One last chance to repay the swamp.
Donald Trump will leave office in 15 days, and before he does, he appears determined to give his friends and backers as many rewards as possible.
While most of his focus since his defeat by Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election in November has been on spreading false conspiracy theories and denying that he lost — with some golf games and "many calls" and "many meetings" mixed in — he has also found time to pay back his closest friends and allies in myriad ways.
He pardoned his former campaign chair, Paul Manafort; his former adviser Roger Stone; his son-in-law's father, Charles Kushner; his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn; his former campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos; and two prominent early 2016 endorsers of his campaign, former U.S. Reps. Chris Collins (R-NY) and Duncan Hunter (R-CA).
He also pardoned four defense contractors convicted of massacring Iraqi civilians while working for Blackwater Worldwide, a private security company founded by Erik Prince. Prince, a prominent Trump backer, is the brother of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Medals of Freedom
The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, is supposed to go to "individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the security or national interests of America, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
"Congressman Nunes pursued the Russia Hoax at great personal risk and never stopped standing up for the truth," the White House press release on the event reads. "He had the fortitude to take on the media, the FBI, the Intelligence Community, the Democrat Party, foreign spies, and the full power of the Deep State."
Trump had earlier awarded the medal to Lou Holtz, a former college football coach who delivered a pro-Trump address at the 2020 Republican National Convention. In his speech, Holtz questioned Joe Biden's Catholic religious beliefs.
Miracle COVID-19 'cure'
After Donald Trump was hospitalized with COVID-19 in October, he raved about the experimental antibody treatment he received, calling it a "cure." He told supporters at a rally that month that he would ensure the whole nation got the same treatment, at no charge. "I took something, Regeneron, which we're making available to everybody free," he lied.
While few people have actually received the treatment since that promise, Trump's personal attorney did. Last month, Rudy Giuliani said that after contracting the coronavirus, he got "exactly the same" therapeutic cocktail that Trump had, thanks to an intervention from Trump's personal physician.
"His doctor sent me here, talked me into it. I didn't really want to go to the hospital and he said 'Don't be stupid, we can get it over in three days if we send you to the hospital,'" Giuliani recounted in a phone call to his daily radio show. "The minute I took the cocktail, I felt 100% better."
After leaving many appointed executive branch positions vacant for the past four years, the lame-duck Trump has in recent weeks moved to fill many of them with his political allies, often nominating them for positions with long tenures that will extend into or even past Biden's four-year term in office.
He has appointed Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to the board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; former White House counselor and 2016 Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway to the U.S. Air Force Academy Board of Visitors; and 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and deputy campaign manager David Bossie to the Defense Business Board.
Contracts and deregulation
Perhaps the biggest gift the Trump administration has given in his final days has been to the the fossil fuel industry and other big polluters.
In November, the administration rushed to auction off oil and gas drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska before Biden takes office. Biden has strongly opposed the environmentally damaging project, warning it would be a "big disaster," but the outgoing administration reportedly hopes to lock in the leases before the incoming president can stop them.
This week, Trump's Environmental Protection Agency administrator is expected to announce that the agency has finalized a regulation change that will, in the words of an Environmental Defense Fund attorney, "permanently let major polluters trample on public health."
Trump's friends in the fossil fuel sector contributed millions to his unsuccessful reelection effort.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.