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A Look At President Trump's Anti-Corruption Record


President Trump says concerns about corruption, not his reelection, drove him to ask Ukraine's president to investigate the Biden family. Here he is Friday on the South Lawn.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is about corruption. This is not about politics. This is about corruption. And if you look and you read our Constitution and many other things, we - I have an obligation to look at corruption. I have an actual obligation and a duty.

SHAPIRO: But many clean government advocates say the Trump administration's record on fighting corruption abroad is spotty. Since Trump's inauguration, the federal government has actually rolled back rules aimed at preventing bribery and other corrupt practices. NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe has been looking into this, and she's here in the studio.

Hi, there.


SHAPIRO: So you've talked to experts who work on fighting corruption. What do they have to say about the Trump administration's anti-corruption efforts?

RASCOE: So they point to two decisions made early on after Trump took office that they say really set the tone. The Securities and Exchange Commission had issued a rule that would've required oil and gas companies to disclose any payments they made to governments around the world. The rule was really aimed at preventing bribery, which is an issue for oil and gas companies who may be working in countries where oversight isn't that tight. But big oil companies were not a fan of this regulation, and Trump signed a law rescinding the rule. He argued that these rules were burdensome and might hurt businesses.

I spoke with Alexandra Wrage, who is president of TRACE, an anti-bribery business organization, and she said that decision was highly symbolic.

ALEXANDRA WRAGE: It's consistent with his pro-business, anti-regulation position, but it is incredibly unfortunate because the U.S. had been perceived as a leader in this field. And now when I travel, people comment on how quickly we've ceded that leadership role.

RASCOE: After that rule was rescinded, the Trump administration followed that up by pulling the U.S. out of this international effort to set a global standard for transparency in oil and gas resource management. This is known as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. But somewhat ironically, Ukraine is actually still a part of this initiative, even though the U.S. is not.

SHAPIRO: So in both of those instances, the Trump administration countered efforts to boost transparency. And presumably, transparency helps eliminate corruption. So has the administration taken any proactive steps to fight international corruption?

RASCOE: So one of the ways they have is that the administration can address corruption through this law called the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and this law prohibits companies from bribing foreign governments. One expert I talked to, Andy Spalding, who is a professor at the University of Richmond - and he specializes in anti-corruption law - he said that as far as he can tell, enforcement of this law hasn't been curtailed and that there are some - still some big enforcement cases coming down the pike.

So the counterpoint to that, though, is that according to Wrage, these cases take a very long time to pull together, and some of these investigations started under the Obama administration. So she says there's real concern that the Trump administration may not be initiating as many investigations, which means eventually, there'll be less enforcement.

SHAPIRO: OK. Well, there's policy, which you've been describing, but then there's also rhetoric. So has President Trump been consistent in the way that he's called out corruption?

RASCOE: This is really the place where there has been a lot of criticism for Trump from these advocates. They argue that Trump's decision to not divest from his own businesses and put them in a blind trust has sent a message to countries that they don't have to worry about these corruption issues or these conflicts. They also say that Trump has mostly spoken out against corruption when it comes to adversaries like Venezuela or political adversaries and not with countries that have serious corruption issues, like Russia or Saudi Arabia. And they argue that this very act of singling out a political opponent for corruption is concerning because that's more of an action that they expect from strongmen and not from the leader of democracy.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe.

Thanks a lot.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
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