The Trump Scandals Congress Missed Amid Mueller’s Probe
This entirely incomplete list of controversies during the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency is largely unrelated to the Russia probe. Some have been uncovered by journalists, and to varying extents, litigated in the courts or scrutinized by inspectors general. But what they have in common is that none have been the sole subject of a single hearing before Congress.
Individually, in any other administration, each allegation of impropriety or ethical lapse might rivet the nation and generate days worth of headlines, drawing the same horde of cameras and wall-to-wall cable coverage that accompanied the appearances before Congress of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, or James Comey, the fired FBI director. Yet just as the Russia investigation and its many offshoots have hovered like a dark cloud over the Trump presidency, so have they obscured the many scandals that have escaped the full measure of congressional scrutiny as a result. They haven’t been ignored, exactly, but they certainly haven’t gotten much attention—an assortment of munchable appetizers overshadowed by the slowly-roasting suckling pig everyone was waiting to be served.
Until January, there was a simple reason why Congress mostly ignored these secondary scandals, and it had little to do with Russia: Republicans in control of the House, staying loyal to Trump, were unwilling to draw attention to issues that could damage the president and cast the party more broadly in a negative light. Democrats vowed to conduct far more vigorous oversight once they took power, but nearly three months into their majority, they have been consumed by the Russia investigation, the 35-day government shutdown, and an understandable desire to focus both legislation and oversight on their own policy agenda. As a result, they have just barely begun to tackle controversies unrelated to Russia.
Government-watchdog groups sued Trump within days of his inauguration on the grounds that his refusal to divest from his business put him in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits office-holders from receiving profits from foreign governments. Other lawsuits were later filed on similar grounds and are still winding their way through the courts.
Trump, however, has shown zero concern for the appearance that he is benefiting financially from the presidency. The Trump Hotel, opened in the historic Old Post Office in Washington, D.C., with a lease from the federal government, serves as something of a royal court. It’s a hangout for Republican lawmakers, lobbyists, and organizations whose patronage there benefits the Trump Organization, while foreign governments have made a show of booking the hotel for their delegations or lobbyists in Washington. At one point in 2017, the Trump Organization told a Republican-led House committee that it would not track all the payments it received from foreign customers, even if that could help the president avoid running afoul of the emoluments clause. And the president himself uses his Twitter feed as a promotional tool for his properties around the world, especially his golf courses.