In just over two weeks, President Trump gives his State of the Union address. We thought it would be a good time to get a Full Measure State of the Swamp assessment. We went to two swamp-watching experts. The first Congressman Ken Buck a Republican we first interviewed a little over two years ago who blew the whistle on the swamp and party elites he says, "live like kings and govern like bullies.”
Sharyl Attkisson: Is what you describe— what some Americans might call ‘the establishment’?
Rep. Buck: Absolutely.
Congressman Ken Buck is a former federal prosecutor. He spoke with us in 2017 after writing“Drain the Swamp: How Washington Corruption is Worse than You Think.”
It exposed what he called pay-to-play corruption, backroom arm-twisting and Congressional positions for sale to who ever raises the most money. More than two years later, we set out to find what, if anything, has changed.
Sharyl: How much of the week on average do you think are members of Congress having to spend raising money?
Rep. Ken Buck: Oh, I think that we probably spend somewhere between a quarter and a half of our time raising money for reelection.
Sharyl: Has that been about the same in the years you've been here?
Rep. Ken Buck: Yeah, I think so.
Sharyl: In terms of a brief review, can you describe the process of “dialing for dollars"? What happens? How money is raised here?
Rep. Ken Buck: Sure. So we go over to the NRCC offices or I oftentimes call from my condo here in town. And a lot of the fundraising happens back in the district or there are events that are here. But literally there will be lists prepared for us to go over to the NRCC and call from lists.
The NRCC is the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is outfitted with the fundraising necessities: cubicles and telephones. Democrats have their own version both offices just steps from the Capitol.
Sharyl: Do you a quota as to how much the party expects you to raise?
Rep. Ken Buck: I do have a, I don't know if it's quota, but it's a hard and fast goal, I would say.
Sharyl: How much is yours?
Rep. Ken Buck: Mine right now is $275,000.
Sharyl: You have to raise and what time period?
Rep. Ken Buck: Over the two year cycle.
Sharyl: With fundraising limits, meaning you can only raise so much from a single person or entity, that must be hard.
Rep. Ken Buck: It's challenging.
Sharyl: Do you feel like you've fallen into the system? This was something you strongly objected to and criticized when we last spoke, now it sounds like you're operating quite well inside the system.
Rep. Ken Buck: Yeah, I still object to it. And my objection was always that there was an amount of money to pay to be on a committee or an amount of money to pay to be the chair or the Republican leader of a committee, and I still have strong objections to that. But in terms of raising money for my own reelection, I think everybody comes here knowing that if they want to get reelected, they're gonna have to raise a certain amount of money.
Larry Klayman is also a former federal prosecutor and longtime swamp-watcher. He head up Freedom Watch, a public interest group that investigates government corruption.
Sharyl: What would you tell the public, is the state of what we may think of as the Washington DC swamp, today?
Larry Klayman: It's a club, it's like the National Football League. You have the American Conference and you have the National Conference, but they're all part of the same conference, the same league. They protect each other because they're making a tremendous amount of money, they're acquiring great power.
Sharyl: I've heard that from a lot of people President Trump came into office promising to "drain the swamp.” Has he had success or has the swamp gotten the better of him?
Larry Klayman: The swamp has been trying to swallow him up. No, he has not had success and I commend him for trying to do that. What I like about the president is he will say what's on his mind. You may not always like what he says, but he doesn't pull any punches, and that's quite rare. The problem is, is that around him are people who want to take him down, even in the White House. The poor guy's been fighting for his survival now for going on three years. So, there's a lot of things he's tried to do about cleaning up the swamp, but it seems that the swamp has got him more than he's got the swamp.
Sharyl: Let's say President Trump is not re-elected. Where do you see the state of the swamp going?
Larry Klayman: I think it'll go crazy.
Sharyl: What if President Trump is elected to a second term?
Larry Klayman: It's really hard to gauge what's going to happen, but I hope that somehow he breaks through and does hold the swamp accountable. I hope that this Republican establishment on Capitol Hill, in fact even people in the White House, will start to back him up. Look, he's not perfect, Sharyl. I have to say, I don't think he committed an impeachable offense with regard to the Ukraine. Having just been cleared of the Russian collusion investigation, it had to have been one of the stupidest things to do, excuse the slurring of the words on stupid, to then try to influence Ukraine to then investigate Biden. I don't think it was impeachable, I don't think he committed a crime, but he handed them, the Democrats, a gift.
Sharyl: Frankly, many Republicans are not on Trump's side.
Klayman: Well, they've never wanted him there because he breaks up the money train, he breaks up the power train.
Sharyl: President Trump came in promising to try to drain the swamp. Has there been any draining of the swamp here on Capitol Hill?
Rep. Ken Buck: I think the president's done a good job with the folks that he has put in place on this cabinet and I think he's done a good job in other ways. But in terms of the legislative branch, it has been largely unaffected by the president's policies.
Sharyl: Has anyone ever sidled up to you and said things like, "Tone it down a little bit, Ken”? Any fellow members of the Republican Party or any leaders, "Go along, get along?"
Rep. Ken Buck: Sure. Absolutely. And along the same lines I've had people come up to me and say, "Ken, you're absolutely right. I just can't help you with this."
Sharyl: How do those conversations go when someone kind of tells you to go along?
Rep. Ken Buck: Well, those are short conversations.
Sharyl: Is there anything to be said about the power of one? Do you feel like you personally have been able to make any sort of difference in terms of the swamp, as we know it, here in Washington DC?
Rep. Ken Buck: No.
Sharyl: Easy to answer?
Rep. Ken Buck: There's no need to explain that. There are so many people that like the system the way it is and thrive in the system the way it is that it's impossible.
Buck says above all else, he hopes he’s been able to make more Americans aware that the system is broken.