Ladies And Gentlemen–Your Postmaster General

Americans who haven’t been living in caves the past few months have heard a lot about Donald Trump’s assault on vote-by-mail and the post office.

Trump has attacked the post office pretty consistently, even before he began his most recent efforts at vote suppression. (He hates Jeff Bezos and Amazon, and is convinced that USPS undercharges Bezos for deliveries. As with so many other things Trump “knows,” this  has been debunked by people who actually know what they’re talking about.)

It was bad enough when Mitch McConnell–aka “the most evil man in America”–refused to allow a Senate vote on House-passed measures to shore up USPS finances, but things really started going to you-know-where-in-a-handbasket when the administration installed  Louis DeJoy as Postmaster. As Paul Waldman noted in an article in The Washington Post,“Like many Trump appointees, DeJoy seems to have been hired for the purpose of undermining the agency he now leads.”

Ignore LeJoy’s transparent efforts to sabotage the vote. He would have been an appallingly inappropriate choice even if he hadn’t been willing to wage war on democratic self-government..

LeJoy was a major Republican donor, thanks to the sale of a family shipping company for some $615 million, and he is heavily invested in shipping companies that are not only not the USPS, but are in direct competition with the postal service. As a post to Daily Kos put it, DeJoy “stands to make a serious chunk of change if he can either redirect a larger chunk of the nation’s mail to those companies or, alternatively, sabotage the constitutionally-mandated USPS severely enough to cause those redirections to become nonoptional.”

Evidently, DeJoy was Trump’s kind of “businessman.” His shipping company was sued multiple times for sexual assault, sexual harassment, racism, wage theft, and union busting. In 1997, the National Labor Relations Board found that, after taking over the Compton Army Terminal in California, DeJoy directed the company to take extreme efforts to hide job opportunities from union workers.

Last month, CNN reported on DeJoy’s ongoing conflicts of interest.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy continues to hold a multimillion-dollar stake in his former company XPO Logistics, a United States Postal Service contractor, likely creating a major conflict of interest, according to newly obtained financial disclosures and ethics experts.

Outside experts who spoke to CNN were shocked that ethics officials at the postal service approved this arrangement, which allows DeJoy to keep at least $30 million in XPO holdings….

“The idea that you can be a postmaster general and hold tens of millions in stocks in a postal service contractor is pretty shocking,” said Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, who resigned in 2017. “It could be that he’s planning on selling it, but I don’t understand the delay. He has managed to divest a lot of other things. And if he wasn’t prepared to sell that off, he shouldn’t have taken the job.”

Schaub, who is now a senior adviser at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, suggested that if DeJoy doesn’t divest his holdings soon, it could be construed as an illegal conflict of interest. Schaub also questioned why the ethics officials approved this arrangement.

It’s illegal under federal law for federal government employees or their spouses to have a “financial interest” in companies that intersect with their official duties. The ethics experts who spoke to CNN said DeJoy could have mitigated these conflicts by divesting, agreeing upfront to recuse himself from some matters, receiving legal waivers, or even establishing a blind trust.

“If you have a $30 million interest in a company, of course it’s going to impact you,” said Stuart Gilman, who spent 12 years at the Office of Government Ethics, where he was the assistant director. “I would assume that there is a problem here. It certainly doesn’t pass the smell test.”

CREW–Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington–also issued a letter detailing DeJoy’s conflicts of interest, noting that DeJoy personally participated in particular matters that directly affect two companies in which he retains ownership interests, and that “These actions run counter to his obligations under the conflict of interest law.”

More recently, we’ve been treated to blockbuster reports that DeJoy routinely violated campaign finance laws.

Is there a single person in Trump’s cabinet or administration who isn’t sleazy and dishonest?


Appearances of Impropriety

Yesterday, following the announcement of the Recount Commission’s finding that Charlie White had been eligible to run for Secretary of State (or, more accurately, their conclusion that they couldn’t conclusively prove otherwise), I got a call from a reporter. Her question was not about the Commission’s conclusion; instead, she wanted to know whether the chair should have recused himself from the deliberations, since he had hosted a fundraiser for White, and his firm had donated $5000 to White’s campaign.

My answer, of course, was yes.

It is perfectly possible that–as he claimed–the contribution and prior support did not influence the chairman’s decision. But that is irrelevant. The facts of the matter raised an appearance of impropriety, and that appearance alone was enough to require recusal. Citizens have to be able to trust that their public institutions are operating impartially and fairly; otherwise, suspicion and cynicism will undermine our faith in the legitimacy of government and erode respect for–and compliance with–the laws.

Instances of what we might call “ethical insensitivity” seem to be proliferating: recently, commentators have reported on activities of Clarence Thomas (and especially his wife) that raise serious questions about the Judge’s impartiality. A couple of years ago, Justice Scalia shrugged off criticism of his cozy vacation with Dick Cheney during a time when a lawsuit against Cheney was pending at the Supreme Court.  Closer to home, we have the President of the City-County Council insisting that his vote to award a lucrative city contract to a client of his law firm did not constitute a conflict of interest.

In each of these cases–and many others–the person accused of a conflict insisted that the relationship at issue didn’t affect his judgment. Perhaps it did, perhaps it didn’t. But that isn’t the point. The point is that such relationships inevitably cast doubt on the integrity of the proceeding.

Think about it: If you were a party in a lawsuit, and you knew that the opposing party regularly played poker with the judge, and had supported him politically, how confident would you be that the Judge’s ultimate ruling would be impartial?   Wouldn’t you ask for a change of venue, or a different judge? If you were a taxpayer whose elected representative was voting to spend your tax dollars on a deal that benefited his brother-in-law, or a big client, how confident would you be that he cast that vote based solely on policy considerations?

And how reassured would you be if such public servants pooh-poohed your reservations?