What to expect from the hearings on James Mattis, Ben Carson, and Mike Pompeo.
By Jared Keller
Ben Carson. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
With just over a week until Donald Trump officially assumes the powers of the presidency, the unprecedented commencement of executive branch appointee confirmation hearings by House Republicans before ethics investigations and background checks have been completed seems like old news.
Late Tuesday night, CNN reported that the the intelligence community presented evidence to Trump and President Barack Obama that the Russian government was in possession of compromising documents on the president-elect. Minutes later, BuzzFeed published an unconfirmed dossier allegedly prepared by a former British secret service agent describing a years-long effort by the Russian government to gain leverage over Trump, including details of the Trump’s penchant for … less-than presidential behavior. The news culminated in a press conference by Trump on Wednesday in New York where he dismissed reporters as “fake news” and likened American intelligence agencies to Nazis.
“I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out,” Trump said. “I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that … that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.”
It’s worth noting that the Watergate scandal, previously the most significant saga of civic malfeasance in American political history, unfolded over three years. Trump has yet to assume office.
Anyway, on to Thursday’s nominees.
General James Mattis for Secretary of Defense
Sorry John McCain, but General James Mattis is a real maverick. After all, the former Marine Corps commander has remained relatively independent from Trump’s inner circle, rejecting the transition team’s recommendations for Pentagon staff, including Trump’s pick for high-ranking employees in the Department of Defense.
Even so, Mattis has made some constitutional experts nervous. As Vicenoted in December, “Mattis will be the first recently retired military officer to head the Pentagon since George Marshall, more than 60 years ago.” In effect, his appointment presents a challenge to the American constitutional tradition of civilian control over the military.
Still, Mattis’ ethics and conflict-of-interest issues don’t seem incredibly scandalous — and at least he got his paperwork in before the Office of Government Ethics started making a fuss. In a brief ethics agreement, Mattis agreed to leave the board of directors of General Dynamics, a defense contractor, from which he will also divest his stock, forfeiting between $600,000 and $1.25 million in stock and options, per his financial disclosure. According to Politico, Mattis also raked in $20,000 apiece in consulting fees from Goldman Sachs and Northrop Grumman.
You can read Mattis’ ethics agreement here:
Ben Carson for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
As of Thursday, the OGE had not released a report on the surgeon and erstwhile Republican presidential hopeful.
But the potential conflicts of interest facing Carson aren’t about him — they’re about his boss. As HUD secretary, Carson would oversee funding for a development in Brooklyn called Starrett City, “a massive low-income mini-city in Brooklyn that has generated millions in rental income for Trump, who inherited an ownership stake in the project from his father Fred Trump,” according to a December ABC News report:
With 46 buildings and more than 5,000 apartments, Starrett City is the beneficiary of substantial federal aid through rental support programs overseen by HUD. And it will soon be one more item on the list of financial entanglements that Trump will bring with him to the White House in January. …
Trump’s financial disclosure report values his 4% share of the Starrett City development at between $5 million and $25 million, and Trump reported that it generated between $1 million and $5 million in income for him last year.
Of the 5,881 units in the Starrett City, HUD officials told ABC News that those living in 3,569 receive support from a HUD assistance program.
There was also that time Carson decried a new HUD fair housing rule as a “mandated social-engineering scheme” on par with communism. This, as Dwyer Gunnpointed out in Pacific Standard, is not good: Of the five million American families uprooted during the subprime mortgage crisis that heralded the dawn of the Great Recession, African-American and Hispanic citizens were forced out of their homes at twice the rate of whites thanks to high-cost loans and expensive mortgages.
Mike Pompeo for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
The Republican Kansan was once subject of an anti-abortion group complaint to the Office of Congressional Ethics for “posting links to campaign material on his House website” during the 2014 campaign cycle, per the Associated Press. Like the Senate hearings themselves, when set against the backdrop of Trump’s Russia meltdown, Pompeo’s ethics violations and conflicts of interest are relatively minor.