The three companies that have been indicted as part of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation are not included in these tallies.
This includes all crimes the individuals committed during their association with the President, even if the crimes didn’t involve that President.
This covers everyone involved in higher levels of the President’s election campaign and/or Administration.
Not all “scandals” are included
The term “scandal” can be subjective. When Clinton’s Surgeon General, Dr. Joycelyn Elders, said that masturbation could help avoid the spread of AIDS, it was a scandal in that it made headlines and ultimately forced her resignation, but it wasn’t criminal – and some would argue that she was right to say it. Benghazi was tragic, but was it really a scandal justifying ten separate investigations that may have cost upwards of $30 million?
In the end, I decided that the criminal justice system provided the closest thing to an impartial, empirical source. For that reason, only scandals involving indictments are included.
That means quite a lot of Trump Administration scandals are not (yet) included, like the abuse of funds by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Should any of them later be charged with a crime – Price’s insider trading activities similar to Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) make him a strong possibility – they will be included with future updates.
People indicted vs. total indictments
My data has focused on the number of people indicted, convicted, and imprisoned, not the total number of indictments or the total number of charges they were convicted for.
In the Nixon Administration, for example, Secretary of Commerce Maurice Stans pleaded guilty to five felonies. In my table, this counts as only one of the people indicted under Nixon as well as one of the people convicted under Nixon. (He paid a fine but was not incarcerated.)
I counted by number of people rather than number of charges for a few reasons. First, the number of indictments can change. If a person is indicted under a dozen charges, for example, but then makes a plea bargain where they plead guilty to two of the charges under a superseding indictment, does that now change the dozen indictments to two? Or should the table reflect initial charges, even those later dropped by prosecutors?
Keeping track of all of these changes would be hard enough for current events. It’s even more challenging to do that reaching back to the Reagan and Nixon Administrations. Focusing on individuals rather than charges was, in my mind, both easier and more illustrative of the breadth of criminal behavior by Administration.
The imprisonment data is only meant to include people who have been incarcerated as part of their penalty for conviction. It is not meant to cover people who are jailed while waiting to make bail, or for whom bail was denied or revoked.
Paul Manafort is included under Trump’s imprisonment stats. On June 15, 2018, his bail was revoked following additional charges of witness tampering. This would normally not count under my incarceration criteria. But following his convictions on August 21st in Virginia and his subsequent guilty plea on September 14th in D.C., he remains in custody pending his cooperation with Robert Mueller and subsequent sentencing. This time will count towards his total incarceration time, and I have therefore included him as one of the three people already imprisoned.
The imprisonment data also includes George Papadopoulos, who has been sentenced to 14 days but has not yet reported for custody. It also includes Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch citizen who served 30 days before being deported. (See the Trump complicates things section for further discussion about including van der Zwaan and other foreign nations.) It does not yet include Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, or Richard Pinedo, who have all pleaded guilty but have not yet been sentenced.
Individuals, Not Corporations
Federal prosecutors almost always only indict individuals, not companies. Individual executives may be charged, but it’s rare for the company itself to be charged. Enron and its accounting firm, Arthur Anderson LLP, are notable examples where the companies were charged because of pervasive, willful corporate fraud and corruption.
In the Trump/Russia investigation, Special Counsel Mueller has indicted three Russian companies: Internet Research Agency LLC, Concord Catering, and Concord Management and Consulting LLC. These companies are not included in my charts, but the 13 Russian individuals simultaneously charged are included. (See Trump complicates things for more about the inclusion of foreign nationals.)
As a reminder, a guilty plea counts as both an indictment and a conviction. Sometimes the plea is concurrent with the indictments (e.g., Michael Cohen). Sometimes the indictments are sealed and kept secret from the public until a guilty plea is filed (e.g., George Papadopoulos). Sometimes the guilty plea comes long after indictments (e.g., Rick Gates) or even after conviction of some of the charges (e.g., Paul Manafort). But in any event, a guilty plea is always part of an indictment and counts as a conviction.
Crimes that don’t involve the President
Many of Trump’s defenders have tried to argue that so far, those indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices do not directly allege that President Trump has committed crimes himself. While that isn’t strictly true (Michael Cohen, for example, said that Trump personally ordered him to commit two of the crimes he pleaded guilty to), it’s also not relevant for this analysis. Quite a lot of the indictments included in the previous analysis had nothing to do with the President. The point was to try to show whether a culture of unethical and criminal behavior was fostered or allowed to fester in a campaign or Administration, and whether or not the President really did pick the best people and did a proper vetting.
Administration v. Campaign
My original article used the term “Administration” to include both White House officials as well as other Cabinet and Executive Branch officials (such as Mike Espy, Clinton’s Secretary of Agriculture). It was intended to be broad, but it was nevertheless imprecise because it did not explicitly state that it included campaign officials.
This was an oversight in terminology but not in data. The crimes under the Nixon Administration included several people involved with Nixon’s re-election campaign but not his administration, including Jeb Stuart Magruder, Herbert L. Porter, G. Gordon Liddy, Donald Segretti, and the Watergate burglars themselves. Note: Michael Cohen was employed by the Trump Organization and also served as Deputy Finance Chair for the Republican National Committee. He pleaded guilty to election-related crimes directly involving the candidate, and therefore counts as part of the campaign regardless of who paid his salary.
To my knowledge, Nixon was the only other president before Trump where members of the campaign were criminally indicted and convicted. Please let me know if you are aware of others.
Who isn’t included
The goal is to include people who committed crimes on behalf of the President, or whose crimes may represent a failure in the vetting process. This doesn’t include civil service or career federal employees, nor local and regional campaign workers unless they have a direct relationship with the candidate. Anne Aroste, a Social Security Administration employee arrested in June for embezzling $680,000 in benefits, doesn’t count towards the Trump Administration arrests. Nor am I counting Ralph Shortey, a former Republican state senator in Oklahoma and the Oklahoma state chair for the Trump Campaign, who just accepted a 15-year sentence in a plea bargain over a case involving child pornography and sex with a 16- or 17-year-old boy. In my mind, they’re too far removed from Trump himself, and including them complicates data collection for previous presidencies.
Nor do I include problematic family members unless their crimes directly involve the President’s business, campaign, or Administration. Jimmy Carter’s brother Billy, Bill Clinton’s half-brother Roger, and Neil Bush – the son of one President and brother of another – committed crimes that don’t seem to directly relate to the President. That said, if Donald Trump, Jr. ends up getting arrested over the Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives, that would count as a campaign-related arrest. If Jared Kushner is arrested for using his White House position for personal enrichment, that would be a ding on the Administration. And the whole Trump family, including President Trump himself, is being investigated over the illegal actions of the Trump Foundation. Should arrests be made for family members relating to the President’s campaign, business, or Administration, they’ll be included. If Tiffany were to be arrested for shoplifting, it wouldn’t be.
I chose not to include Bill Clinton’s impeachment, as impeachment is an inherently political process. (Nixon’s wouldn’t be included regardless, as he resigned before the U.S. House completed impeachment proceedings.) This is discussed in greater detail under Revisiting Past Administrations below. If you disagree, add one more for Clinton under Indictments (as impeachment by the House is the equivalent of a Grand Jury indictment), but nothing else under Convictions, as the U.S. Senate failed to achieve the 2/3rds vote necessary convict him and remove him from office.
People Included in the Trump Data
The following individuals are included in the Trump portion of the table.
Paul Manafort — Office: Campaign Chair, Trump Presidential Campaign. Crime: 2 counts: conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice; 18 counts: filing false tax returns (×5), failure to report foreign bank and financial accounts (×4), bank fraud conspiracy (×5), and bank fraud (×4). Result: convicted and pleaded guilty, cooperating, not yet sentenced
Rick Gates – Office: Deputy Campaign Manager, Trump Presidential Campaign; deputy chair, Donald Trump Inauguration Committee; founder of pro-Trump America First Policies organization. Crimes: 2 counts: conspiracy against the United States and false statements; 23 counts: assisting in the preparation of false tax returns (×5), subscribing to false tax returns (×5), filing a false amended return, failure to report foreign bank and financial accounts (×3), bank fraud conspiracy (×5), and bank fraud (×4). Result: pleaded guilty, cooperating, not yet sentenced
George Papadopoulos – Office: Foreign policy Adviser, Trump Presidential Campaign. Crime: 1 count: false statements (negotiated before indictment). Result: pleaded guilty, cooperated, sentenced to 14 days in prison, a $9,500 fine, 200 hours of community service, 12 months’ probation
Michael Flynn – Office: Adviser, Trump Presidential Campaign; National Security Adviser. Crime: 1 count: false statements (negotiated before indictment). Result: Pleaded guilty, cooperating, not yet sentenced
Michael Cohen – Office: VP, Trump Organization; Special Counsel to Donald Trump; Deputy Finance Chair, Republican National Committee. Crime: 8 counts: tax evasion (x5); false statements; unlawful campaign contributions; excessive campaign contribution (negotiated before indictment). Result: pleaded guilty, cooperation agreement under negotiation, not yet sentenced
Outside campaign consultants (U.S. nationals)
Richard Pinedo – Operated Auction Essistance, a web-based business that brokered bank account numbers, enabling people who had been barred from websites like eBay and PayPal to return to those websites under a different identity. Crimes: 1 count identity fraud (negotiated before indictment). Result: pleaded guilty, not yet sentenced
W. Samuel Patton – American political consultant affiliated with Russian intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik. Crime: unregistered agent of a foreign principal. As part of his guilty plea, Patten admitted that he laundered a $50,000 contribution from Kilimnik to the Trump inauguration committee, by having the money transferred from a Cypriot bank to his company and from there to an unnamed American who sent it to the committee. Result: pleaded guilty, cooperation unclear, not yet sentenced
Foreign assistance to Trump Campaign
Dzheykhun Aslanov – 8 counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft (×6). Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Gleb Vasilchenko – 8 counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and aggravated identity theft (×6). Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Irina Kaverzina – 7 counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States, and aggravated identity theft (×6). Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Vladimir Venkov – 7 counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States, and aggravated identity theft (×6). Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Anna Bogacheva – 1 count: conspiracy to defraud the United States. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Maria Bovda – 1 count: conspiracy to defraud the United States. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Robert Bovda – 1 count: conspiracy to defraud the United States. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Mikhail Burchik – 1 count: conspiracy to defraud the United States. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Mikhail Bystrov – 1 count: conspiracy to defraud the United States. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Aleksandra Krylova – 1 count: conspiracy to defraud the United States. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Vadim Podkopaev – 1 count: conspiracy to defraud the United States. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Sergey Polozov – 1 count: conspiracy to defraud the United States. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Yevgeny Prigozhin – 1 count: conspiracy to defraud the United States. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Konstantin Kilimnik – 2 counts: obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Boris Antonov – 10 counts: conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, aggravated identity theft (×8), and conspiracy to launder money. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Dmitriy Badin – 10 counts: conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, aggravated identity theft (×8), and conspiracy to launder money. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Nikolay Kozachek – 10 counts: conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, aggravated identity theft (×8), and conspiracy to launder money. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Aleksey Lukashev – 10 counts: conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, aggravated identity theft (×8), and conspiracy to launder money. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Artem Malyshev – 10 counts: conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, aggravated identity theft (×8), and conspiracy to launder money. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Sergey Morgachev – 10 counts: conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, aggravated identity theft (×8), and conspiracy to launder money. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Viktor Netyksho – 10 counts: conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, aggravated identity theft (×8), and conspiracy to launder money. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Aleksey Potemkin – 10 counts: conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, aggravated identity theft (×8), and conspiracy to launder money. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Ivan Yermakov – 10 counts: conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, aggravated identity theft (×8), and conspiracy to launder money. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Pavel Yershov – 10 counts: conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, aggravated identity theft (×8), and conspiracy to launder money. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Aleksandr Osadchuk – 11 counts: conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States (×2), aggravated identity theft (×8), and conspiracy to launder money. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Anatoliy Kovalev – 1 count: conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States. Result: Arrest unlikely (outside U.S. jurisdiction)
Foreign, direct connection to Trump unclear
Maria Butina – 1 charge: acting in the United States as an agent of a foreign government (the Russian Federation), without prior notification to the Attorney General, a conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States. Result: held without bail due to be an extreme flight risk, trial pending
Alex van der Zwaan – 1 charge: making false statements to the FBI. Result: Fined $20,000 and sentenced to 30 days in prison
Revisiting Past Administrations
In revisiting this article, I noticed there are some changes in the original Wikipedia article that helped form a basis for my research. I have made a few adjustments as a result.
The original Wikipedia entry did not include (to the best of my recollection) any discussion of General David Petraeus’ leak of confidential information to his mistress/biographer. Because he ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor (see the Petraeus subsection in the next section), it still isn’t included as I’ve only included felonies. I will revise this if it appears that other misdemeanors have been included with the rest of my data, or if there’s strong sentiment that he should be included.
There’s a new entry for Darleen A. Druyen, Principal Deputy United States Under Secretary of the Air Force, that did not appear in the Wikipedia page when I accessed it more than 18 months ago. Druyen pleaded guilty of a felony for inflating contract prices for Boeing, her future employer. Since she served nine months in jail as part of her sentence, this adds one more to indictments, convictions, and imprisonments under the Clinton Administration.
Explaining methodology of original article
In the comments of my original article and subsequently on Twitter, some people have questioned a few items in my report. I want to address them here.
Some have questioned why I didn’t include President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. I went back and forth on this. The impeachment process is inherently political, and many Americans believe that Clinton’s impeachment was an overreach based on politics rather than the merit of the underlying criminal allegations. Other political but not criminal scandals weren’t included (such as appointees who resigned for misuse of helicopters, traveling first class, or other abuses).
Bear in mind that an impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives should be considered to be the equivalent of an indictment. Treat the House as the equivalent of a Grand Jury deciding whether to grant the prosecutor permission to go forward with charging a defendant. The charges would then be tried before the U.S. Senate, with Senators serving as the equivalent of the trial jury.
In the end, I chose not to include it. If you disagree, add one more under the Clinton Administration for indictments. The Senate did not reach the necessary 2/3rds vote (which would have to be unanimous in a criminal trial), so Convictions and Imprisonments would remain the same. Nothing would change with the Nixon Administration. When Nixon was warned that his own party was defecting (nearly two-thirds of Republican Senators were already signaling that they would convict him and remove him from office, along with probably all of the Democratic Senators), he chose to resign before the U.S. House could finish their impeachment proceedings.
Some have questioned why Obama’s pristine record isn’t marred by General David Petraeus, Director of the CIA, who was accused of giving classified information to Paula Broadwell, his official biographer who was later discovered to be his mistress. Petraeus wasn’t included because (though I failed to make this clear in the original article), all of the data I included is about felony indictments and convictions. Petraeus pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, and therefore isn’t included.
(If I’ve mistakenly included misdemeanors elsewhere, please let me know and I investigate revising.)
Starting with Nixon
In my original article, I mentioned that I started with Nixon for a number of reasons. Nixon was elected about 50 years ago, and it seemed like a nice, round number to start with. In addition, not including the only president forced to resign due to his criminal behavior would be a bizarre choice.
I could have gone back farther. Many view the modern presidency as everything after World War II, which could have been a good place to start. But while there were resignations under scandal in previous post-war administrations, none of them involved anyone getting indicted. If we extend it back to the turn of the 20th century, there was one Executive Branch conviction under Franklin Roosevelt, one or two under Calvin Coolidge, three convictions under Warren Harding, and one under William McKinley. Eight other Administrations in the 20th century (Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson) did not have any Executive Branch indictments.
With that, I maintain that Nixon remains a logical place to start.
Using Wikipedia as a source
I know that high schools and universities would never allow Wikipedia to be cited as a primary source. I could track down all of the original sources in the Wikipedia entries. That would confirm the ones included, but wouldn’t necessarily validate any omissions.
I am not a professional historian. I welcome critiques that can provide citable data showing what I may have missed, and I will update this article again if need be.
Partial List of Sources
Faturechi, Robert, “Tom Price Intervened on Rule That Would Hurt Drug Profits, the Same Day He Acquired Drug Stock,” ProPublica, March 31, 2017.
Hakim, Danny, “New York Attorney General Sues Trump Foundation After 2-Year Investigation,” The New York Times, June 14, 2018.
Hsu, Spencer S., “Special counsel Mueller initiates sentencing process for 2nd cooperating defendant,” The Washington Post, May 29, 2018.
“List of federal political scandals in the United States,” Wikipedia, accessed most recently on September 18, 2018.
“Michael J. Hogan,” Wikipedia, accessed most recently on September 18, 2018.
Miroff, Nick; Wan, William, “Embattled FEMA chief Brock Long facing possible criminal investigation,” The Washington Post, September 17, 2018.
“Petraeus scandal,” Wikipedia, accessed most recently on September 18, 2018.
RoyalScribe, “Comparing presidential administrations by arrests and convictions: A warning for Trump appointees,” DailyKos, January 11, 2017.
Savage, Charlie, “The different ways Donald Trump Jr could be in trouble with the law,” Independent(UK), August 7, 2018.
Scotti, Ciro, “Investigating Clinton: How Many Millions Were Spent on Email, Benghazi Probes?” The Fiscal Times (found under Yahoo Finance), July 5, 2016.
Siegel, Benjamin; Katersky, Aaron, “Rep. Chris Collins arrested on insider trading charges,” ABC News, August 8, 2018.
“Special Counsel investigation (2017-present),” Wikipedia, accessed most recently on September 18, 2018.
Venook, Jeremy, “Is Kushner Companies Taking Advantage of Its Connection to the President?” The Atlantic, May 9, 2017
On Friday, as coronavirus infections rapidly multiplied aboard a cruise ship marooned off the coast of California, health department officials and Vice President Mike Pence came up with a plan to evacuate thousands of passengers, avoiding the fate of a similar cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, which became a petri dish of coronavirus infections. Quickly removing passengers was the safest outcome, health officials and Pence reasoned.
But President Donald Trump had a different idea: Leave the infected passengers on board — which would help keep the number of U.S. coronavirus cases as low as possible.
“Do I want to bring all those people off? People would like me to do it,” Trump admitted at a press conference at the CDC later on Friday. “I would rather have them stay on, personally.”
“I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault,” Trump added, saying that he ultimately empowered Pence to decide whether to evacuate the passengers.
For six weeks behind the scenes, and now increasingly in public, Trump has undermined his administration’s own efforts to fight the coronavirus outbreak — resisting attempts to plan for worst-case scenarios, overturning a public-health plan upon request from political allies and repeating only the warnings that he chose to hear. Members of Congress have grilled top officials like Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control Director Robert Redfield over the government’s biggest mistake: failing to secure enough testing to head off a coronavirus outbreak in the United States. But many current and former Trump administration officials say the true management failure was Trump’s.
“It always ladders to the top,” said one person helping advise the administration’s response, who noted that Trump’s aides discouraged Azar from briefing the president about the coronavirus threat back in January. “Trump’s created an atmosphere where the judgment of his staff is that he shouldn’t need to know these things.”
Interviews with 13 current and former officials, as well as individuals close to the White House, painted a picture of a president who rewards those underlings who tell him what he wants to hear while shunning those who deliver bad news. For instance, aides heaped praise on Trump for his efforts to lock down travel from China — appealing to the president’s comfort zone of border security — but failed to convey the importance of doing simultaneous community testing, which could have uncovered a potential U.S. outbreak. Government officials and independent scientists now fear that the coronavirus has been silently spreading in the United States for weeks, as unexplained cases have popped up in more than 25 states.
“It’s a clearly difficult situation when the top wants to hear certain answers,” said one former official who’s briefed the White House. “That can make it difficult for folks to express their true assessment — even the most experienced and independent minds.”
While Trump last week allowed hospitals and labs to start developing their own coronavirus tests, wrongly blaming Obama administration regulations for a delay, the same move could have been made weeks ago had the president and his advisers felt it was necessary, said two officials.
The White House press office declined to comment on the record, referring questions to HHS.
The health department said that Trump had been responsive to the department’s concerns and understood the seriousness of the coronavirus threat from the first day he was briefed.
“The President took early and decisive actions like instituting travel restrictions and utilizing the quarantine authority” to protect Americans from the outbreak, an HHS spokesperson said.
HHS also stressed that Azar and Trump had a good working relationship.
“The Secretary always offers the President his honest assessment, and always insists when briefing the President on public health issues that the relevant experts participate,” the spokesperson said.
Trump-inspired disorganization plagues early response
As the outbreak has grown, Trump has become attached to the daily count of coronavirus cases and how the United States compares to other nations, reiterating that he wants the U.S. numbers kept as low as possible. Health officials have found explicit ways to oblige him by highlighting the most optimistic outcomes in briefings, and their agencies have tamped down on promised transparency. The CDC has stopped detailing how many people in the country have been tested for the virus, and its online dashboard is running well behind the number of U.S. cases tracked by Johns Hopkins and even lags the European Union’s own estimate of U.S. cases.
After senior CDC official Nancy Messonnier correctly warned on Feb. 25 that a U.S. coronavirus outbreak was inevitable, a statement that spooked the stock market and broke from the president’s own message that the situation was under control, Trump himself grew angry and administration officials discussed muzzling Messonnier for the duration of the coronavirus crisis, said two individuals close to the administration. However, Azar defended her role, and Messonnier ultimately was allowed to continue making public appearances, although her tone grew less dire in subsequent briefings.
Trump’s defenders can point to many coronavirus crises that, so far, have been failures of bureaucracy and disorganization. The president didn’t lock out a government scientist from CDC. He didn’t know that officials decided to fly back coronavirus-infected Americans aboard planes with hundreds of others who had tested negative, with Trump bursting in anger when he learned the news.
But Trump has added to that disorganization through his own decisions. Rather than empower a sole leader to fight the outbreak, as President Barack Obama did with Ebola in 2014, he set up a system where at least three different people — Azar, Vice President Mike Pence and coronavirus task force coordinator Debbie Birx — can claim responsibility. Three people who have dealt with the task force said it’s not clear what Birx’s role is, and that coronavirus-related questions sent to her have been rerouted to the vice president’s office.
In response, Pence’s office said it has positioned Birx as the vice president’s “right arm,” advising him on the response, while Azar continues to oversee the health department’s numerous coronavirus operations.
Trump on Friday night also shook up White House operations, replacing acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney with Rep. Mark Meadows, a longtime ally. The long-expected ouster of Mulvaney was welcomed in corners like the health department, given that Mulvaney had been one of Azar’s top critics. But the abrupt staff shuffle in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak injects further uncertainty into the government’s response, said a current official and two former officials. It’s not yet clear what Mulvaney’s departure will mean for his key lieutenants involved in fighting the outbreak, like Domestic Policy Council chief Joe Grogan, for instance.
“Every office has office politics — even the Oval Office,” said one individual. “You’d hope we could wait to work it out until after a public health emergency.”
Health officials compete for Trump’s approval
The pressure to earn Trump’s approval can be a distraction at best and an obsession at worst: Azar, having just survived a bruising clash with a deputy and sensing that his job was on the line, spent part of January making appearances on conservative TV outlets and taking other steps to shore up his anti-abortion bona fides and win approval from the president, even as the global coronavirus outbreak grew stronger.
“We have in President Trump the greatest protector of religious liberty who has ever sat in the Oval Office,” Azar said on Fox News on Jan. 16, hours after working to rally global health leaders to fight the United Nations’ stance on abortion rights. Trump also had lashed out at Azar over bad health-care polling that day.
Around the same time, Azar had concluded that the new coronavirus posed a public health risk and tried to share an urgent message with the president: The potential outbreak could leave tens of thousands of Americans sickened and many dead.
But Trump’s aides mocked and belittled Azar as alarmist, as he warned the president of a major threat to public health and his own economic agenda, said three people briefed on the conversations. Some officials argued that the virus would be no worse than the flu.
Azar, meanwhile, had his own worries: A clash with Medicare chief Seema Verma had weakened his standing in the White House, which in December had considered replacements for both Azar and Verma.
“Because he feels pretty insecure, about the feuds within his department and the desire to please the president, I don’t know if he was in the position to deliver the message that the president didn’t want to hear,” said one former official who’s worked with Azar.
The jockeying for Trump’s favor was part of the cause of Azar’s destructive feud with Verma, as the two tried to box each other out of events touting Trump initiatives. Now, officials including Azar, Verma and other senior leaders are forced to spend time shoring up their positions with the president and his deputies at a moment when they should be focused on a shared goal: stopping a potential pandemic.
“The boss has made it clear, he likes to see his people fight, and he wants the news to be good,” said one adviser to a senior health official involved in the coronavirus response. “This is the world he’s made.”
President swayed by flattery, personal appeals
Trump’s unpredictable demands and attention to public statements — and his own susceptibility to flattery — have created an administration where top officials feel constantly at siege, worried that the next presidential tweet will decide their professional future, and panicked that they need to regularly impress him.
The most obvious practitioner of this strategy is Azar, who became Trump’s second health secretary after the first, Tom Price, failed to bond with Trump and was ousted over a charter-jet scandal. Azar decided early in his tenure to have “zero daylight” with the president, said three individuals close to him, and the health secretary routinely fawns over the president in his TV appearances on Fox News. “No other president has had the guts, the courage to take on these special interests,” Azar told Fox News host Tucker Carlson in December after Trump pushed new price transparency on the health care industry.
Azar’s team also has insisted upon using background photos for his Twitter account that always show him with the president — sometimes silently standing behind Trump while he speaks. Azar is alone among Cabinet members in this practice; secretaries like HUD’s Ben Carson, Transportation’s Elaine Chao and Treasury’s Steven Mnuchin opted for bland Twitter backgrounds that show their headquarters.
“The Secretary respects the President and values their strong relationship,” said an HHS spokesperson, when asked about Azar’s approach to working with Trump and use of Twitter photos.
Other health officials have modeled similar behavior as Azar. Asked by Trump if he wanted to make a “little statement” on Friday, CDC Director Redfield responded by praising the president’s “decisive leadership” and visit to CDC headquarters amid the outbreak. “I think that’s the most important thing I want to say,” Redfield said.
At least one health official has offered a more subtle reminder of her loyalties. Verma wore an Ivanka Trump-brand pendant to some meetings and events with the president, before it was stolen in 2018.
Health officials also have to guard their words and predictions, worried that the president will fixate on the wrong data point or blurt out damaging information in public. Trump on Friday told reporters that he’d initially scrapped a trip to the CDC because of a possible coronavirus case at the agency. The announcement came as a surprise to CDC staff, including those preparing for Trump’s visit, because they hadn’t been briefed on the potential coronavirus case, POLITICO first reported.
I just got off the phone with the President. He told me that his administration will not be sending any victims of the Coronavirus from the Diamond Princess cruise ship to Anniston, Alabama. Thank you, @POTUS, for working with us to ensure the safety of all Alabamians.— Richard Shelby (@SenShelby) February 23, 2020
Meanwhile, Trump’s political allies have tried to circumvent the policy process, causing further headaches for the overwhelmed health department. Alabama Republicans prevailed upon Trump to scrap an HHS contingency plan to potentially quarantine some coronavirus-infected Americans at a facility in their state last month.
“I just got off the phone with the President,” Sen. Richard Shelby tweeted on Feb. 23. “He told me that his administration will not be sending any victims of the Coronavirus from the Diamond Princess cruise ship to Anniston, Alabama.”
But Democrats in a California city facing a similar situation failed to get a similar guarantee, leading them to file a lawsuit that accused the administration of political favoritism.
“California must not have the pull to get taken off the list,” attorney Jennifer Keller, representing Costa Mesa, Calif., reportedly said during a court hearing last month. “Alabama does.” A federal judge later halted plans to transfer coronavirus-stricken patients to a facility in the city.
Meanwhile, the president has allowed feuds to fester and spill into public view. Azar, for instance, has battled with White House officials and Verma for months over policies, personnel and even seats aboard the presidential airplane. Those fights have been reignited amid the coronavirus crisis, when Azar clashed with longtime rivals like Grogan over funding the response and whether enough coronavirus tests were being performed.
They’ve also cast a long shadow over strategy, like Azar’s decision not to push for Verma to be added to the coronavirus task force that he oversaw for nearly a month. Verma instead was added to the task force on March 2, several days after Pence took over leading the effort. While Azar said he asked for Verma to join the task force, and an HHS spokesperson pointed to the secretary’s public statement, two people with knowledge of task force operations said that the White House officials had raised questions about her omission.
Officials call the original decision to exclude Verma from the task force short-sighted at best, given the virus’ potential threat to the elderly patients covered by the Medicare program and residents living in nursing homes that are regulated by Verma’s agency.
With Trump unwilling — or unable — to put a stop to the health department’s fights, they’ve occupied and gripped Washington during relative peacetime. When at war against a potential pandemic, there’s no room for these distractions, officials say.
“If this sort of dysfunction exists as part of the everyday operations — then, yes, during a true crisis the problems are magnified and exacerbated,” said a former Trump HHS official. “And with extremely detrimental consequences.”
For three long years the world has been treated to the sick joke of Donald Trump’s presidency. Some days were more sick than others. But now the joke is over.
So is the entire facade of the Trump White House: the gold-plated veneer of power and grift will be stripped bare by a global pandemic and recession.
Of all the obituaries we’ll read in the next several weeks, every one will be more meaningful than the political end of a former reality-TV star.
But make no mistake. The humanitarian crisis about to unfold will consume what’s left of this president and the Republican party that surrendered its self-respect and sense of duty to flatter his ego and avoid his angry tweets.
Trump was right about one thing, and only one thing, as the coronavirus started to spread across the world. The sight of thousands of dead Americans will hurt him politically. It will also hurt many thousands of Americans in reality.
Multiple reports have detailed how Trump did not just ignore the growing pandemic; he actively sought to block his own officials’ attempts to track and stop it. Why has there been such a disastrous lack of testing? Because the president didn’t want to know the answer, and because his staff were too busy fighting each other to do the right thing.
“The boss has made it clear he likes to see his people fight, and he wants the news to be good,” Politico reported one Trump health adviser saying. “This is the world he’s made.”
Never mind a world turned upside down by fear and death. Trump’s world is upended by his gobsmackingly childish comments about how the whole thing will blow over. “It’s going to disappear,” he told one reception inside the White House just two weeks ago. “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
The only miracle of this presidency is that it’s taken so long for this country to wake up to the catastrophe.
How could we have known that Trump would deny the resources to deal with a disaster, deny the truth about the death toll, and denounce anyone daring to tell the truth?
It wasn’t hard to know. After Hurricane Maria devastated the American island of Puerto Rico in September of his first year in office, Trump gave himself a 10 for his response to the devastation. He also said he couldn’t keep the military in Puerto Rico forever, which was news to the national guard.
At the very time he was bragging about his response and trashing his own citizens, more than 3,000 Americans were dying on the island because of Trump’s botched response to the hurricane. Those Americans were our most vulnerable citizens: the sick and elderly, who lost power, lacked medicine or needed a hospital bed when the hospitals were stricken.
Those are the same Americans who face the greatest peril in the coming weeks from the same toxic mix of callousness and incompetence from the same sociopathic president.
This is everyone’s catastrophe and one man’s calamity. For Trump, there is no escaping the stench of failure that seeps through every unmade decision, every fumbled response, and every unhinged tweet.
This is a president who can’t formulate a coherent coronavirus policy, and can’t even read the words written for him on a prompter.
One paragraph from Wednesday’s disastrous Oval Office address managed to only worsen the political pathogen that is his presidency.
“There will be exemptions for Americans who have undergone appropriate screenings,” he explained about his new travel ban from Europe, ignoring the reality that he limited all testing so there are no appropriate screenings.
“And these prohibitions will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval,” he added, wiping out many billions in transatlantic trade – and various other things – with one flap of his lips.
“Anything coming from Europe to the United States is what we are discussing,” he explained in case anyone had any doubt about his economic stupidity.
“These restrictions will also not apply to the United Kingdom.” Ah yes, the British immunity to coronavirus is a well-documented medical fact. British people who play golf on a Trump course are especially healthy individuals.
If Trump was trying to reassure the markets, he failed, like he always does. Even the Federal Reserve magicking $1.5tn out of thin air could not stop the stock market from suffering its worst single day since the 1987 crash.
“This was the most expensive speech in history,” one investment strategist told the Financial Times.
There is hope amid the horror: an election in just eight months when Americans can vote for a return to the once-normal life of a competent government. Joe Biden’s response on Thursday was a stark reminder of what presidents and vice-presidents used to sound like.
“We’ll lead with science,” the former vice-president said. “We’ll listen to the experts. We’ll heed their advice.” It all sounded so shockingly novel. “We’ll build American leadership and rebuild it to rally the world to meet global threats that we are likely to face again. And I’ll always tell you the truth.”
The truth: it’s getting harder to remember a time when we expected our leaders to say such things.
In the meantime, before January 2021, the world faces two deadly diseases: a pandemic and a pathetically incompetent president.
On Thursday, as schools shut down and troops took to the streets of a New York suburb, Trump of course bragged about himself in ways that made you wonder about his own medical condition.
“I mean, think of it: the United States, because of what I did and what the administration did with China, we have 32 deaths at this point,” he said in the Oval Office. “Thirty-two is a lot. Thirty-two is too many. But when you look at the kind of numbers that you’re seeing coming out of other countries, it’s pretty amazing when you think of it.”
And you know what? Instead of thinking about preparing thousands of new hospital beds, or millions of virus tests, Trump has probably committed the largest part of his brain to thinking about that number. That very tiny number, so small compared to the rest of the world, that represents the full measure of his compassion.