Top Democratic operatives and open-government activists are launching a new group designed to make life miserable for Trump Cabinet officials.
The group, Restore Public Trust, is formally a nonpartisan public-interest group with designs on promoting accountability and transparency in government. But its immediate purpose is to unearth and publicize instances of corruption—or ethically dubious behavior—by members of the president’s team who have largely avoided public scrutiny. Chief on the list, according to Restore Public Trust Executive Director Caroline Ciccone, is Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue right out of the gate.
“Corruption has infected the Trump administration,” Ciccone said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “And there are a lot of folks, high-level government officials and appointees, who have the benefit of not being in the spotlight. We will be making sure that if there is a there-there, it is exposed.”
In announcing its formation, Restore Public Trust joins a constellation of progressive-oriented accountability groups that have launched in response to Donald Trump’s presidency. Among the list are American Oversight, Protect Democracy, and The Moscow Project. But whereas those other organizations either have a specific topical focus or are geared toward litigation, Restore Public Trust is designed primarily as a communications arm.
Ciccone said her group, which will operate as a nonpartisan 501c3, would provide “complementary strategies” to the others, coordinate with relevant stakeholders, and conduct its own research. There would be no “in-house legal capacity.” Instead, it would try to leverage media coverage and Hill connections, with an assist from its advisory board, which includes long-serving Democratic operatives and good-government officials like Shripal Shah, Melanie Sloan, Melissa Bonine, Brad Woodhouse, and Kyle Herrig.
Already, officials at Restore Public Trust have had conversations with congressional aides and lawmakers. And it’s commissioned polling that effectively underscores the reason for its existence. According to a survey released by the organization, 65 percent of respondents said they believe the Trump administration “has a serious corruption problem;” 82 percent said Congress should be responsible for oversight; but 57 percent believe that lawmakers are failing in that role.
“I think success is exposing new information that we didn’t know before,” said Ciccone. “We know this is an important issue to the American people and, up until this point, Congress has abdicated their responsibility on oversight.”