Ignoring party affiliations, a conflict is a conflict is a conflict. Since June, those conflicts have been cascading here and there in the federal government without much coverage, less outrage, and no action.
Mick Mulvaney is the new acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (although not without a bizarre court battle in which a discombobulated federal judge had to ask a lawyer whether he had the authority to tell the president he could not appoint a government official because the departing director’s authority was autonomous, supreme, and over all the galaxy). The CFPB, as it is known, regulates consumer loans. Until his appointment (by President Trump without the court battle but certainly with the usual Senate battles) Mr. Mulvaney was a member of the House of Representatives. Mr. Mulvaney received $31,700 during the 2015-16 federal campaign cycle from payday lenders — the subprime, high interest, low tolerance lenders. Mr. Mulvaney was #9 in ranking for the most contributions from the paydays. Now, he is in a position to regulate (or not) those lenders. When asked if he saw a conflict he said, “I don’t think so because I am not in elected office anymore.” True enough, but that does not erase the conflict. A conflict exists when an individual’s interest are torn between competing loyalties. A conflict is not an evil thing; a conflict must be managed. You either disclose the conflict or you recuse yourself from one of the jobs that creates the conflict.
Payday lenders are playing a suit against the CFPB because of the issues of constitutionality of a one-person headed commission (all other federal agencies have 5 commissioners who make decisions). The fact that Mr. Mulvaney is the sole decision-maker for the CFPB makes the conflict more actor. Managing this conflict cannot be resolved by restructuring the agency quickly. That action would take congressional action, and glaciers move more quickly than that body, except, apparently, when pursuing staffers for purposes other than bill mark-ups. Mr. Mulvaney could recuse himself from any decisions related to consumer lending, but, then again, that is his job. Giving back the money seems to be the logical (and only) option.
Now, on the other side of the aisle is FBI agent Peter Strzok. Mr. Strozok was removed by Robert Mueller from the special counsel staff because the Office of the Inspector General, looking into the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, found that Mr. Strzok was sending anti-Trump text messages to an FBI lawyer with whom he was having an affair. Some additional information about Mr. Strzok:
1. He worked on the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation (or whatever Loretta Lynch told then-FBI director James Comey to call it).
2. He interviewed Mrs. Clinton’s top aides, Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin, and was present for the interrogation of Hillary Clinton.
3. He helped to alter the Comey July 2016 exoneration of Mrs. Clinton by changing the original wording from “grossly negligent” behavior in managing her e-mails (which was the language of the federal statute that would have allowed prosecution) to “extremely careless.”
4. Mr. Strozok signed the documents that opened the FBI investigation into Russian election interference.
5. Mr. Strozok participated in the interview of Michael Flynn.
6. He has not appeared before congressional committees investigating all of this despite the requests of several committees.
Mr. Mueller was correct in managing these various conflicts. Mr. Strzok had to go, and he did in July 2017, but this information was not made public until the rumblings of the forthcoming OIG report hit the streets.
Yesterday, pursuant to a federal court order requiring the release of FBI documents, Judicial Watch, the group that made the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the FBI found e-mail from Mr. Mueller’s deputy on the special counsel investigation, Andrew Weissmann. Mr. Weissmann sent a congratulatory e-mail to then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates for her refusal to enforce President Trump’s immigration order, “I am so proud. And in awe. Thank you so much. All my deepest respect.” A conflict is a conflict is a conflict, and there is evidence of impartiality here. There are two choices — manage the conflict (too late for that) or withdraw. No action yet. The clear political affiliations of two members of his staff should be addressed by Mr. Mueller.
Both sides of the aisle. No matter where you sit politically, the conflicts are real in both cases and in neither case was there solid management of those conflicts.