- The arrest of two associates of Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, has highlighted the fact that corruption is out of control in this country, and that we have a system that allows it.
- Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — two Ukrainians with ties to the country’s powerful oligarchs — were arrested for using an LLC to throw hundreds of thousands of dollars around the GOP and gain influence.
- The swamp is international, and it’s up to us to stop it before it takes over the whole the system.
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If we have any love for democracy in this country at all, impeaching President Donald Trump needs to be the first battle in a full-scale war against American corruption.
His presidency has been a horror of self-dealing and corrupt actors but getting rid of of them will only stop the bleeding. To ensure that a presidency as corrupt as Trump’s is never seen again we’re going to have to change the structure through which money and influence flow through our political system.
This has been made painfully clear on Thursday, when two Ukrainian associates of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested as they tried to board flights from the US to Vienna, Austria. The pair now stand accused of four counts including conspiracy, falsification of records, and lying to the Federal Election Commission about their political donations.
Parnas and Fruman used an LLC to donate $325,000 to a Trump super PAC led by Donald Trump Jr. They also attempted to use their cash to try and influence former Texas Rep. Pete Sessions. The pair wanted him to support the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, the then-ambassador to Ukraine, who was an enemy of their oligarch bosses.
While Sessions eventually did support Yovanovitch’s removal, he claims is was unrelated to his meeting with Parnas and Fruman. Sessions denied any wrongdoing in the case or knowledge of the pair’s scheme.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is also all apologies, saying he’ll donate the ill gotten gains he received from this dynamic dirty duo to charity. This is far too little too late. Now the American people know that the GOP has been corrupted — and whenever a little corruption comes to light, you can bet there is even more corruption in the shadows.
In this critical moment both parties should offer to publicly reveal the source of all of their donations, but it’s hard to see either of them doing it willingly. That means Americans are going to have to fight to see the forces jockeying for control over our lives. It could easily be the fight of a generation.
This swamp thing of ours
Not all corruption in the US comes from Donald Trump, of course, but he has let the barbarians through the gate in a way no other president has in modern times. His first National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, was caught pedaling influence for the Turkish government.
Giuliani, it seems, was doing something similar. He was reportedly pushing President Trump for the release of a Turkish businessman named Reza Zarrab — a man who laundered money for the Iranian government, but had enough friends in the Turkish government for them to put pressure on our Commander in Chief.
The fact that Ukraine is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry and the latest instance of blatant corruption should come as no surprise to anyone who watched the Trump campaign. After all, Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, is currently sitting in jail for dirty dealings in the country’s politics.
This goes back to 2005, when Ukraine had what is known as the Orange Revolution, and much to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dismay threw off the shackles of its Russian overlords after nationwide protests.
Putin, from that day on, was obsessed with “color revolutions,” and along with the Ukrainian oligarchs who wished to regain control of the country, endeavored to take his power back from the people. Enter Paul Manafort, who was instrumental in making Russia’s favored candidate, Viktor Yanukovyc, palatable enough to become Ukrainian president, and in creating the sham legal document that provided the justification for imprisoning his political enemies.
Manafort is a man whose trade is corruption, one who should not be allowed anywhere an American president. But the current one welcomed him. That alone should have been enough to make Americans queasy about Donald Trump. Conversely, it was certainly enough to telegraph to foreigners that this Presidency was prepared to traffic in the same kind of sleaze.
Based on the amount of influence-peddling that’s followed, it’s clear Donald Trump must be impeached.
It’s not just about Trump’s corruption
All Parnas and Fruman had to do to throw money around the GOP was tell a few of the right lies and bend a few of the right ears. Our political system provided most of the cover — allowing massive contributions from shadowy entities to greedy politicians.
So it’s time to fight back not just against the obviously corrupt players but against the legal but corrupt system.
At the core of this is the need to recognize that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was and is an abject failure. The decision has hurt our country in ways unimaginable. And giving corporations and powerful individuals even more power to influence politics hasn’t just dirtied our politics, it has stunted US economic growth as well.
By way of example I’ll offer the US healthcare industry, which has gotten fat and rich off of the complacency and legal corruption that Citizens United helped to unleash.
During the financial crisis healthcare was the only sector that experienced price inflation, and costs continue to rise unchecked. There are tons of people to blame for this — the drug companies who see no problem jacking up the prices of medicine; the insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers who’ve created perverse incentives for their businesses; and rent seeking companies like dialysis company DaVita, which stands accused of being part of a good old fashioned kickback scheme. And of course, there’s the opioid crisis.
Back in 2017 while Republicans were working on yet another attempt to repeal Obamacare, a group of Senators on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee met to discuss drug prices. It was a frustrating session that was the perfect example of just how money is perverting our country’s political process.
Democrats and a few Republicans listened as experts outlined ways to control costs that seemed fairly simple but are actually impossible given our current system in which money from pharmaceutical companies talks louder than any congressional expert witness.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, sounded exasperated. He said the Senate could solve drug pricing “in a week” if it weren’t for the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling on campaign spending — the pharmaceutical industry has spent $4.2 billion over the last 20 years lobbying Congress to keep this system opaque.
At the hearing Whitehouse was disgusted with himself and his colleagues, noting that billions were probably overkill. “We tend to come cheaper than that,” he said.
It’s not just the pharma companies, in the last 10 years companies and industry groups have poured $18.5 billion into lobbying efforts according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The corruption is everywhere and it’s right out in the open.
It’s time for Americans to seriously consider anti-corruption measures we, perhaps at one point, may have thought we were above. After all, if the Trump administration has taught us anything it’s that norms mean nothing in the hands of shameless actors.
A good first step would be Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s ‘Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act’.
Warren’s plan, which she introduced even before her run for the presidency, would ban lobbyists from engaging in fundraising measures, ban members of Congress from sitting on for-profit boards, and a lifetime lobbying ban for those who’ve held public office.
Some of these measures would likely face legal challenges. But if that’s the price to protect our democracy, they would be worth it.