First Meeting Between Obama and Trump

If there was a fly in the wall on the Oval Office during the meeting between President Obama and President-Elect Trump, one would suspect that it would have to be a fly with a tolerance for a screechy violin and a box of tissues.


The meeting went on for much longer than expected. Judging by Trump’s praise of Obama and Obama’s lack of for Trump, one would think the meeting went pretty much Obama’s way.  Obama studiously made it difficult for the lone, press pool camera to capture the actual first meeting between the two.


Only after he seemingly softened Trump up, did Obama allow photographs to photograph them together. Obama led the press conference – as is his right as president – while (I thought) Trump seemed to slump in his chair, rather than sitting upright and confident.  Obama, in short, collared Trump and wouldn’t let him out until he’d sold him.


Did Obama, as soon as the Oval Office door close, begin his violin solo on his favorite theme, the one he wants to see as his enduring legacy – Obamacare? Despite Trump’s brash and abrasive appearance during the long primary campaign, one would suspect that a soft, generous heart beats beneath that gruff exterior.  Most men in his position are like that.


Obama is the polar opposite; he’s famously cold – a glacier front of icy-hearted collectivist ideals that care not a whit for individual people, but rather calculate on a faceless mass of people, the facts of whom cannot actually be confirmed.


So, did Obama launch on a 90-minute diatribe about the plight of the poor, the black, the Hispanic, the homeless. You can bet your lunch he did.  What was Trump going to say to all that?  Guilt and shame are the calling cards of the Left.


Except that if we had a properly functioning Society, those in actual need would represent a very small and manageable portion of our population. The very fact that we have such an enormous bureaucracy tells us there are too many people dependent upon the government.


A Fox News commentator noted that while the Executive Mansion looks large, inside the offices and corridors are all very small. The White House, in fact, houses over 400 political staff members and that population has long spilled over in the nearby Old Executive Office Building.


That’s how big and power the Executive Branch has become, and where the bureaucracy has taken root and grown out, like an ivy root strangling an oak tree.


Wanting to distance his now president-elect self from his former primary campaign self, President-Elect Trump was gracious in his praise of Hillary Clinton. One thinks too gracious towards a decidedly undeserving former First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State.


As a senator, Hillary Clinton violated many Senate ethics rules. Even Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr., in their sometimes gushing biography of Hillary Clinton, Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton (Back Nine Books, 2007) had to concede the her Hillaryness was sometimes ethically challenged:


Hillary has found…creative ways to leverage her considerable appeal and turn it into additional support. In 2003, she came up with the idea of establishing a small, non-profit foundation to promote job growth in New York, especially upstate.  This branch of Hillaryland was based in New York City and headed by Roger Altman, who served as deputy secretary of the treasury under President Clinton and went on to become chairman of the boutique investment bank Evercore Partners. 


In early 2006, Altman quietly organized a group of experts on energy policy from academia, investment banks, and think tanks to prepare a lengthy written report and personally brief Hillary on its work. Senators routinely seek advice and input from outsiders.  But it is unusual to rely on a secret task force.  Members of Hillary’s group say they were asked not to discuss their involvement and assured they would not be publicly identified with her.


Hillary did publicly announce another advisory group, quasi-permanent committee of New York agricultural experts. That panel’s creation traced back, in part, to a hidden staffing decision that led to Hillary’s apparent violation of Senate rules.


The story begins in the summer 2001, when Hillary was looking to fill a gap in the expertise of her staff. No one in her Washington office had much expertise in agriculture.  The need was urgent; a massive farm bill was coming up for consideration.


Hillary, in a conversation that summer with Susan Henry, the dean of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, sought help. Specifically, Hillary “indicated that she wanted to increase her own agricultural expertise and that of her staff,” as part of an effort to “speed up her understanding of New York State’s agricultural interests” for the upcoming farm bill debate.


What was happening was that dairy farms in New York were going out of business because they couldn’t compete with the more technologically-advanced commercial dairy farms that simply put their cows in stalls all day long and milked them for all they were worth.


A few weeks later, Henry supplied Hillary with Lee Telega, a long-time Cornell staff employee involved in a state-wide dairy program and, part-time, as a lobbyist in Albany, New York. Telega had been chosen by Cornell’ government relations, or lobbying, arm.


Telega rented an apartment in Washington for his six-month stint as one of Hillary’s Congressional fellows. Cornell continued to pay his salary and picked up many of his expenses for his “special assignment.”  The fellowship appeared to be a win-win situation for Hillary and the university.


“Cornell, for very selfish reasons, wanted a senator who understood northeast agriculture,” said one Cornell employee who worked with Hillary, adding “It’s very important to us” because Cornell’s agriculture school is one of the biggest in the state and benefits from land grants.


Historic land grants weren’t the only government gifts Cornell depended upon. The university has long been the recipient of numerous federal research grants.  Cornell, as well as northeast farmers, benefited from the 2002 farm bill.  Indeed, the university’s annual grants from the Department of Agriculture rose almost 40 percent from 2002 to 2005, including funds for new programs specifically created by the legislation.


Hillary was not a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, but she supported the bill, actively lobbied fellow senators on benefits important to New York (and Cornell), including conservation programs, and said she and others “fought hard” to win increased funding for those programs.


Hillary benefited from the arrangement as well, securing an in-house expert on an important subject at no cost to her. Telega prepared memos, cultivated sources inside the Department of Agriculture, met personally with Hillary and her staff, represented Senator Clinton in negotiations with other Congressional staffers, reached out to farmers he knew for help, and was granted Senate-floor privileges the day the farm bill was passed.


Hillary’s circle of farm advisers quickly widened when her agricultural advisory group was formed in 2001. Telega played a key role in selecting its members, which included Dean Henry and a number of other Cornell officials and alumni. 


“There’s no conflict of interest in a land-grant institution putting a fellow in the senator’s office,” Telega said. He explained, “Senator Clinton told me in one of the first meetings” that his job was to “make sure that New York State gets its fair share of the farm bill.”


But the job of determining whether there is a conflict of interest is not left up to a senator or a fellow. Instead, the screening for such conflicts of interest is done by the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.  Senators are advised to contact the committee before they use the services of a fellow because, by the practices of the chamber, “each fellowship situation must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis” for possible conflicts of interest.


Senators are supposed to file a report with the Ethics Committee if they use the services of an individual who is paid and works for more than four weeks. (Only about half the Senate’s members use fellows, mainly because it’s nearly impossible to attract the extra help without the office space.)  The form called the “Supervisor’s Report on Individuals Who Perform Senate Services” is supposed to be signed by both the supervisor (normally the senator) and the employee.


The report discloses the employee’s starting date and the source and amount of his or her compensation. Subsequent reports are required on a quarterly basis, as is a termination report.  For unknown reasons, neither Hillary nor her office filed a single one of these reports for Telega.


Another rule applies when senators use the full–time services of any individual, including fellows, who work for more than ninety days, even if they are unpaid. This rule says, “No Senator shall utilize the full-time services of an individual for more than ninety days [in a calendar year] unless [the individual] agrees in writing to comply with the Senate Code of Official Conduct in the same manner and to the same extent as an employee of the Senate.”


Hillary and Telega never completed any such agreement, either, which is to be filled in by the senator and then signed by both parties.


As a result of these omissions, the public and the Ethics Committee were left in the dark about Telega. And he was not an isolated example.  A few dozen fellows worked for Hillary in her first term, including two other Cornell agricultural fellows.  Some worked shorter terms than others; a few stayed on as permanent employees.


The breadth of issues on which they worked was wide-ranging – from military and national security issues to health care, aging, the environment, stem-cell research, and other domestic topics. Their tasks included writing speeches, conducting researching, drafting legislation, meeting with lobbyists and constituents, representing Senator Clinton at outside events, and preparing talking points for Hillary.


“These fellows are free labor,” said the administrator of one program supplying a fellow to Hillary. “They “expand the organizational capacity,” especially, “in the context of a presidential campaign.”


But during Hillary’s first term as senator, she filed only one supervisor’s report for her full-time fellows, in 2003 – and even that report was inadequate because she never filed the other necessary documents, even though the supervisor’s report that she signed clearly indicated they were required. The fact of the filing suggests Hillary was aware of the reporting requirements.  (Fellows are not expected to navigate the rules on their own.)  But again and again, she did not bother.


Then, beginning in late March 2007, Hillary and six of her fellows suddenly – and, in most cases, belatedly – filed the forms pledging to abide by the Senate Code of Conduct, and the initial supervisory reports. The filings occurred after questions had been raised with the sponsors of some of her current fellows.


Ignorance of the rules was certainly a possible excuse, albeit a bad one: Senators and Senate employees are regularly briefed by the Ethics Committee, so “everybody should know” the rules.  However, the committee, lacking audit authority, does not have the ability to hunt for missing reports; it simply receives and files the forms.


The lax enforcement practices of the Senate ethics panel have prompted critics, including [of all people] Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, to propose an independent investigative body to look in the behavior and practices of members.   Most senators, including Hillary Clinton, opposed the idea.


The laissez-faire enforcement of the rules by the Ethics Committee makes it difficult to determine how many reports Hillary should have filed for her fellows. (The number depends upon the duration of their work and whether they were compensated.)  Still, over the course of six years, she appears to have neglected to file a few dozen reports for at least a dozen fellows.  In eight cases, Hillary used fellows from the same sponsoring organization that supplied fellows to other senators.  While those other senators filed correctly, Hillary did not.  In four other cases, fellows from other sponsors worked long enough for Hillary to fall under the reporting requirement.


She may have been deferential when it came to matters of territory and seniority [in the U.S. Senate – eventually], but Hillary’s lack of documentation of these workers seems careless at best and negligent at worst. A Senate ethics expert noted that Hillary’s practices with her fellows were “unlike any other senator.”  Overall, the expert said, her office operated with a “we can do what we need to do [the ends justify the means]” attitude.  Her failu7re to file reports on her fellows demonstrates something that has long complicated the political and professional career of Hillary Clinton:  an underlying sense that the rules of the game are up to her.


That is the real senatorial record Clinton touts: legislation largely consisting of honorariums acknowledging Girl Scouts and sustainable growth gardeners. That is why we question Hillary’s entitlement to the generous praise of our soon-to-be president.  While it was kind and broad-minded of him to cite her long years of service, Hillary Clinton’s “service” to our country was dubious, at best, and criminal at worst.


When I worked in the public affairs office of an insurance company, not just anyone could shake the hand of the company president; they had to be vetted not only by their supervisor and their supervisor’s supervisor. After that vetting, the president’s office reviewed the request to even be in the presence of the company president.  Only then were you permitted to receive his acknowledgement.  Poor performers, the lazy, the disreputable, and the disloyal need not apply.


Surely, President-Elect Trump, as President and CEO of his own company, recognizes these rules. He doesn’t come to the office of the presidency completely devoid of executive experience.  In fact, he comes with much better credentials than the then-Senator Barack Obama did almost eight years ago.


We hope he will not be overawed by the office, its current occupant, and all its trappings. Nor should he be intimidated by the might of Congress, although of course, he must, by Constitutional law, recognize their separate but equal role in our way of government.  Those laws are something the current occupant flouted time and again, as we note by his numerous executive overreach orders.


President-Elect Trump needs to awed by the power of the people, not by the arrogated power of the bureaucracy that surrounds the presidency, nor by the Republican half of Congress (the Democrat half is thoroughly useless) that has unabashedly ignored the mandate of their constituency in order to appear “cooperative.”


Let not the lesser angels be your guide, President-Elect Trump. Nice is not the same as good.


Published in: on November 10, 2016 at 3:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

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