October 17, 2017

Jared-Ivanka “Ethics” Lawyer Helped Pharma Weaken Opioid Enforcement

Jared-Ivanka "Ethics" Lawyer Helped Pharma Weaken Opioid Enforcement

A blockbuster Washington Post / 60 Minutes report Sunday detailed how the pharmaceutical lobby managed to strip the Drug Enforcement Administration of its best tool against drug companies that fuel the deadly opioid crisis by supplying prescription narcotics to crooked doctors and pharmacists. A 2016 law, pushed by revolving door Washington lobbyists and industry-friendly members of Congress, undercuts the ability of the DEA to block suspicious drug transfers.

The piece is receiving particular attention because the law’s key sponsor was Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), who became President Trump’s nominee to head the White House drug control office. Marino withdrew his candidacy this morning, after Trump, questioned by reporters Monday, said that if Marino’s record proved troubling “I will make a change.”

But there’s another disturbing Trump connection: one of the lawyers hired by the pharmaceutical industry to influence the Obama Justice Department on the issue was Jamie Gorelick, who was Deputy Attorney General, the Department’s number two official, in the Clinton Administration.

Gorelick has served, since January, as the main ethics lawyer for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

According to the Post story, Gorelick represented Florida-based Cardinal Health, one of the country’s big three prescription drug distributors, which in 2011 was under investigation by the DEA for suspicious opioid sales. Gorelick acknowledged to the Post that she wrote to Obama’s Deputy Attorney General James Cole on behalf of Cardinal — “to ask that my client be afforded due process.” Meanwhile, Craig Morford, who was acting Deputy Attorney General under George W. Bush, had become Cardinal’s chief in-house lawyer, and he, too, was pressuring the Obama administration, going over the head of DEA investigators and writing to then-DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart. After those contacts, the top DEA investigator on the case was summoned to Justice to brief Cole on the case; according to the investigator, Joseph Rannazzisi, the meeting was “adversarial to say the least” and he felt he was being told to back off. (Cole denied trying to pressure Rannazzisi.)

In December 2016 Cardinal agreed to pay a $34 million fine to settle the DEA investigation. By then, Congress had passed the law weakening DEA’s ability to pursue investigations like the one against Cardinal.

While the efforts of Gorelick and her allies managed to weaken accountability for opioid abuses, her work for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump has helped set a new low for ethics compliance — disgraceful even by the dismal standards of the Trump administration.

The director of the National Background Investigations Bureau testified last week at a congressional hearing about Kushner’s disclosure documents and said he has never seen so many errors on a security clearance form. The apparent errors were far from benign. Beyond the repeated failures to report contacts with Russians, it emerged last week that Kushner failed to disclose his ownership interest in Cadre, a real estate tech business that raised millions from investors after Jared joined the Trump White House. As Newsweek concluded, “The timeline suggests more than just an inadvertent oversight, but an effort by Kushner to hold onto Cadre rather than be forced to divest his interests in the emerging company, according to ethics experts.” Material omissions on security clearance forms are crimes if made knowingly.

McClatchy reported in July that special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional investigators “are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation – overseen by Jared Kushner – helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016.”

Jared and Ivanka also secretly established their own private email domain after the election, and then used it to conduct some Trump Administration business — a brazen abuse given the Trump campaign’s endless assault on Hillary Clinton’s similar practice. Gorelick might have been familiar with that controversy, given that she was a long-time Hillary supporter and a lawyer for the Clinton Foundation.

In order to get Jared and Ivanka into their White House jobs in the first place, Gorelick had to push the legal envelope hard, insisting that the federal anti-nepotism law did not apply to White House staff, a position with which many experts on legal ethics and Democrats in Congress disagreed. Even some who felt the legal issue was debatable worried that nevertheless the policy and ethical concerns underlying the nepotism statute were highly relevant. The president might place a relative into a sensitive position despite a lack of qualifications or judgment, putting national security at risk. A president might rely too heavily on a close relative, even if that family member failed to provide the kind of unvarnished advice needed to promote sound decisions. And such nepotism can weaken the credibility of, and public confidence in, our government.

Gorelick helped to structure Jared’s financial arrangements, which, like his-father-in-law, involved withdrawing from management of his real estate business but not from all his investments in them; according to Gorelick, Kushner would “divest a substantial number of his assets, and for any of those that remain he will abide by all the appropriate recusal requirements of the ethical guidelines.”

Gorelick’s assurance that there were no conflicts of interest concerns have been undermined by, among other things, Jared’s sister’s blatant sales pitch in China, telling investors that a New Jersey housing project “means a lot to me and my entire family” and reminding them that Kushner now works in the White House.

As for Ivanka, the Washington Post published an extensive report that concluded that her apparel business “relies exclusively on foreign factories in countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia and China, where low-wage laborers have limited ability to advocate for themselves…. The Post found that her company lags behind many in the apparel industry when it comes to monitoring the treatment of the largely female workforce employed in factories around the world.” The designated person paid to defend this record? “Her attorney Jamie Gorelick told The Post in a statement that Trump is ‘concerned’ about recent reports regarding the treatment of factory workers and ‘expects that the company will respond appropriately.’”

And this week the New Yorker reported that last November 11, Ivanka hijacked a Chris Christie-chaired Trump transition meeting by inviting in retired General Michael Flynn, reportedly gushing over Flynn’s “amazing loyalty to my father,” and asking him, “General, what job do you want?” Christie was promptly fired as head of the transition, and the reckless, bigoted Flynn was named national security advisor.  Flynn served less than a month in the job before resigning in disgrace amid mounting criminal investigations over his undisclosed representations of foreign entities and secret discussions with Russian officials.

Gorelick rationalized her decision to represent the Kushner-Trumps in March by explaining to Politico that a former Clinton administration colleague, Joel Klein, told her “that Jared was a good person, and that he thought he would be a good influence on the administration.”

Gorelick’s representations of a troubled pharma giant and of the ethically-challenged Trump family are not surprising. She has long embodied revolving door Washington, where well-educated, highly-capable people trade on government experience and connections to help special interests get their way over everyone else.

After serving as general counsel at the Pentagon and the Deputy Attorney General in Bill Clinton’s administration, Gorelick cashed in, serving as vice chair of Fannie Mae, the giant mortgage lender, from 1998 to 2003, and getting some  $25.6 million in compensation, including bonuses. In 2006, DC-based  Fannie Mae was fined $400 million for accounting manipulation tied to executives’ bonuses that occurred from 1998 to 2004;  Gorelick was not charged with any wrongdoing. Fannie Mae’s increasingly risky business strategy in the 2000s eventually required a huge taxpayer bailout.

Since then, as a partner with the giant WilmerHale firm, Gorelick has lobbied for GoogleJPMorgan ChaseLazard Freres and others. She represented BPpressing to limit government efforts to hold the energy giant responsible for the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill. She lobbied on behalf of student loan giant Sallie Mae as part of an intense, but ultimately unsuccessful, effort by that company and big banks to block the Obama administration’s effort to reform the student loan system by eliminating nonsensical, wasteful loan subsidies to private lenders. She also represented the predatory for-profit University of Phoenix, when that company was caught engaging in recruiting abuses against U.S. troops.

This article also appears on HuffPost.