- During his State of the Union speech, Trump promised to rid the government of employees who undermine the trust of the American people.
- Less than 24 hours later, his appointee to head the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resigned after Politico reported that she made investments that violated her ethics agreement.
- The Trump administration should investigate this matter, and prove that it’s serious about cleaning the government’s house.
President Donald Trump already has the opportunity to make good on one of the big lines from his State of the Union speech.
“So, tonight, I call on Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers and to remove federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people,” he said to much applause.
In less than 24 hours the Trump administration has given us the perfect individual to illustrate the necessity of his point: Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fitzgerald just resigned from her post after Politico reported that she bought shares in tobacco companies one month into her tenure as one of the nation’s top public health officials charged with anti-smoking efforts.
Fitzgerald’s ethics agreement specifically said she should stay away from investments in “many particular matters in the area of cancer detection and in the area of health information technology, including electronic health records and practice management/revenue cycle software for medical practices.”
Given that cigarettes and even e-cigarettes have been linked to cancer, this seems like a pretty clear line. We should note here that Fitzgerald’s appointment did not require congressional approval.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself: “She stepped down, what else could there be for us to do?”
Well, given the fact that US Congress once took the time to go through former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s emails in the middle of a presidential election just because they showed up Hillary Clinton’s email server, I think this Fitzgerald issue calls for a good old-fashioned congressional investigation. After a violation like this, that’s the best way to re-instill trust in the Trump administration’s ability to appoint people to government.
Sunlight is the best medicine, no?
Smash and grab
As a Wall Street reporter, I can tell you with confidence that politicians tend to pull off some of the most pedestrian Wall Street crimes (cue all the conservatives bringing up Hillary Clinton’s cattle trading issue, and I’ll let you guys have that for the moment).
Fitzgerald’s purchase, which she says was done through an outside financial adviser, is a kind of unsophisticated Wall Street smash and grab – just the plain old violation of an ethics agreement put in place because, you know, you may or may not have an edge on a particular topic.
That’s what they call it on Wall Street sometimes to be coy: edge.
It’s the kind of conflict-of-interest story that would barely catch my eye if Fitzgerald weren’t a public official, especially since it’s unclear how much money we’re talking about here. I probably wouldn’t even take the time to read the press release about it on the SEC website. This is a Wall Street kind of mugging-in-broad-daylight one would expect from a boiler room in south Jersey.
The Long Island boiler rooms are far too sophisticated.
The thing is, Fitzgerald has been a problem from the start. For months she’s couldn’t do her job because of her myriad of conflicts. She’s rich and her finances are complex, so she just kept having to tell Congress she couldn’t testify about various issues under her purview because she had conflicting investments.
In other words, this woman literally couldn’t do her job.
“I’m frustrated Director Fitzgerald is once again unable to join us,” Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, said, according to Politico. “Due to conflicts of interest presented by investments, our CDC director still has to recuse herself on some of the most important health issues we face … including issues related to data collection and information sharing.”
Given all that’s transpired, someone should continue to look into what’s been going on at the CDC during Fitzgerald’s tenure – and what’s been going on in her trading account.
‘The best people’
Obviously, this reflects poorly on the Trump administration, which despite Trump’s claims that he hires “the best people” has turned out example after example of the nastiest looking swamp things we’ve seen come out of Washington in some time.
There are some of the worst actors, like former Health and Human Services head Tom Price, who thought the American people could just go ahead and pay for his private jet usage. No big deal. He also had some incredibly shady stock trading going on.
And there are lesser offenders, like Omarosa Manigault. She just wasted everyone’s time. Despite the fact that she was paid $180,000 to work at the White House, no one actually knew what she did aside from wander around saying “hi” to people and changing her shoes more often than Mr. Rodgers.
She was ultimately fired, but according to reports she was paid a full year’s salary despite not making it a full year before being escorted off the White House grounds.
There are some fascinating characters who haven’t fired still hanging around too, like Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. Reportedly he enjoys traveling by helicopter on the people’s dime. He also keeps having to clarify his relationship with Whitefish Energy, a tiny company from his tiny Montana hometown that got such a hilariously large contract to work on Puerto Rico’s power grid without competitive bidding that Puerto Rico had to cancel the deal. Zinke, according to the Huffington Post, did not disclose his investment in the company.
According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, a survey of public trust, only 14% of Americans trust their government. Trump should know this, it’s part of how he won the election. If he wants to win another one, he needs to instill some trust on his own. This is probably why he made his “federal employees” comment at the State of the Union too.
But it’s highly unlikely Trump was talking about clearing out his own swamp of increasingly toxic looking appointees. More likely – if you want to think practically – he was talking about Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Those are, after all, the only agencies where we’re seeing the White House put pressure on employees it thinks are unfit.
It makes one wonder if corruption is actually a concern of the Trump administration, or simply a feature.