When you are feeling low because Donald Trump is still not in prison despite ample evidence of his heading a conspiracy to overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election, it may help to remember that legendary mobster Al Capone was brought down not by anything related to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, but instead was convicted of tax evasion charges.
For Trump, it turns out that the easiest path to accountability just might be his failure to follow government regulations regarding document retention and the proper disclosure of gifts from foreign governments — go ahead, call them emoluments, if you must.
The story of Trump’s illegal removal of classified documents from the White House to store at his highly unsecure Mar-A-Lago resort has been known since at least February and is the focus of a current investigation by the Department of Justice as to how and why those documents — which included North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s infamous “love letters” to Trump — weren’t sent directly to the National Archives as they should have been.
Now a new disclosure by the State Department reveals that the Trump administration failed to provide any accounting of the gifts that Trump, former Vice President Pence, and other officials, including the State Department’s own then-Secretary, Mike Pompeo, received in their final year in office.
This demonstrable contempt for the rules and regulations that govern the executive branch of the federal government has led the State Department, now under the firm control of the Biden administration, to declare that it cannot provide a full accounting of these emoluments and cannot determine whether anything untoward or illegal took place in the final months of the Trump administration, besides that pesky insurrection, that is.
Richard Painter, the former top ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush administration, made the most quotable comment about the revelation.
“It’s flagrant and it looks terrible,” Painter said. “Either it was really stupid or really corrupt.”
Federal law requires every department or agency in the government to provide the State Department with a list of gifts over $415 that their officials received from foreign governments to prevent foreign governments from acquiring undeserved favor from American officials.
Typically, shortly before or immediately after an administration leaves the White House, the staff gives the State Department a list of everything they’ve received that are worth over the stated limit. However, the list that the Department released last Friday showed no gifts whatsoever for any White House officials.
And it’s not as if there weren’t actually any because Trump was so unpopular. Despite the pandemic, Trump traveled to Switzerland and India in his final year in office and was documented as receiving “a bust of Gandhi, a sculpture of Gandhi’s famous “three monkeys” metaphor, and a spinning wheel from Prime Minister Modi’s Indian government, according to The New York Times. That doesn’t include any gifts that the dozen foreign officials who visited Trump at the White House might have brought.
“In a highly unusual disclosure, the department said that its Office of the Chief of Protocol, which was run by a Trump appointee until Jan. 20, 2021, had failed before Mr. Trump left office to ask the White House for a list of the gifts it received, and that Mr. Trump’s White House left office without providing one,” The New York Times reports.
“The department said it had tried to collect the information about the gifts Trump White House officials had received but had failed to come up with an accounting.”
“’As a result, the data required to fully compile a complete listing for 2020 is unavailable,’ the State Department said in a footnote to its list of gifts government officials received that year,” The Times report says.
Painter, the former ethics official, believes that Trump violated the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution by failing to disclose the gifts, but points out that since the emoluments clause contains no civil or criminal penalties associated with its violation, it is essentially toothless.
So much for the hope that this latest willful failure to comply with the law will do for Trump what tax evasion did for Al Capone.
I guess we’ll just have to wait for an indictment for sedition.