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Corruption Is the Basic Fact of the Trump GOP

Every first Friday at 8:30 a.m. eastern time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics issues an employment report filled with details on the state of the labor market, and topped with politically sensitive measures like the latest unemployment rate and the net number of jobs the economy added over the course of the month.

Because the data moves markets, the report is produced and distributed before public release with the utmost secrecy. Journalists who cover the Labor Department are given a 30 minute advanced look in a secure room where electronic equipment is not allowed. When unusual markets moves can plausibly be traced back to individuals with internal access to the report, the government can investigate it, and has in the past.

In the normal course of things, the president and a handful of key advisers can see or be briefed on the jobs report in advance, but in the normal course of things, the president and his key advisers are committed to secrecy, beholden to ethics rules, at arms length from their investment portfolios, and generally non-criminal.

Today, President Trump tweeted a teaser for the world to see, about an hour before the official release.

The tweet was a transparent signal that the jobs report was filled with good news—and it was. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed as much by acknowledging Trump was briefed on the numbers in advance.

Many observers were understandably alarmed to see the president manipulate markets, but most commentary surrounded the implications of the tweet itself. Is it a breadcrumb on a trail leading to serious corruption? Or merely a concerning, but ultimately small breach of norms—an impulsive mistake that may have warped markets, but on a neutral basis, without favoring anyone in particular.

In reality the focus on the tweet itself is somewhat misplaced, and understates the seriousness of the breach, which is constant and ongoing. Really, this is a story about Trump’s routine corruption, transparent appetite for self-enrichment, and about how the Republican Congress’ complete indifference to it all but guarantees that suspicions about the Trump administration’s corruption become self-fulfilling.

In a weird way, the fact that Trump tweeted about this particular jobs report—the he chose to draw attention to himself—is an indication he may not have done anything corrupt with the information. (Though, of course, Trump has frequently tweeted things that indicate consciousness of guilt.)

The bigger problem is all the other jobs reports Trump has been briefed upon in advance and said nothing about. Unlike all other modern presidents, Trump refused to divest his holdings and place his savings in a blind trust. He controls a vast and opaque web of LLCs and discloses next to nothing about their activities. He has never released his tax returns and has no intention of doing so. If he wanted to cash in on the secret jobs report information, he probably could. If he wanted to tip off his daughter Ivanka and her husband, both White House advisers, he certainly could. If he wanted to call up corrupt cronies on his unsecured iPhone and let them know how to trade on it, he could. If any foreign governments listening in on those calls wanted to profit from this intelligence, or divulge it to connected oligarchs, nothing would stop them. Trump himself is all too happy to share sensitive information with foreign intelligence services when he’s feeling boastful or in hock to them.

And the losers would be the rest of us.

Maybe none of this has ever happened. Or maybe there’s a vast insider-trading scandal waiting to be uncovered. We don’t know, and we can’t as long as Republicans in Congress are in power and committed to helping Trump get away with crimes and corruption. That indifference has a potentially feeding effect on the administration’s corruption, because it signals to lower-level officials that any misconduct Trump might be guilty of won’t be investigated thoroughly.

Trump’s jobs report tweet isn’t necessarily evidence of specific acts of corruption, but a reminder that in his administration, corruption is elemental.