This story sat on a shelf for two years. Time to dust it off. Time to come clean. While America zeroes in on impeachment hearings, I’m totally distracted by another shiny object—why All The President’s Men (his cabinet and staff) moonlight as pseudo interior designers.
A real estate developer by trade, President Donald J. Trump is a fan of ornate design. The gilded interiors of Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago are Exhibits A and B. Even if flashy isn’t your taste, they make a bold gold statement. I get that. He’s in the biz.
The president oversaw a White House renovation that cost $1.75 million (slightly higher than President Barack Obama’s $1.5 million tab)—including $17,000 for custom rugs, $7,000 for furniture and $5,000 for wallpaper, NBC reported. Considering The White House’s size and importance as a public museum, that price tag is actually reasonable.
But the president’s administration has attracted an odd cast of wannabes–ambitious design grifters who recklessly spend taxpayer millions on over-the-top vanity projects. Who could have imagined cabinet secretaries, ambassadors and campaign staffers upstaging our showman president in his own field of expertise?
He hates that (it usually means “you’re fired”). The president’s brash personality (or managing style) may emboldened his staff to mimic him. Or perhaps he just appoints too many shady administrators?
Most of these design-obsessed men are fairly accomplished in their own right. They include neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, Navy Seal Ryan Zinke, Ford and Reagan political advisor Paul Manafort, and hotelier Sondland. These men of questionable judgment possess unquestionably lavish taste when it comes to office renovation. They must binge watch HGTV in their spare time.
Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union
Ambassador Gordon Sondland is on the hot seat—for his testimony and his $1 million taxpayer-funded renovation of the European Union ambassador’s official residence in Brussels’ suburbs. This includes a $400,000-plus renovated kitchen, $30,000 sound system and a $95,000 outdoor living pod with pergola, electric heating, LED lighting and a remote control system, according to The Washington Post. It’s a nice gig if you have an extra $1 million to donate to a political campaign.
Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing & Urban Development
The mild-mannered former neurosurgeon kicked off this extreme makeover battle with his controversial taxpayer funded office redesign. This included a $31,000 mahogany dining set—a table with hand-carved pedestals and eight high-end David Phoenix-designed Regent Dining Side Chairs with blue velvet finish. However, Congressional approval is required for redecorations over $5,000, which Carson’s office ignored. Carson took the hit and remains a designated survivor of Office Design Gate. Maybe it pays to be nice, after all.
Paul Manafort, Trump Campaign Chairman
Trump’s dapper, imprisoned campaign chairman also has extravagant taste. He reportedly spent $934,350 on antique carpets from an Alexandria, Virginia rug store. Remarkably, none of them flew or came with a genie. He didn’t use taxpayer dollars, he paid for them with dirty money from schemes which landed him in prison. I’ll bet he still has the slickest cell on the block—and perhaps a golden Get Out Of Jail Free card one day.
Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator
Paranoid Pruitt relaxed environmental regulations while seemingly preparing for a bomb cyclone apocalypse or Cold War invasion. His office requested biometric locks, two desks (an ultimately denied bulletproof one, and another that resembles the famous Oval Office “Resolute Desk”) and a $43,000 soundproof phone booth. No word on whether it came with a red Superman cape. One stated reason for all of Pruitt’s Cold War era security—people were “being mean” to him. He resigned.
Ryan Zinke, Department of Interior Secretary
Zinke is a tough, macho dude. The former Navy Seal rode a horse to work on his first day. He planned to spend $139,000 (later revised) for a set of new headquarters doors for the Department of Interior. Like Pruitt, Zinke eventually exited those public office doors, resigning amid ethics investigations. However, he didn’t ride off into the sunset on a horse.
Robert Lighthizer, U.S. Trade Representative
According to the The New York Post, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, an architect of the China trade war, reportedly spent $1 million renovating two offices, including a $3,500 antique desk, $859 “Executive Office of the President” plaque and two paintings ($830) on loan from the Smithsonian. Is that a thing?
Former Congressman Aaron Schock’s Downton Abbey Office
Ostentation isn’t exclusive to the Executive Branch. Former Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock, the disgraced mastermind behind the Downton Abbey-inspired office wasn’t part of the Trump administration, but he acted like it. Designed like a dining room from the hit PBS show, Schock lavished his crimson-colored office with a crystal chandelier, gold lamps, an Abraham Lincoln bust, and framed president photos. His infamous office and other ethics issues led to his political downfall. The Republican’s redesign wouldn’t likely pass the smell test anyway. In partisan Washington D.C., a Downton Abbey office whiffs of “intellectually elitist” Democrat stuff–at least to the GOP.
This is how the game is played in Washington, D.C. You pay, they play. If you think this is exclusive to Republicans, be patient. It’s only a matter of time before we hear about a Democrat politico’s sustainable green wall and hot tub. In the nation’s capital, overspending and corruption is bipartisan.
President Trump deserves some blame here. Proper oversight and stronger management could have avoided this waste of taxpayer resources–as would hiring more ethical staff. Turning down the rhetoric could have curbed showoff candidates auditioning for his attention.
Each new administration gets to redecorate the White House in their image. The president isn’t too fond of the White House (he reportedly once called it a “dump”), but even he makes due with its antique décor.
Just when you thought President Trump might tone it down, he announced a desire to host the 2020 G-7 Summit at his Doral Country Club in Miami (an emoluments violation and potentially impeachable idea he later abandoned). As a ringmaster, he whipped the media into a frenzy and blew a smoke signal to his underlings as if to say “top this” (a gold-plated mic drop). But more likely, it was vanity, again.