A Conflict Is a Conflict Is a Conflict: Our Federal Government At Work on Ignoring Them

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.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD.

The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards.

Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader’s Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio.

She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News.

In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles.

Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.

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