Robert B. Reich: Corrupt State a greater concern than the Deep State

Donald Trump has been ramping up his "Deep State" rhetoric again. He's back to blaming a cabal of bureaucrats, FBI and CIA agents, Democrats and "enemies of the people" in the mainstream media for conspiring to remove him from office in order to allow the denizens of foreign "s***holes" to overrun America.

But with each passing day it's becoming clearer that the real threat to America isn't Mr. Trump's Deep State. It's Mr. Trump's own Corrupt State.


Not since Warren G. Harding's sordid administration have as many grifters, crooks and cronies occupied high positions in Washington.

Mr. Trump has installed a Star Wars cantina of former lobbyists and con artists, including several whose exploits have already forced them to resign, such as Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, Tom Price and Michael Flynn. Many others remain.


When he was in Congress, the current White House acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, pocketed tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from payday lenders, then proposed loosening regulations on them. Mr. Trump also made Mr. Mulvaney acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, of all things.

When he was Mr. Trump's special adviser on regulatory reform, Wall Street billionaire Carl Icahn sought to gut EPA's rule on ethanol credits, which was harming his oil refinery investments.

Last week, it was reported that a real estate company partly owned by Trump son-in-law and foreign policy adviser Jared Kushner has, since Mr. Kushner entered the White House, raked in $90 million from foreign investors through a secret tax haven run by Goldman Sachs in the Cayman Islands. Mr. Kushner's stake is worth up to $50 million.

All this takes conflict of interest to a new level of shamelessness.

What are Republicans doing about it? Participating in it.

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who also happens to be the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has approved $78 million in grants for her husband's home state of Kentucky, including a highway-improvement project that had been twice rejected in the past. Ms. Chao has even appointed a special liaison to coordinate grants with Mr. McConnell's office. Oh, did I mention that Mr. McConnell is up for re-election next year?

News that a Cabinet secretary is streamlining federal funding for her husband's pet projects would be a giant scandal under normal circumstances. But in the age of Mr. Trump, ethics have gone out the window.

Rep. Greg Pence (R-Ind.), who just happens to be the brother of Vice President Mike Pence, has spent more than $7,600 of his campaign funds on lodging at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., since he was elected in November, although federal election law forbids politicians from using campaigns dollars to cover housing costs.


The Corrupt State starts with MR. Trump himself -- giving new meaning to the old adage about a fish rotting from the head down.

When foreign governments aren't currying favor with Mr. Trump by staying at his Washington hotel, they're using state-owned companies to finance projects that will line Mr. Trump's pocket, like China's $500 million entertainment complex in Indonesia that includes a Trump-branded hotel.

Mr. Trump claims the Deep State allows foreigners to take advantage of America. The reality is that Mr. Trump's Corrupt State allows Russian President Vladimir Putin and his goon squad to continue undermining American democracy.

"I'd take it" if Russia again offered campaign help, Mr. Trump crowed last week, adding that he wouldn't necessarily tell the FBI about it. Just days before, Mr. Trump acknowledged "Russia helping me get elected" the first time.

Despite evidence that Russia is hacking and trolling its way toward the 2020 election, Republican defenders of Mr. Trump's Corrupt State won't lift a finger.

Mr. McConnell refuses to consider any legislation on election security. He and Senate Republicans even killed a bill requiring campaigns to report offers of foreign assistance to the FBI and federal authorities.


The charitable interpretation is that Mr. McConnell and his ilk don't want to offend Mr. Trump by doing anything that might appear to question the legitimacy of his 2016 win. The less charitable view is Republicans oppose more secure elections because they'd be less likely to win them.

Mr. Trump and his Republican enablers are playing magicians who distract us by shouting "Look here!" at the paranoid fantasy of a Deep State while creating a Corrupt State under our noses.

But it's not a party trick. It's the dirtiest trick of our time, enabled by the most corrupt party in living memory.

Robert Reich's latest book is "The Common Good," and his newest documentary is "Saving Capitalism."