Read: A Cabinet of conspicuous corruption
But it would be a mistake to believe the problem has gone away, or that it’s safe to ignore. Pruitt is gone from the government and on to an inevitable career in lobbying, it’s true. So is Ryan Zinke, the former secretary of the interior, who was embroiled in several scandals. They were preceded out the door by Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services. Price’s relatively quick and contrite resignation from office in his own excessive-expenses scandal now seems like a quaint throwback to an earlier era, when shame applied to Cabinet members. If he’d only understood how much the ground had shifted, he might have resolved to just stay in the job and weather the storm.
That’s what Carson did. In spring 2018, it emerged that Carson had spent about $45,000 refitting his office at HUD, including four grand for new blinds, more than $8,000 for a dishwasher, and nearly $32,000 for a dining-room table. In March 2018, Congress asked the GAO to investigate the spending. The good news for Carson: The blinds were okay. The bad news: The table and dishwasher broke the law.
Such behavior might be forgivable in the case of a hardworking public servant who begged pardon. But Carson is a multimillionaire in his own right, who infamously (if with laudable self-awareness) declared himself unqualified for his post, and who blamed his wife when the spending was revealed. Carson remains in the Cabinet. Now that the federal government’s internal watchdog has concluded he broke the law, will that change? It’s unlikely. HUD seldom captures the attention of the public overall, and Trump has made clear he has little interest in it except as a forum to enact his unrelated policy priorities.
Moreover, Trump has little interest in policing this sort of bad behavior among his aides. Historically, scandalous spending of taxpayer dollars was a one-way ticket out of government. Price, a veteran elected official, was acting on this understanding when he resigned. But Pruitt’s demise came only after the drumbeat apparently became such a distraction and nuisance that Trump became unwilling to deal with it any longer. It took nearly a year.
Still in the Cabinet along with Carson is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. In February, the Office of Government Ethics refused to certify Ross’s financial disclosure—a highly unusual step—because he hadn’t sold a stock that he claimed he had. Ross insisted the error was inadvertent. This would be more plausible if OGE hadn’t already had to warn Ross about inaccuracies in his disclosures, and if he hadn’t been caught lying to the press about his finances as well.
Read: Corruption in the Trump administration is spreading
These are the most egregious cases. There’s also Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who became the subject of an inspector general’s investigation into multiple allegations of ethics violations less than a week after being confirmed. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta remains under scrutiny for signing off on what appears to have been a sweetheart deal with child-sex offender Jeffrey Epstein while Acosta was a U.S. attorney. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie did not disclose appearances to pro-Confederate groups during his confirmation process. There are reportedly Justice Department and inspector-general investigations into Zinke, who left the administration in January.