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Fri Feb 1, 2019, 08:32 PM

The Great American Heist

The Great American Heist
A new Cabinet has coalesced around Donald Trump entering Year Three of his presidency, one that seems poised to pull the United States further—and more efficiently—towards kleptocracy.
By Jack Holmes
Jan 30, 2019

A defense contractor running the Department of Defense. A self-styled tycoon who allegedly stole $120 million from his business partners. A coal lobbyist regulating coal. A senior Commerce Department official who once lobbied for whale hunters. Ivanka.

Donald Trump’s improbable ascension to the American presidency was a Bat Signal to some of the most accomplished grifters and scoundrels this fine country has to offer. They jumped on the nearest airplane—preferably private, and paid for by someone else—and jetted off to Washington, D.C., to carve out their piece of the action. The United States and its territories have always been home to some of history’s great scammers, fraudsters, confidence men, and snake-oil salesmen. It is a relentless feature of the national character in a country built by people trying to make a buck, however they could, on the ragged edge of civilization. It’s just the very greasiest operators don’t often pry their way into the Cabinet of the United States president. More rarely, still, do they capture it—and the Executive Branch of government.

“This is the Teapot Dome scandal on steroids,” Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University and a CNN contributor, told me. He’s referring to the orgy of bribery and crony capitalism that devoured the presidency of Warren G. Harding in the 1920s. Harding’s crew, known as the Ohio Gang, featured oil-industry insiders who proceeded to operate in public office on behalf of their old friends in the business. For Brinkley, the 45th president has a similar recruiting strategy.

“Donald Trump understands people that are greedy,” he said. “When he’s dealing with the public lands and the environment, he wants people that are into making cash out of resources, not preservation. He doesn't trust preservation. It's because they have ethics. He trusts people who see that there's gold in them there hills.”

And it seems he’s found them. As we embark on a third year of The Trump Era, a new group has filtered in to populate the most senior levels of his government. The Class of 2019 is different in kind to the right-wing oddballs and ravenous feeders at the public trough that went barreling into the administration in January 2017. Often, those characters flamed out early, and now they’ve been replaced.



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