Ethical Standards Are Posing a Recruitment Problem for This White House

The day after the Interior Department’s inspector general referred their investigation of Ryan Zinke to the Justice Department, National Security Advisor John Bolton made an argument that is positively Orwellian. He said that ethics rules make it hard for people outside of the government to serve.

“If you were designing a system to discourage people from coming into government, you would do it this way,” Bolton said. That risks building up a priestly class” of government employees, he added.”It’s really depressing to see,” Bolton said of the bureaucratic red tape.

In other words, Bolton wants us to believe that having ethical standards to which people in government are held accountable is the problem—not the fact that this administration is the most ethically-challenged in modern history.

Let’s review the record. If we limit ourselves to Trump’s cabinet, both Tom Price and Scott Pruitt have already resigned over ethics violations. Beyond that, an APM report found that more than half of Trump’s 20-person Cabinet engaged in questionable or unethical conduct. In addition, no fewer than five people involved in Trump’s presidential campaign have pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

But as the saying goes, the fish rots from the head, and the person who hired all of these people is facing a vast array of both criminal and civil investigations. In the midst of all that, his national security advisor has the gall to complain about the onerous problem of “excessive ethics checks.”

Norm Eisen, the chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, responded to Bolton’s complaint by saying that when he served as Obama’s special counsel for ethics and government reform there were always more qualified people for these jobs than there were jobs. So if there is a problem in this White House with recruitment, perhaps that’s because it is becoming increasingly more difficult to get clearance for the kind of people (ie, ethically-challenged) this president wants to hire. Adding to the problem is that people with ethical standards probably want to steer clear of Donald Trump’s sinking swamp.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.