Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series based on a WND interview with investigative reporter Peter Schweizer about his new book “Secret Empires: How Our Politicians Hide Corruption and Enrich Their Families and Friends,” which shows how lawmakers, on a massive scale, are avoiding scrutiny through “corruption by proxy,” using family and friends as “middlemen.” In part two, he explains how the corruption of American politicians has helped prop up North Korea’s rogue regime. In part three, he talks about President Obama’s astonishing “smash and grab” scheme and warns of pitfalls President Trump faces through his family members in the White House and through his global real estate empire, which now is managed by his sons.
Over a decade of uncovering corruption in Washington – including politicians’ insider trading and their use of Mafia-like tactics to enrich themselves – Peter Schweizer’s investigative reporting has prompted reforms on Capitol Hill.
But after exposing a new form of corruption in which lawmakers have figured out how to squirm between legal lines, he’s now favoring a simple solution.
“I used to not like term limits, but I’ve come around to it, precisely because of the corruption component,” Schweizer told WND in an interview.
He thinks three terms and the House and two in the Senate would be just right.
Schweizer’s new book, “Secret Empires: How Our Politicians Hide Corruption and Enrich Their Families and Friends,” centers on what he calls “corruption by proxy,” in which family and friends of powerful political figures position themselves as middlemen, creating “previously unimaginable pathways to wealth.”
His bipartisan probe details, as examples, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s and his wife Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao’s close relationship with China, which, as WND reported, has coincided with a doubling of their net worth. Among many others, he spotlights the secretive multi-billion-dollar deals with state-connected Chinese firms that “American princelings” – the son of Vice President Joe Biden and stepson of Secretary of State John Kerry – were making while the Obama administration was negotiating sensitive issues with the Chinese government.
Schweizer recalled to WND a Washington figure once told him that when people first come to the nation’s capital, they see it as a “cesspool.” But after a couple of years, it begins “to resemble a hot tub.”
“I think the longer you are in Washington, it’s very hard to resist these temptations,” he said. “There are some that do, but I think the longer you are there, the odds increase pretty dramatically that you will succumb to some sort of ethical temptation, because that’s the nature of power.
“And there’s a lot of power in Washington, D.C.”
Schweizer, whose previous books include “Clinton Cash,” “Extortion,” “Throw Them All Out” and “Architects of Ruin,” said the ultimate solution is to limit the size and scope of government, “because the more that government can do something for you and to you, the more money it’s going to attract.”
“Throw Them All Out,” exposing insider trading, resulted in passage in 2012 of the STOCK Act, or Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge. “Clinton Cash” brought scrutiny on the Clinton Foundation and a “pay to play” scheme that is now the subject of an FBI investigation.
Asked if there were any surprises as he launched into the research for his new book, he said the extent of the direct ties that some of the nation’s political leaders have had with foreign governments was the biggest surprise.
“Not just simply foreign companies or foreign oligarchs, which you, unfortunately, would expect, the actual governmental links,” he said.
In the cases of McConnell and the sons of Kerry and Biden, “there wasn’t even really an attempt to mask the fact that it was a foreign government that was funneling business.”
‘Inconsistency in their vigilance’
Schweizer has called for greater transparency and monitoring of major financial transactions of the family and friends of politicians.
The media has a major responsibility in that regard, he said, but has fallen woefully short.
He noted cutbacks have hampered in-depth, investigative reporting.
“I have friends in investigative units at major newspapers, at ’60 Minutes’ or at ’20/20′ on ABC News, and they will all say that compared to 20 or 30 years ago, they have far fewer resources, less personnel.”
But moreover, he said, there is a noticeable “inconsistency in their vigilance.”
He said it’s legitimate to be focused on Trump’s financial empire “in a laser-like way,” but “the problem is they don’t do that to anybody else.”
“It shows they have the capacity to do it, it’s just they weren’t motivated to do it during the Obama administration, and they’re apparently not motivated to do it when it comes to congressional leaders,” Schweizer said.
“So, it’s a function of cutbacks, but also they are not making this kind of reporting a priority.”
Schweizer said that “rather than having so many reporters chasing tweets or chasing porn stars from 10 or 12 years ago, what people are more concerned about are precisely these types of financial conflicts that definitely influence the decisions that our leaders are making.”
Legislation to police the legislators?
He has recommended legislation that would incorporate effective elements of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, dubbing it the Washington Corrupt Practices Act.
But Schweizer points out that if J.P Morgan had done it in Washington, D.C., instead of in China, it would have been completely legal.
Hence, the need for a Washington Corrupt Practices Act.
He acknowledged, however, the problem of getting the very people “who are trying to avoid scrutiny on these issues” to pass ethics reform.
Historically, nevertheless, he pointed out, ethics reforms have been passed when politicians believe that without supporting the legislation, it will cost them their jobs.
Schweizer said he hasn’t had any reaction yet on Capitol Hill to his Washington Corrupt Practices Act proposal.
However, has had conversations with senators about expanding financial disclosure rules.
“I think disclosure is a 95-5 issue,” he said, in terms of its support in the Senate. “There’s very little opposition to disclosure.”
Calling out your own side
Voters need to make it a priority to elect people of character, he said, “reminding ourselves that nobody is irreplaceable.”
“Joe Biden, Mitch McConnell, all the people profiled in the book, nobody is irreplaceable,” said Schweizer. “There are qualified, competent leaders who can fill those slots. We don’t have to put up with this kind of behavior because there’s no one else.”
The “hyper-partisan nature” of politics today, in part, he said, allows politicians greater latitude to engage in unethical behavior.
He said citizens must stop viewing politics as a “zero-sum game” in which they reason, “My guy might be corrupt, but if we take him out he might be replaced with someone from the other team, and then we’re in trouble.”
The key, he said, is “people have to be prepared to call out their own side.”
“If you’re a staunch Democrat, you have to be prepared to call out elected Democrats who are engaged in this kind of behavior,” said Schweizer. “And if you’re a staunch Republican, you have to be prepared to call out Republican elected officials and say that there’s a zero-tolerance policy for these issues.”
He argues that there are very few seats in Congress that are truly competitive.
“I think we are better off electing, whether you’re a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican, a highly ethical person,” Schweizer insisted.
“At the end of the day, corruption is upstream from policy. You’re going to get bad policy,” he argued.
“It’s not that a guy is going to make money on the side and getting wealthy and it won’t affect the policy. It’s all interconnected. We’re fooling ourselves if we think otherwise.”