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"The Russia scandal is the most important scandal in the history of the United States. President Andrew Johnson was impeached (but not convicted) because he violated an act of Congress to remove a secretary of war. In the Teapot Dome scandal, the secretary of the interior in Warren Harding’s administration leased federal lands at low rates to private oil companies, presumably in return for bribes. In Watergate, a president and his aides engaged in political skulduggery against political foes. President Bill Clinton lied about a sexual affair he had with a subordinate in the White House. All these scandals raised serious questions about integrity in government. But at the heart of the Russia scandal is the most fundamental issue for a democracy: the sanctity of elections. An overseas enemy struck at the core of the republic — and it succeeded."
David Corn

USA - Corruption

Until the later years of the 20th Century, there were two kinds of graft in the United States — "honest graft" and graft. To a public grown inquisitive about finance came successive well-told stories of municipal and legislative corruption and the close alliance all over the country of the financiers and corporations with the political bosses and the political machines.

In the fall elections of 1905, the New York Sun put the case in few words when it said: "The universal rout of the bosses ... was caused primarily by the universal disgust with dishonesty." That was it. The people turned on the bosses because they were tired of being robbed; tired of political ascendency for the sake of pecuniary opportunity; tired of "honest graft," dishonest graft, and graft generally; tired of being ruled in the interest of the rulers; tired of being fooled, swindled, exploited, and led by the nose.

The United States is the world's most complicit country in helping individuals hide money from the rule of law, according to a February 2020 report from the Tax Justice Network (TJN). Years earlier, Senator Carl Levin summarizes the record: "Estimates are that $500 billion to $1 trillion of international criminal proceeds are moved internationally and deposited into bank accounts annually. It is estimated that half of that money comes to the United States". In the 2020 "The Financial Secrecy Index", TJN ranks nations by how much their financial systems allow people to hide and launder money extracted from other countries. The 2020 index found that the US increased its financial secrecy by 15 percent, and overtook Switzerland as one of the top destinations for people looking to hide money. "Financial secrecy keeps drug cartels bankable, human trafficking profitable and tax abuse feasible," TJN's Mark Bou Mansour told Al Jazeera. "Secrecy causes communities in developing countries to lose vital funds while other communities get pumped with dirty money."

Increasing levels of financial secrecy in the US are largely due to the passing of a new law permitting the establishment of non-charitable private foundations without the need for disclosure, the report said. The US has also yet to sign onto the Common Reporting Standard, which is maintained by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and which currently has 105 signatories.

Donald Trump once joked he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not lose voter support. The quip was intended as hyperbole to make a point on the loyalty of his base. Trump says he has the power to keep himself out of jail if he wanted, declaring an “absolute right to PARDON myself.”

Trump has shown he’s not afraid to pardon others he claims were unfair victims of partisanship. Among those include Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who clashed with a judge on immigration, and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the Bush administration official convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame leak case. In May 2018 Trump pardoned conservative commentator and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, who admitted he funded illegal campaign contributions in 2012 to help a Republican Senate candidate in New York.

On 18 February 2020, Donald Trump went on a clemency spree, commuting the 14-year prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and pardoning former NYPD commissioner Bernie Kerik, among a long list of others. Blagojevich, who appeared on Trump’s reality TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” was convicted of political corruption, including seeking to sell an appointment to Barack Obama’s old Senate seat and trying to shake down a children’s hospital. Kerik served just over three years for tax fraud and lying to the White House while being interviewed to be Homeland Security secretary. Trump also pardoned financier Michael Milken, who pleaded guilty for violating U.S. securities laws and served two years in prison in the early 1990s. Trump also pardoned Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in a gambling fraud scandal who built one of the most successful NFL teams in the game’s history.

Jeffrey Toobin wrote that authoritarians "dispense largesse, but they do it by their own whims, rather than pursuant to any system or legal rule. The point of authoritarianism is to concentrate power in the ruler, so the world knows that all actions, good and bad, harsh and generous, come from a single source. That’s the real lesson—a story of creeping authoritarianism—of today’s commutations and pardons by President Trump."

War crimes are the most serious offenses that exist. In June 2019 Trump pardoned two servicemen whose cases had been fully adjudicated by a U.S. military tribunal which convicted the men of war crimes. Trump, however, pardoned the third man, Major Mathew Golsteyn, while the criminal case against him was still ongoing. The three cases involve serious violations of international humanitarian law, including the shooting of a group of civilians and execution of a captured member of an armed group.

U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville says President Donald Trump’s decision to pardon these men sends a disturbing signal to military forces around the world. "They very clearly are prohibited under international conventions, Geneva Conventions and so on and international humanitarian law. People who commit serious crimes should be held accountable. Perhaps the sad thing in this case is they were being held accountable. And, for someone to be pardoned even before the case is concluded is particularly disturbing,” Colville said.

Between 1999 and 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) convicted 14,405 public officials—7,762 federal officials, 1,971 state officials, and 4,672 local officials—in public corruption cases. Most of these cases resulted in resignation, removal from office, and/or a prison sentence. The first two members of Congress to endorse Trump in the 2016 election both were convicted of crimes that violated the public’s trust. Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) was convicted for his role in an insider trading scheme he partially conducted on the White House lawn, and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) was convicted of stealing campaign contributions.

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni (R) was sentenced to 18 months in prison for scheming to punish a local mayor deemed not loyal enough to former Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ).Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Richie Farmer was sentenced to 21 months for using official funds for personal gain. Pennsylvania state treasurer Rob McCord (D) was sentenced to 30 months for threatening two citizens if they did not help his gubernatorial campaign.

Kleptocracy is a form of political corruption in which the ruling government seeks personal gain and status at the expense of the governed, literally meaning “the rule by thieves.” Through graft and embezzlement of state funds, corrupt leaders amass tremendous wealth at the expense of the broader populace. The inherent challenge for corrupt leaders is covertly expatriating and holding money in secure locations where it can be accessed in the future. Generally, that requires international movement of funds. When transfers occur in U.S. dollars or transit the U.S. banking system, federal money laundering jurisdiction is established.

Public corruption, the FBI’s top criminal investigative priority, poses a fundamental threat to US national security and way of life. It can affect everything from how well borders are secured and neighborhoods protected to how verdicts are handed down in courts to how public infrastructure such as roads and schools are built. It also takes a significant toll on the public’s pocketbooks by siphoning off tax dollars — it is estimated that public corruption costs the U.S. government and the public billions of dollars each year. The FBI is uniquely situated to combat corruption, with the skills and capabilities to run complex undercover operations and surveillance.

In democratic societies like the United States, the voting process is a means by which citizens hold their government accountable; conflicts are channeled into resolutions and power transfers peacefully. The American system of representative government works only when honest ballots are not diluted by fraudulent ballots. The FBI, through its Public Corruption Unit, has an important but limited role in ensuring fair and free elections.

The FBI’s prison corruption initiative, which began in June 2014, addresses contraband smuggling by local, state, and federal prison officials in exchange for bribe payments. Through this initiative, the Bureau works to develop and strengthen collaborative relationships with state/local corrections departments and the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Inspector General to help identify prison facilities plagued with systemic corruption and employ appropriate criminal investigative techniques to combat the threat. Prison officials and staff being co-opted, even if unwittingly, betrays the public trust, threatens the integrity of the justice system in the U.S., and threaten national security interests overall.

The federal government is responsible for protecting approximately 7,000 miles along the U.S. border and 95,000 miles of U.S. shoreline, and every day, over a million people visit the U.S. and enter through one of the more than 300 official ports of entry into the U.S., as well as through seaports and international airports. The FBI recognizes the very real threat public corruption at our nation’s borders and all other ports of entry pose.

Common acts of border corruption involve drug trafficking and alien smuggling. Throughout the U.S., the FBI has investigated corrupt government and law enforcement officials who accept bribes and gratuities in return for allowing loads of drugs or aliens to pass through ports of entry or checkpoints; protecting and escorting loads of contraband; overlooking contraband; providing needed documents, such as immigration papers and driver’s licenses; leaking sensitive law enforcement information; and conducting unauthorized records checks.

Border corruption potentially impacts national security as well—corrupt officers might believe they are accepting a bribe simply in return for allowing a carload of illegal aliens to enter the U.S., when they might actually be facilitating the entry of a group of terrorists. Or a corrupt official who expedites immigration paperwork or helps obtain an identification document in return for a bribe or gratuity might actually be facilitating an operation of a terrorist cell, foreign counterintelligence network, or criminal enterprise.

The 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has two main provisions: the first deals with bribery of foreign officials, and the second deals with accounting transparency requirements under the Securities Exchange Act. The dual elements were designed to facilitate parallel criminal and civil enforcement to stem corruption and promote fair business practices worldwide. The anti-bribery provision makes it illegal for U.S. companies and certain foreign companies to bribe foreign officials to obtain or retain business. The bribes can be in the form of money or any other items of value. The accounting provision of the FCPA focuses on requirements applying to U.S. companies and all foreign companies whose securities are listed on the U.S. stock exchange. The United States cannot charge the foreign official under the FCPA; rather, the U.S. works together with international law enforcement partners by investigating U.S. subjects complicit in paying bribes to foreign officials. The supply and demand equation of bribe paying and receiving illustrates the FCPA and kleptocracy violations as two sides of the same coin.

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Page last modified: 24-02-2020 18:23:04 ZULU