Least Shocking Headline of the Day

Ethics, schmethics.

Via the NYT: Trump Officials Failed to Provide Accounting of Foreign Gifts.

The Trump administration left office without providing the State Department with an accounting of the gifts former President Donald J. Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials received from foreign governments in 2020, the department disclosed late Friday.

The department said that as a result, it could not fully account for the gifts officials received, the latest example to emerge in recent months of how the Trump administration’s flouting of laws and norms about the day-to-day operations of government now makes it harder to determine whether anything improper took place.

“It’s flagrant and it looks terrible,” said Richard W. Painter, the former top ethics lawyer for George W. Bush’s administration. “Either it was really stupid or really corrupt.”

To which I can only ask: why not both?

because the emoluments clause is toothless and has no criminal or civil penalties, it is extremely difficult to hold a former official accountable.


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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. MarkedMan says:

    Just a bunch of thieves

  2. CSK says:

    I’d be shocked if they did provide an accounting.

  3. Bob@Youngstown says:

    because the emoluments clause is toothless and has no criminal or civil penalties

    It would seem like ANY law, rule, regulation or practice is that has no specific criminal or civil penalties is precisely what the TFG administration is attracted to.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:


  5. de stijl says:

    One wrinkle.

    The State Dept. “forgot” to ask for a full 2020 accounting per initial reporting. Who was the department / person responsible for asking? You had one job. You failed. Why,

    If, somehow, you never receive your W-2, you are still obligated to pay your taxes, or file for an extension. The law holds regardless.

    You are still obligated to comply.


    I once had a direct report whose sole responsibility was Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. I inherited that role due to a promotion. One downside to reporting directly to the CFO is regulatory compliance and generally boring shit that I did not enjoy.

    I had him brief me. Thankfully, obviously, he was already working hand in glove with the appropriate corporate legal folks. On a good path well within the letter and spirit.

    Initially, I was concerned that he felt he was underutilized and underappreciated and wanted a meatier role. (I would’ve.) He did not. He liked it – prefered it. He got to do things he liked and was very good at and go home at five. A perfect fit.

    I added one layer of approval and formalized the general counsel role, but after a bit I let him go at it. He was a low-key rock star – a person who delighted in and was motivated by dotting i’s and crossing the t’s and was really good at it.

    A half year in, I began raising the utility of having a business-side complement, under the CFO, that mirrored the existing Legal Department’s existing department for regulatory compliance. Not just for Sarbannes-Oxley, but for all OCC, etc. compliance. Seed a few people like D. out into the bureaucracy. Have them report to one person. We should not ad hoc the information gathering bit, but make it a formal role with clear responsibilities and reporting structure.

    And I’ve got a crackerjack candidate to fill that role. His name is D.

    (I bailed pretty soon thereafter. I am above average at bureaucracy, but no great shakes. I missed heads-down data work greatly. It was a semi-successful foray into a very corporate role, but I knew I was waaay better in a different role.)

  6. Kathy says:

    I decided I don’t want to hear anything about the Orange Turd until he does the best perp walk ever.

  7. de stijl says:


    Don’t forget the boxes of documents stashed at Mar-a-lago. Purportedly full of classified material.

    Even if we grant that there is no classified material in the stash, that Trump took them and kept them is a clear and blatant violation of the Presidential Records Act. He is, de facto, a criminal.

    I remember the “Lock her up” chants at Trump rallies a few years back.

  8. Barry says:

    @Bob@Youngstown: “It would seem like ANY law, rule, regulation or practice is that has no specific criminal or civil penalties is precisely what the TFG administration is attracted to.”

    Penalties don’t matter, because the DoJ won’t prosecute.

  9. de stijl says:

    One aspect of real estate is if a party buys a property with cash and then quickly gets a loan or a HELOC using that property as collateral.

    That is a big warning sign of possible cash laundering.

  10. Argon says:

    Trump, still owning the libs in 2022. Totally worth the complete breakdown of law for the rich, powerful, and politically connected, amiright?

  11. de stijl says:


    Is it petty that I want some D pol to lead a rally crowd in a “Lock him up!” chant?

    I am a quite fairness and justice oriented person. 95 times out of 100 it suits me fine, but every now and again it manifests as petty and reciprocal. Angry vengeance. I have to watch out for that. I could run with that. I have.

    Trump absolutely deserves the “Lock him up!” payback chant right back at him, but our society would suffer if it were to happen. Payback feels good during the during on a visceral level.

    Not so smart longterm. Bites you on the butt. No one likes a bad winner / sore loser.

    Payback feels good. Payback looks bad. Manage your worst impulses. Good sportsmanship. Be the bigger person.

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @de stijl: Trump absolutely deserves the “Lock him up!” payback chant right back at him, but our society would suffer if it were to happen.

    Pray tell, how would holding the lawbreakers to account cause our society to suffer? I thought that was the very basis of society and that any society that didn’t was doomed from the gitgo.

  13. de stijl says:


    Very good point.

    It shouldn’t, but it would cause massive disruption.

    Since Nixon we came to an implicit agreement that criminal acts committed by a President get political censure and not criminal consequences even if roundly deserved.

    Is it the best choice? Trump certainly pushes the boundaries. By his actions he is a criminal.

    IANAL, I don’t know what the consequences for violating the Presidential Records Act are.

    In our current hyperpartisan circumstance pursuing it beyond a strong written rebuke would be extremely provocative and provoke a backlash that might break the nation.

    I am fairness and justice minded. These are forefront in how I view the world. I also don’t want civil war. I would settle for a strong rebuke that basically states the fact that crimes were committed.

    Putting Trump in prison would break us as a country.

    I hope he was a blip. I am probably wrong.

    Perhaps that is too pragmatic. I don’t want us to fracture over such a fucking idiot moron blowhard like Trump. I hope it was an anomaly and Rs nominate a serious candidate next time.

  14. Pylon says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: It’s not holding lawbreakers accountable that’s an issue. It’s proclaiming a desire to lock up political opponents and presumably promising to prosecute said opponents if you win the election. Biden started out by stating he was never going to interfere in prosecutions. This is a good, though often frustrating, thing.