By Gareth Vaughan
When he was running for President, Donald Trump pledged to "drain the swamp" in Washington DC and make the United States Government honest again.
And in his inaugural address on January 20 last year, Trump said the day would be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of the US again.
"The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer," Trump said.
However a staunch Trump critic says what the Trump Administration is actually doing bears a stark contrast to what he promised.
David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist and editor of DCReport.org who has probed and written about Trump and his businesses since the late 1980s, says Trump forgot about the forgotten man the day after he took office. And instead of draining the swamp, Trump has turned it into "a federally protected paradise for predators on Wall Street."
Johnston spoke to interest.co.nz in a Double Shot interview via Skype. This follows the release of his new book; It's Even Worse Than You Think - What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.
"What my book does is examine what Trump is doing to the Government as opposed to his tweets and remarks. And journalists generally don't cover government... And I show from the Government's own records and documents that he is acting directly contrary to what he called the forgotten man. The day after he took office he forgot the forgotten man," Johnston says.
"I document in my book that Donald has taken numerous actions that are contrary to the interests of American workers. For example, in America there are about 4800 workers a year killed on the job. The Trump Administration has stopped putting up the data [online] on these deaths. Each individual death hasn't been reported since last August. They have reduced the number of job safety inspectors and the number of wage and hour inspectors."
'Trump without doubt profiting from spending at his properties by foreign governments'
Johnston writes about Trump businesses benefiting from him being President, and raises issues about emoluments clauses - anticorruption - measures in the US Constitution. There are both foreign and domestic emoluments clauses. The domestic clause applies only to the President. The foreign clause was designed to prevent corrupting payments from foreign interests.
Trump has "without doubt" been profiting from spending at his properties by foreign governments, Johnston says.
"On his way from taking the oath of office to the White House Trump had his motorcade stop. And where did it stop? In front of the new Trump Hotel in Washington DC. A hotel that under his contract says no government employee may be involved in that hotel, and of course he's an employee of the American people," says Johnston.
"That sent a clear signal; 'You want favours from the Trump Administration? You rent rooms from us.' They're sky high prices. 'You buy our $60 and up steaks, you buy our $36 and up cocktails.' That hotel which Trump himself had projected to lose money in the first year, is making gangbuster profits. The government of Kuwait in its annual celebration of its national day, which includes thanking America for liberating it, moved its party last year and this year to the Trump Hotel."
"Everybody got the message; You want something from the Trump Administration, you gotta pay a bribe," Johnston says.
In his book Johnston writes about Washington DC's Cork Wine Bar, whose owners are suing Trump because diplomats, lobbyists and officials - including many foreign nationals - who used to frequent their bar, now go to Trump Hotel. The perception of many of these customers, the owners say, is that it would be to their advantage in dealing with Trump and the Government to patronize his hotel.
"Taken together Trump's lawyers crafted a legal argument for eating your cake and having it too," Johnston writes. "They were saying Trump's office made him immune, but he had no advantage compared to any other citizen."
The case was pending as Johnston's book went to press.
Johnston also writes that "the Trump presidency is about Trump. Period. Full stop."
"Every previous American president, and we've had good ones, bad ones, competent ones, corrupt ones, we've had a racist murderer Andrew Jackson whose painting Trump had hung in the Oval Office, all of them tried to do what they believed would make for a better America in the future," Johnston says in the Skype interview. "Donald Trump's presidency is about the glorification of the genetically superior, smartest person in the world, who has the greatest memory in the world, Donald Trump."
In the book Johnston writes of the Trump Administration "depositing political termites throughout the structure of our government." He says many people appointed on a temporary basis are still there into "year two of Trump the White House reality show," illegally.
"And who are these people? In the area of student loans, which is a major scandal in America, they brought in executives from the companies that were profiting off students. In the environment they brought in people from the fossil fuel industries as part of the Trump promise that they were going to destroy the Environmental Protection Agency, which means more people will get asthma, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, but that will take years for us to see the results of that."
"And through one agency after another they have put in people whose names have never been in the news, who in some cases the Government refuses to identify as temporary employees unless you file a Freedom of Information Act and fight for it. These folks are systematically weakening the ability of the United States Government to enforce the law to protect consumers, workers, investors and veterans," Johnston says.
'Donald doesn't know anything'
He also writes of Trump's attitude towards, and ignorance of, science and technology raising concerns about how the Trump Administration's attitude in these areas will damage America's competitiveness against other countries. There's an anecdote about Trump wanting the new US aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R Ford, to use a steam rather than a digital powered catapult to fling planes because "digital's too complicated. You have to be an Einstein to understand digital."
"Anybody who has ridden on a modern roller-coaster, which uses electromagnets to propel you forward, should understand that's a much better technology. Trump doesn't know any of this. He doesn't read, he didn't study in school, he claims to be super smart, and yet he speaks in word salad and adjectives," Johnston says.
"I show in the book all sorts of examples that make it quite clear, and I mean this quite seriously, Donald doesn't know anything."
"Donald is a master of rhetoric. He's a con artist and a grifter. And just as he swindled investors and cheated workers out of their pay and refused to pay small businessmen who supplied him with goods and services... what he promised the American people has nothing to do with what he's doing. He's forgotten that forgotten man," says Johnston.
"He ran [for President] against Goldman Sachs, but he put six Goldman Sachs managing directors and its former president in his cabinet [and other senior positions]. In the case of the swamp in Washington DC, rather than drain the swamp, he has turned it into a federally protected paradise for predators on Wall Street."
(Here's an article by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone, who in 2010 described investment bank Goldman Sachs as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money," on members of Trump's team with Goldman Sachs backgrounds).
Tax reform 'not at all what he promised'
Even the tax reform that Trump and fellow Republicans managed to pass doesn't impress Johnston, himself a registered Republican.
"He got the Tax Bill past but it was not at all what he promised. He said married couples wouldn't pay any tax on their first $50,000 of income. Well, he made it $24,000, the law had been just under $21,000. And he took away a bunch of benefits. Police and fire fighters, for example, can no longer deduct the cost of their uniforms, guns and bullets and the cost of cleaning their uniforms because of Trump," says Johnston.
Closely following the passing of the Tax Bill, Apple announced it plans to repatriate profits to the US that will see it pay tax of US$38 billion and contribute US$350 billion to the US economy over five years. This money, Johnston points out, is profit earned in the US and "syphoned out" of the country in tax deductible expenses.
"A lot of the money that should have been taxed at 35% will now be taxed at about 8%."
Johnston predicts a lot of the money repatriated will go to Apple shareholders via share buybacks.
Trump has talked a lot about regulation and Johnston says regulation is an area where the US could benefit from reform.
"Problem is he [Trump] isn't reforming rules. He's basically just said to polluters 'go ahead and pollute, to companies that don't follow good safety practices, 'go ahead and operate unsafely.' These [Trump Administration actions] have not been rules that will strengthen the economy and improve the lives of ordinary Americans."
'There is no good ending to this story'
Johnston says we should be under no illusions, describing Trump as "appallingly ignorant about everything," and as "a clear and present danger to the safety of the whole world."
In the Skype interview I ask Johnston about how he sees the Trump presidency playing out, what the end game will be. He gives a detailed answer which in a nutshell comes down to this; "There is no good ending to this story."
*I also spoke to Johnston in November 2016. The video and story from that interview is here.
*This article was first published in our email for paying subscribers early on Tuesday morning. See here for more details and how to subscribe.