Joe Biden, Lloyd Austin, and The Corruption Scandal No One is Talking About
It’s easy to forget about now, given how things went down in the past year, but the Trump Administration was once dogged with corruption allegations long before insurrection was added to the rap sheet. Rex Tillerson used his (brief) tenure as Secretary of State to get a huge tax break, Steve Mnuchin’s Treasury was racking up a new corruption scandal seemingly every week, and Tom Price resigned as the Secretary of Health and Human Services after just 231 days after misuse of over $1 million in federal funds.
But the reason I can hyperlink to all these different instances is because it was covered extensively, as journalists everywhere sought to hold the administration’s feet to the fire over any misdeeds. That’s not a criticism; in fact, it’s what journalists should be doing with politicians. And that’s why it is so disappointing to see little to no mention of the big new corruption scandal that has struck the Biden Administration already. And no, this isn’t about the TJ Ducklo scandal, which was tragically under-reported as well.
This corruption scandal that nobody is talking about relates to recently-confirmed Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. As a former general in the US Army, Austin required special approval from Congress to even be eligible for the position. Just as they did for General James Mattis four years ago, Congress did so for Austin despite many people who opposed Mattis’ exception reversing course here. It’s a legitimate gripe to have, as the position of Secretary of Defense was designated for civilian control for a very good reason.
But perhaps equally concerning for Austin was his job prior to being nominated as the Secretary of Defense. Since April of 2016, only a few months after retiring from the Army, Austin was on the board of Raytheon Technologies, one of the top military contractors in the US. Naturally, that would create a huge conflict of interest were Austin to become the Secretary of Defense, as explained by Center for International Policy’s William Hartung:
“The potential for conflicts is huge,” Hartung said. “Raytheon is deeply involved in controversial programs from unworkable missile defense projects to nuclear weapons — the new nuclear-armed cruise missile — to precision-guided bombs that have killed untold numbers of civilians in Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen. If General Austin were to recuse himself from decisions on programs and policies involving Raytheon, he could not carry out large parts of his job as defense secretary.”
That didn’t stop Austin, though. He promised to fully divest from Raytheon “As soon as practicable but not later than 90 days after my confirmation,” and also pledged to recuse himself from any decisions involving Raytheon for a full year. After Senator Elizabeth Warren pressed him on that during his confirmation hearing, Austin agreed to extend the recusal to four years, which was apparently enough for Warren to vote to confirm him.
So it must be a complete coincidence, then, that Raytheon was just awarded a defense contract worth more than $49 million to supply F-135 engines for the US Navy on February 11, 2021, less than three weeks after Austin was sworn in as the new Secretary of Defense.
But let’s go a step further and put this into context. Just seven business days into his new role as Secretary of Defense, Austin ordered hundreds of resignations from key members of the Pentagon, many of whom were last-minute appointments by Trump. Seven more business days after this mass exodus, the Raytheon deal was decided and announced. That’s an incredibly narrow window for Austin to get somebody into the Department of Defense and carefully review all the candidates before coming to a decision for the recused Austin. It’s an even narrower window when you consider what Hartung said about the controversies surrounding Raytheon.
It seems highly unlikely that Austin could have appropriately delegated this decision-making responsibility to someone else and yielded this result, free of any interference from Austin himself, in such a short period of time. Perhaps that is exactly what happened, and Austin needs to be commended for his incredible organizational skills and ability to identify talent in others. But the odds are remarkably low.
Of course, this all amounts to not knowing anything concrete one way or the other, but it does pique suspicion. Usually this is the point where investigative journalists would do some digging and report on it or a Congressional probe into the matter would pop up, but neither of those things are happening. So it seems that, for now, a potentially glaring instance of corruption is going to be simply ignored in this new administration.
And who knows? Perhaps a Congressional investigation would yield no actual wrongdoing on Austin’s part. But the process of doing so regardless of outcome is an important one to follow in order to ensure politicians are held accountable. It was a good thing the Trump Administration was put through that process time after time. It will be a grave shame if the Biden Administration is not held to that same standard.
Categories: Joe Biden