Dome casings

Trump-Era corruption eclipses even the teapot dome

Exactly a century ago, a scandal began to rumble in the White House that would eventually consume the nation’s attention, the administration’s fortunes, and the president’s legacy. The name of the scandal has become synonymous with corruption on a scale that has only been surpassed in our time.

The Teapot Dome saga began in 1921, in the early months of Warren Harding’s administration. At the center of the scandal was Albert Fall, a lawyer from New Mexico who was in his second term in the United States Senate when his close friend Harding appointed him Secretary of the Interior. Harding’s first choice for the job – the oilman whose money had done a lot to earn Harding the Republican nomination – has died after being gunned down by his mistress. Harding knew that Fall, an anti-conservative, would be willing to use the office to pay off oil interest.

Fall knew he could use the desk to line his pockets. Accepting bribes from a range of major oil companies, Fall granted access to reserves in California and Wyoming, including the eponymous Teapot Dome field, so called due to a distinctive boulder shaped of teapot nearby. These reserves, containing hundreds of millions of barrels of oil, were supposed to be held for the US Navy. By distributing these reserves, Fall became incredibly wealthy, receiving the equivalent of millions of dollars overnight.

Yet Fall, the only public servant later jailed for his crimes – and the first cabinet official in American history to be jailed for crimes committed while in office – has hardly functioned in a vacuum. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, who has never raised red flags over oilfield transfers, has revealed he has been offered millions of dollars in bonds from one of the oil companies involved. (The prodigious wealthy Mellon declined the offer, but when asked later why he hadn’t reported the offer amid the scandal, replied: “What would it have served?”) And when rumors of Fall’s corruption began to spread, Attorney General Harry Daugherty slowed down any investigation into how the oil fields had ended up in the hands of these companies. It’s not hard to see why. Daugherty was a leader of the “Ohio Gang” surrounding Harding. Not only did the Attorney General oversee what one historian called “diversified criminal enterprise”, From selling pardons to illegally enjoying boxing matches, but he was ultimately investigated for his own role in the sprawling Teapot Dome affair. While Daugherty ultimately escaped jail, he resigned in disgrace, but not before burning as many Harding papers as he could find.

Harding, meanwhile, died in office, collapsing from a heart attack before secrets of his own involvement in Teapot Dome were revealed. The president was, at best, indifferent to the unprecedented corruption that swept through his administration, sweeping away a forgetful presidency. But subsequent investigations revealed that Harding may have known a lot more than even his critics assumed. As Laton McCartney recounts in The teapot dome scandal, his 2008 flagship book on the case, one of the key moments in hushing up investigations into the scandal came when the oil company Sinclair bribed the editors of the Denver Post to kill the inquiries into the payment details of the Teapot Dome. And according to at least one witness, the mastermind of these secret cash payments was not Sinclair but rather Harding himself. As Harding demanded, the To post had to “give up that oil business in Wyoming, agreeing to pay $ 1 million to the To postthe editor of.

Of course, bribes weren’t the only way to stifle investigations into the scandal. When Senators have started digging into the financing of oil deals, some of them found their offices broken into and ransacked. Girl order FBI Director William Burns illegally bugged phones and monitored the mail of Senator Burton Wheeler, who was then leading the investigation, while his fellow crusader, Senator Thomas Walsh, later revealed that a stranger had arrested his daughter and 3-year-old granddaughter and “threatened her with harm if she did not force her father to drop the investigation. (For her part, Fall simply resorted to issue death threats against any journalist digging into their finances.)

All in all, Teapot Dome was, like Walsh recount, “the most astonishing theft known to our history, or perhaps that of any other country.” And for a century he was right. Nothing – no administration, no presidency – could surpass Teapot Dome’s legacy of outright fraud or outright abuse of public trust.

Up to, that is, Donald Trump. A century later, it is clear that Teapot Dome is no longer the common thread of presidential theft, the shortcut to bypassing the public, the measure against which all other corruption scandals are compared. Thanks to Donald Trump’s reign, the United States now has a new benchmark against which all future administrations will be measured and a glimpse of the extent of corruption that has changed over the past century.


Smay over the past few years and the stench of corruption that floats from Trump’s orbit is staggering. Campaign chairmen who was secretly working for foreign officials while crushing millions to the side. Presidency lawyers defraud banks and taxpayers, or inaugurate regardless of the foreign patron they could find. All this during Trump has opened the doors to his company to all comers, regardless of the source of their funds, whether or not Americans have ever learned the details of their payments. (In depressing historical resonance, Trump’s First Secretary inside, Ryan Zinke, resigned in disgrace under a cloud of his own corruption allegations – a move few will remember, given the stunt of ethics violations and conflicts of interest flooding the administration throughout Trump’s four years.)

We are only scratching the surface of the depths of corruption in Trump and his administration. Just this summer, we learned that one of Trump’s former foreign and economic policy advisers, Tom Barrack, was charged with allegedly working at the behest of a foreign dictatorship in the UAE, secretly whispering political advice to the president’s ears, while his private equity firm received $ 1.5 billion from the UAE and its Saudi allies. It was a mind-boggling revelation of a successful foreign spy case based on mind-boggling financial flows – and it barely broke the news cycle.

Compared to recent years, Teapot Dome looks almost quaint – a relic of a bygone era, a time when Americans paid Americans, all for the benefits of other Americans, all in a neat and tidy circle of domestic transplants. . It’s not just the scale of the corruption of the Trump era that calls into question our idea of ​​what an American president dedicated to financial misconduct can accomplish. It is that now the actors have a transnational reach – crossing borders, crossing borders, taking full advantage of the tools of financial secrecy wherever they are and the fruitful opportunities that a president like Trump can offer.

It makes some sense. Not only is the increase in foreign bribery and money laundering – this type of modern kleptocracy, in which regimes dedicated to pilfering and looting turn to Western jurisdictions for all their financial secrecy needs – has exploded in recent decades, but Trump, as overlord of a sprawling luxury real estate empire , was perfectly placed to monitor this large scale bleaching and larceny bloom. It’s no surprise that Trump was the first world leader to emerge from one of these pro-kleptocracy industries; the exact number of oligarchs, buddies, and Their friends who used Trump’s properties, and the luxury American immovable Marlet basically, to launder their money is impossible to know. According to a New York Times estimate, “More than 200 companies, interest groups and foreign governments. . . frequented Mr. Trump’s properties while profiting from him and his administration. But given the number of anonymous shell companies involved, any picture we have is woefully incomplete. We still only look through a keyhole to a realm of illicit finance.

Presidential corruption is no longer confined to a list of crooked Americans who slip oil reserves in faraway states or slip duffel bags of money to members of the executive branch. Now anyone with a little dirty money – anyone who has plundered national treasures, or who has mixed their organized criminal racketeering into a formal state apparatus – has direct access to the White House. Never mind the national security concerns. It doesn’t matter if there are any connections with smart regimes or smart kleptocrats. Thanks to Trump, we know the White House can be turned into a node in the sprawling transnational networks of illicit finance – and the last tool of these oligarchic arsenals, bent on plundering local populations for as long as they can.

If Donald Trump has therefore replaced Teapot Dome as the benchmark for presidential corruption, a logical question follows: what now? After Teapot Dome, a number of court decisions have targeted to prevent another similar scandal, allowing Congress to compel witnesses to testify and demand tax returns. And after Trump, we are already seeing momentum to prevent a similar figure from increasing in the future. Congress passed a law earlier this year effectively eliminate anonymous American shell companies, but this is just the beginning. The real estate, hedge fund and private equity industries are all set to face similar legislation, demanding basic due diligence to find out more about how they turned into a sieve of suspicious money. And Congress must continue to dig as many Trump’s personal financing as he can.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the corruption of the Trump era – and a distinguishing factor of Teapot Dome – it is that this corruption is no longer just a domestic concern. It no longer remains confined to national borders or national policies. This is why, a century from now, when future American students think of presidential corruption, they will immediately think of Donald Trump – and how he illustrated how presidential corruption ceased to be an American concern, but something for everyone. the kleptocrats of the world to take pleasure.


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