The Wrong People to Drain the Swamp

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Donald Trump’s ethics proposals didn’t get much notice when he unveiled them late in the campaign. (At the time, his claims that the election was rigged were dominating the news.) Now that President-elect Trump is assembling an administration, his plan deserves attention. It goes well beyond existing restrictions to slow the revolving door to riches for government insiders.

Mr. Trump would ban executive branch officials from lobbying for five years after they leave public service, and he would ask Congress to do the same for its members and staff. He says he would also impose a lifetime ban to prevent senior executive branch officials from lobbying for a foreign government. Existing regulations ban lobbying for up to two years. Mr. Trump’s rules would expand the definition of lobbyist to include paid consultants, a loophole that former lawmakers at K Street firms routinely use.

For Mr. Trump, the new rules are important to realizing a campaign commitment to “drain the swamp” of Washington, to deliver wholesale change and to end corruption. Regrettably, the names being bandied about for high-profile roles in his administration — Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani — do not inspire confidence that such hopeful change is upon us.

These three relentlessly ambitious politicians, far from signaling something new and inspiring, represent a petty, vengeful past.

Together, these men carry enough battered political baggage to stretch from the government shutdown of 20 years ago in which Mr. Gingrich, as House speaker, was a principal provocateur, to the Bridgegate scandal of Mr. Christie’s benighted governorship of New Jersey. Speculation that Mr. Giuliani is under consideration for attorney general is particularly startling, considering he has been the Trump campaign’s attack dog on “crooked” Hillary Clinton, calling for a special prosecutor to be appointed after the election to continue the assault on her dodgy email habits.

It was also surprising that Mr. Gingrich, of all messengers, came forth from the Trump inner sanctum on Wednesday to promise that the new administration would enforce “dramatically tougher ethics reforms.” As speaker, Mr. Gingrich had his own run-in with ethics standards in 1997 when the full House voted 395 to 28 to fine him $300,000 and reprimand him for using tax-exempt money to promote Republican goals and giving a committee untrue information.

Perhaps Mr. Gingrich, who has made his fortune since leaving office as a consultant and paid speaker, has reformed. Or perhaps Mr. Trump is calculating that it takes a corner-cutting politician to catch a corner-cutting politician.

Mr. Trump’s proposals stirred praise from Washington watchdog groups. Some would require congressional approval, which means they will serve as a measure of how supportive Republican leaders are of their party’s standard-bearer. These tougher ethics proposals are a key part of Mr. Trump’s announced agenda. They, like his picks for posts in his administration, will be an early test of his promises to challenge the capital’s insider culture.

NYT EDITORIAL

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