Awards: Most Corrupt and Dishonest Trump Administration Officials

Okay, we have to admit something at the outset. When President Trump tweeted that he was going to announce the “most corrupt and dishonest media awards” [sic] we weren’t sure if he was serious about following through. Announcing future announcements (that may or may not occur) is basically what Trump does best.

As of the time we posted this, it still wasn’t entirely clear whether he was actually going to go ahead with it – perhaps because White House staff were unable to assist with the effort – but in the end, he wound up posting a blog on the Republican National Committee’s website. 

Are Trump’s “fake news” awards silly, offensive, and a distraction from much more important issues? Of course. But they’re also part of this administration’s ongoing assault on the basic values of our democratic system – along with other principles like the notion that the president shouldn’t hire family members for senior jobs and regulators shouldn’t do the bidding of the industries they regulate.

And this being 2018, we feel like this is a good opportunity to highlight some of the most outrageous examples of corruption, misconduct, and general dishonesty across the Trump administration.

Without further ado:

Nepotism Award: Ivanka Trump

The clear winner by a mile, Ivanka Trump first announced that she wouldn’t join the administration, then changed course and said she would be an informal adviser, and then ultimately – after it was pointed out that her unofficial status allowed her to duck ethics rules – she finally joined the administration.

Our investigation of Ivanka Trump’s role in the administration revealed that the first daughter is not just any ordinary presidential adviser. Correspondence with officials at the Department of Education showed that the simple act of organizing a press event or tour became time-consuming and staff-intensive when Ms. Trump was involved. Our investigation also uncovered that she continued using personal email on a private server for official business after she became a government employee.

Runner-up: Jared Kushner

Despite starting out at the administration with a portfolio that encompassed basically all major foreign and domestic policy initiatives, Kushner has been unable to secure the required security clearance and seems to have largely slipped into the background. Given the negligible results he’s achieved so far, it seems likely that his family connections may have played a role in his getting – and keeping – a senior White House job.

Industry Insider Award: Scott Pruitt

Okay, this was a hard one – not because there were other contenders for the Trump appointee who most does the bidding of the industries they regulate (there aren’t) – but because there are so many other awards we could have given Pruitt instead. We considered the “Cone of Silence Award” for his use of taxpayer funds to indulge his paranoid fantasies and pay for the installation of a secret phone booth and biometric locks. We also put him on the short list for a “Frequent Flyer Award” for his regular, taxpayer-funded trips home to Oklahoma – which got him into a bit of hot water.

Ultimately, however, Pruitt could only win one award, and it had to be the Industry Insider Award. Pruitt’s calendars, which we uncovered via FOIA litigation in October, showed a disproportionate number of meetings with energy and chemical companies, including numerous meetings specifically described as opportunities for the industry representatives to discuss what regulatory changes would benefit their businesses. The results speak for themselves, and Pruitt’s EPA has gone out of its way to enact policies that put industry profits ahead of environmental protection.

Runner-up: Mick Mulvaney (in his role as Acting CFPB Director)

It isn’t often that a government official is put in charge of an agency specifically for the purpose of thwarting that agency’s mission, but that appears to be exactly the case with Mick Mulvaney’s tenure as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. After a brief legal skirmish, the Trump administration successfully installed Mulvaney at the head of an agency that he had once described as a “sad, sick joke.” The latest news suggests that Mulvaney’s top priority is unwinding protections against predatory payday lenders.

Take Your Spouse to Work Day Award: Ryan Zinke

It’s not a secret that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s wife, Lola, is playing an active role in the Trump administration. Lola Zinke was on the Trump transition’s “landing team” at the Department of Veterans Affairs – and she has since become a regular presence accompanying Secretary Zinke on his official business at DOI. While the department maintains that Ms. Zinke pays for her own travel, the email record shows that her involvement can lead to significant headaches for staff assigned to accommodate her requests. In addition to coordinating guest lists for politically-related events, Ms. Zinke also joined the delegation for at least one overseas trip with Secretary Zinke, traveling with him on military aircraft to Norway and Greenland.

Runner-up: Steve Mnuchin

This one pretty much speaks for itself:

“I Have No Recollection of That, Senator” Award: Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions has very selective and convenient memory problems. At his confirmation hearing to serve as attorney general, Sessions claimed he had not met with Russian government officials during the 2016 campaign. Unfortunately for him, this was false. Sessions made the same false claim again on his application for a security clearance – a form we obtained via FOIA which clearly states that it is a federal crime to knowingly make a false statement. Sessions checked the “No” box in response to the question about whether he had made any foreign government contacts in the previous seven years, and he signed the form attesting that his answers were true.

Lying on a security clearance application is especially bad when you’re in line to serve as our nation’s top law enforcement officer, tasked with overseeing all of our counterintelligence operations. What makes Sessions really stand out from the crowd, though, is the frequency and intensity with which he has continued to claim, at hearing after hearing, that he does not, cannot, or will not remember the multiple, documented meetings that he had with senior Russian officials during the course of the 2016 campaign. The icing on the cake: while Session’s can’t remember what he talked about with the Russian ambassador, he remains certain that those conversations didn’t include anything related to collusion.

Runner-up: Kirstjen Nielsen

A late-breaking addition to the list, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen gets a solid runner-up award for her inability to remember President Trump’s use of the term “shithole” to describe African countries and Haiti during a White House meeting that had taken place only days earlier.

Attendance Award: Betsy DeVos

As President Trump’s nominee to be Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos faced serious questions about whether she had the experience and skills needed to lead a department that spends almost $70 billion per year and helps set education policy for tens of millions of students.

Instead of hitting to books to make up for her lack of qualifications, Secretary DeVos’ calendars showed that she’s more focused on her next vacation than improving America’s schools. Our investigation found that DeVos took at least 11 long weekends in her first six months in office, jetting off to luxurious destinations like Aspen, Colorado, and Vero Beach, Florida. When she did bother showing up, her schedule showed a heavy bent towards the charter schools she’s long championed at the expense of public education. Bonus fun fact: DeVos’ staff defend her frequent private jet excursions by pointing out that she’s traveling on her own airplane.

Runner-up: Ben Carson

It is possible that Ben Carson goes to work every day and puts in long hours – but based on the near total lack of activity we’ve seen at HUD over the past year, it’s hard to tell what Carson is doing. We sent a FOIA to HUD for any decision memos signed by Carson, and to date, the most interesting thing we’ve received was an order on workforce diversity at HUD itself.

Lifetime Achievement in Dishonesty: Donald Trump

There was never any question about this one. He is the biggest. The top dog. The number one. Big league. The only contender for this big, beautiful award. From falsely claiming that he was “wiretapped” by former President Obama to repeatedly and (again falsely) insisting that voter fraud caused his loss in the popular vote in the 2016 election, President Trump is the clear champion when it comes to dishonesty in this administration, and he does it with volume and brazenness.

We don’t have space to catalog all of the president’s lies – and the New York Times and others have done a far more thorough job than we could – but as he yet again debases the dignity of his office and undermines our core values with his “fake news” awards, we felt it was important to reiterate that this type of pervasive and malicious lying on the part of the Commander in Chief is not normal, must not become normal, and should not be tolerated.

Click here to see more of our work investigating the Trump administration and holding the president and his staff accountable for their lies.