Just as Republican presidential candidates sprint full speed away from Donald Trump, GOP lawmakers would be wise to put distance between themselves and the Export-Import Bank, which President Obama and K Street are trying to pull out of liquidation this month.
Ex-Im is a federal agency that used to subsidize U.S. exports by giving taxpayer-backed financing to the foreign companies and governments buying them. The agency's authorization expired June 30, despite White House backing, near unanimous support from congressional Democrats, and a fierce lobbying campaign from K Street.
Obama White House officials met this week with friendly Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey Graham to plot a strategy for resurrecting the agency. But new issues, ranging from the political and ethical to the legal, keep flaring up at Ex-Im, making it tough for self-respecting Republicans to justify resurrecting the subsidy agency.
Ex-Im may currently be breaking the very law that authorized its existence. Ex-Im was reauthorized last year for 9 months. That law said that the agency wouldn't cease existing on July 1, but could hang around in order to "exercise[e] any of its functions subsequent to such date for purposes of orderly liquidation...."
But that's not how Ex-Im officials are behaving.
Ex-Im's home page refers to a "a lapse in EXIM Bank's authority." In common usage, a "lapse" usually refers to an accidental or temporary expiration of something.
This isn't that. There's no pending vote on Ex-Im. It's not like a government shutdown, where both sides agree they want to pass something to end the "lapse" but simply can't agree on the details. There's one side that wants Ex-Im to wind down, and there's another side that wants to bring it back from the grave.
Ex-Im officials like Hochberg are speaking as if their authority to lend taxpayer money to, say, the Chinese government is just on hiatus. And conservative lawmakers are worried the agency might not be following the law by liquidating.
Senator Marco Rubio, along with fellow conservative Republicans Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey, sent a letter to Hochberg requesting "clarity on your plan for an orderly liquidation," including a "timeline, a name for Ex-Im's successor organization, when Ex-Im will return all property to the GSA."
Ex-Im isn't approving new deals, but is it still processing applications and simply stopping short of approval? Is it actually trying to unload its assets (such as the debt it holds in foreign companies and governments) to the U.S. Treasury or to the private sector? Or is Ex-Im acting as if it's simply in time-out?
This wouldn't be Ex-Im's first clash with the law.
Federal prosecutors have repeatedly found federal officials enriching themselves feloniously using Ex-Im's power to pick winners and losers. Former congressman Bill Jefferson is still in prison, as is Ex-Im loan officer Johnny Gutierrez. At the same time Ex-Im suspended Gutierrez in 2014, they also suspended three other employees for suspected improprieties.
More recently, Ex-Im officials have spat on the ideas of transparency. Ex-Im's chief of staff in January deleted text messages that had been requested through the Freedom of Information Act about six weeks prior.
Cause of Action, an activist legal group, has filed complaint against Ex-Im in federal court, alleging that "Ex-Im Bank Engaged in the Unlawful Destruction of Federal Records."
Other Ex-Im actions around FOIA have raised eyebrows. In 2012, lawyers for Delta Airlines — whose foreign competitors Ex-Im subsidizes — filed a FOIA asking for communications between Ex-Im officials and Boeing officials. The emails revealed a cozy relationship between Boeing and Ex-Im, but other Ex-Im records revealed something additional: Boeing somehow found about Delta's FOIA request before Ex-Im even began processing it.
Ex-Im has been caught misclassifying big businesses as small businesses, and it has repeatedly failed to meet the 20 percent small business quota Congress has set for it.
Ex-Im has subsidized corrupt or failed foreign and U.S. companies, including Enron, Solyndra, Chinese nuclear proliferators and the financiers of Russian arms deals, thus implicating U.S. taxpayers in these misdeeds and failures.
Republicans who help Obama revive Ex-Im will have all this dirt on their hands. If Republicans resist Obama, then at least it will be only he and his party who sully themselves with Ex-Im's cronyism. At best, they might actually kill the agency for good.
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.