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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

From Interior to HUD to CDC, ethics problems emerge

HUD Secretary Ben Carson, center, at the White

HUD Secretary Ben Carson, center, at the White House on Jan. 12, 2018, with Vice President Mike Pence, left, and President Donald Trump. Photo Credit: EPA-EFE / REX / Shutterstock / Jim Lo Scalzo

Donald Trump’s presidency has continued to raise unprecedented questions about potential high-level conflicts — from the day-to-day role of family members to the use of his hotels.

But conduct by his appointees has raised questions farther down the ranks of the administration.

As revealed last week, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson had his son, businessman Ben Carson Jr., help organize an agency event in Baltimore after department lawyers warned of the appearance of a conflict.

“I expressed my concern that this gave the appearance that the Secretary may be using his position for his son’s private gain,” Linda M. Cruciani, the department’s deputy general counsel for operations, wrote in a July 6 memo cited by The Washington Post.

Also last week the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quit after reports that she traded in tobacco stocks while a top public-health official that leads anti-smoking efforts.

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, appointed last summer, bought shares in Japan Tobacco International and also stocks in health care companies after taking office, Politico reported.

Last September Tom Price, the health and human services secretary, quit after piling up at least $400,000 in travel bills for chartered flights.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has faced questions of propriety. As a nominee, Zinke was required to disclose assets worth more than $1,000, but failed to do so in the case of a weapons company from his hometown of Whitefish, Montana, the Huffington Post reported.

Heather Swift, his spokeswoman, said the stock Zinke purchased in PROOF Research is worth less than $500. Larry Murphy, chief executive of the company, confirmed that Zinke still owns stock, published reports said.

Another of Zinke’s hometown companies, Whitefish Energy, was issued a no-bid contract for power restoration in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. That deal was later canceled. Zinke is a personal acquaintance of the firm’s owner.

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn departed as a special adviser to Trump in August. He has since been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors regarding a biofuels program amid criticism that he may have stood to benefit from a change of regulations he advised.

Icahn holds an 82 percent stake in CVR Energy, one of the companies that would have gotten relief if the Renewable Fuel Standard were changed, according to CNBC.

But for all these unrelated issues, it is the first family that naturally attracts the highest-profile controversies.

The nonprofit Sunlight Foundation cites more than 40 examples of special interest groups holding events at Trump properties since his inauguration more than a year ago.

He and staff have been mentioning his properties in a promotional way. Eleven cases have surfaced of foreign governments paying Trump-owned entities during the president’s first year in office, with a half-dozen foreign officials appearing at Trump Organization properties, the foundation said, adding:

“Political groups spent more than $1.2 million at Trump properties during the president’s first year in office. Before Trump’s 2016 campaign, annual spending by political committees at Trump properties had never exceeded $100,000 in any given year going back to at least 2002.”

Only one-quarter of the way into Trump’s elected term, such debates are still brewing at different levels of the administration.

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