Senate Floor Remarks of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), On the Duplicity of the Double Standard

For months – no, for years – in the lead up to the November 8th election, congressional Republicans spent countless taxpayer dollars to air their unsubstantiated concerns about corruption at the highest levels of our government.  The Clinton Foundation must be dissolved, they said.  Every action, every meeting, every activity of the Clinton Foundation should be revealed, they said.  We cannot allow such a foundation to run so close to the Oval Office, they said.

It is ironic – sadly ironic, maddeningly ironic – that since November 8th, I have heard neither shout nor whisper from congressional Republicans echoing the same concerns about our President-elect’s personal – and profitable – business dealings.  No outrage that the President-elect’s family may charge the American taxpayer millions of dollars to rent space for the Secret Service at Trump Tower.  No demand that the President-elect – the Chairman and President of The Trump Organization – dissolve his stake in the corporation he owns.  Now, today, we hear that the President-elect will finally explain how he plans to address these conflicts of interest – which he feels is a “visual” problem rather than an ethical one.  Unless he does what I and others have called for – divest his interest in, and sever his relationship to, the Trump Organization, and put the proceeds in a true blind trust – it is nothing more than lip service. And until we know more about what role his family will have both in his business interests and the government’s operation under a Trump administration, no one should consider this serious concern addressed. 

And here is the duplicity of congressional Republicans’ double standard.  After years of partisan witch hunts, and millions of wasted taxpayer dollars investigating bogus allegations against Hillary Clinton, and by extension, the Clinton Foundation, if Republicans fail to demand the same of Donald Trump that they demanded of her, they will, as E.J. Dionne said so eloquently in his column on November 27, “be fully implicated in any Trump scandal that results from a shameful and partisan double standard.” 

Mr./Madam President, I am hearing from Vermonters.  They are worried.  They are uncertain.  Some of them are scared.  Congress could do a great service to all our constituents if it led by example, not by convenient spoken platitudes.  If my colleagues want to actually be the leaders they claim they are, do not start by validating an offensive and dangerous double standard.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of E.J. Dionne’s column, “A Double Standard for Trump?,” as published in the November 27 Washington Post, be printed in the Record.


The Washington Post

November 27, 2016

An ethical double standard for Trump — and the GOP?

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

Republicans are deeply concerned about ethics in government and the vast potential for corruption stemming from conflicts of interest. We know this because of the acute worries they expressed over how these issues could have cast a shadow over a Hillary Clinton presidency.

“If Hillary Clinton wins this election and they don’t shut down the Clinton Foundation and come clean with all of its past activities, then there’s no telling the kind of corruption that you might see out of the Clinton White House,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt.

Presumably Cotton will take the lead in advising Donald Trump to “shut down” his business activities and “come clean” on what came before. Surely Cotton wants to be consistent.

The same must be true of Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chair whom Trump tapped as his chief of staff. “When that 3 a.m. phone call comes, Americans deserve to have a president on the line who is not compromised by foreign donations,” Priebus said earnestly in a statement on Aug. 18.

Priebus, you would think, believes this even more strongly about a president whose enterprises might reap direct profits for himself or members of his family from foreign businesses or governments. Priebus must thus be hard at work right now on a plan for Trump to sell off his assets.

“The deals that she and her husband were pocketing — hundreds of thousands of foreign money,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told the Breitbart website, the right-wing outlet once led by the soon-to-be White House chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon. Issa added that Clinton wanted her activities “to be behind closed doors” and “did that because she doesn’t know where the line is.”

We can assume that Issa will press the president-elect about the dangers of doing business deals “behind closed doors” and instruct him about where the ethical “line” should be.

And it would be truly heartening to know that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a vociferous critic of the Clinton Foundation (“There’s a connection between what the foundation is doing and what the secretary of state’s office is doing”), plans to apply the same benchmarks to Trump.

After all, when the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was asked last August on CNN if Trump should release his tax returns, his answer was both colorful and unequivocal. “If you’re going to run and try to become the president of the United States,” Chaffetz replied, “you’re going to have to open up your kimono and show everything, your tax returns, your medical records. You are . . . just going to have to do that.”

I eagerly await Chaffetz’s news conference reiterating his kimono policy, since he made very clear that he sees his role as nonpartisan. “My job is not to be a cheerleader for the president,” he said. “My job is to hold them accountable and to provide that oversight. That’s what we do.” Early, comprehensive hearings on the problems Trump’s business dealings would pose to his independence and trustworthiness as our commander in chief would be a fine way to prove Chaffetz meant this.

Republicans did an extraordinary job raising doubts about Clinton — helped, we learned courtesy of The Post, by a Russian disinformation campaign. Does the GOP want to cast itself as a band of hypocrites who cared not at all about ethics and were simply trying to win an election?

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