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Carl Leubsdorf

In the Teapot Dome scandal during Warren Harding's presidency, Interior Secretary Albert Fall became the first Cabinet member ever convicted and jailed. During Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal, three Cabinet members, five top White House aides and the vice president were convicted of various crimes -- and the president forced to resign.

But the Trump administration threatens to beat all prior records for misdeeds by Cabinet members. Besides the recurring issues surrounding the president and the charges against top campaign officials and advisers, four Cabinet members have been forced to resign so far due to ethical questions, and another three are under investigation.

Rather than clearing the swamp, the Trump team seems to have fallen into it.

The public focus on the president, his campaign and his private finances -- epitomized by this week's congressional hearings featuring former Trump attorney Michael Cohen -- has obscured the extent of ethical questions involving so many top appointees. And this does not include legal challenges to many controversial policy decisions.

Other reasons include the lack of congressional oversight during two years of Republican control, something that is changing now that the Democrats control the House, and the administration's own willingness to abide ethically questionable officials, some picked after insufficient vetting.

The biggest difference between the Trump scandals and those of past administrations is that they don't stem from a single, related series of misdeeds, like Teapot Dome (the secret leasing of government oil reserves) or Watergate (the break-in of Democratic Party headquarters and Nixon's role in covering it up). These cases are essentially separate, though a number involve similar issues, like misusing government funds or breaking conflict-of-interest rules.

The past week has seen significant developments in two current probes. According to The Washington Post, prosecutors are presenting evidence to a grand jury investigating if former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lied to federal investigators.

The case stems from a probe into his rejection of a petition by two Indian tribes to operate a commercial casino in Connecticut. Zinke resigned in December amid multiple ethics probes stemming from real estate dealings in Montana and environmental decisions benefiting commercial developers.

Also last week, a federal judge ruled that prosecutors including Alexander Acosta, now the labor secretary, violated the law in a 2008 plea bargain involving a billionaire accused of molesting young girls. The Justice Department is investigating the case at the request of Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

Earlier this month, the independent Office of Government Ethics refused to certify Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross's annual financial disclosure report because he hadn't sold bank stock he contended he had. Ross, one of the Cabinet's wealthiest members, said he mistakenly thought the stock had been sold.

Ross's slowness in divesting personal holdings, including one that netted him a large financial gain, has raised repeated ethical questions. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, asked the Justice Department to review his disclosures for "potential criminal violations."

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson and Secretary of Education Betsy Devos also face ethical questions.

HUD's inspector general said it was investigating the role of Carson's family members in the agency's activities after The Washington Post reported the secretary allowed his son, Ben Carson Jr., to help organize an official listening tour to which potential clients of his employment managing and consulting business were invited.

Earlier, Carson abandoned a plan to buy a $31,000 dining set for his office with public funds after it became public.

The OGE delayed certifying Devos' annual disclosure report for six months after questions arose about her promised disposition of assets. Critics have questioned departmental decisions benefiting groups with which she had connections including selecting a former investment to help collect overdue student loans, a deal potentially worth millions of dollars.

Besides Zinke, ethical questions precipitated the departure of three other Cabinet members. Former Georgia Rep. Tom Price resigned as secretary of health and human services amid multiple inquiries over his spending more than $1 million on travel combining official business with leisure.

Scott Pruitt resigned as head of the Environmental Protection Administration facing probes on issues ranging from renting a room in a townhouse owned by an energy lobbyist's wife to numerous government-financed trips to his home state of Oklahoma.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin resigned -- or was fired -- after an inspector general's report accused him of "serious derelictions" on a 10-day trip to Europe with his wife combining official business and leisure events. A dispute over privatizing some VA activities was also involved.

His designated successor, former White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson, withdrew after allegations he drank on the job and dispensed large amounts of prescription drugs, issues that remain under investigation by the Pentagon's inspector general.

However, the Treasury Department's inspector general ruled Secretary Steven Mnuchin did not violate any laws in taking seven flights costing more than $800,000 on government-funded planes but said he should provide more detail for future requests.

It looks like that swamp still needs to be cleared.

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Carl P. Leubsdorf writes for the Dallas Morning News.

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