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The White House and Exxon: A Trump trifecta of cronyism, dishonesty, and incompetence

On Monday, ExxonMobil issued a press release touting a $20 billion investment in a variety of fossil-fuel projects in Louisiana and Texas, which it says will employ 45,000 people at an average salary of $100,000. About 30 minutes later, the White House issued a release “congratulating” Exxon. The Tweeter-in-Chief also went social with the message on both Twitter and Facebook, saying this is “one big example” of how his administration is “bringing back jobs.”

There are a few problems here. For one, ExxonMobil and the White House appear to have coordinated their press strategy, and done it through Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who recently resigned as the CEO of the fossil-fuel behemoth. Trump and Tillerson had lunch together a few hours before the releases were issued, and the releases feature a whole paragraph and some additional sentences that are almost identical (although the White House got the company’s name wrong, writing it as two words).

Greenpeace calls for “separation of oil and state.” Oil Change International points out that these releases are “eerily reminiscent” of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s cozy dealings with the oil and gas industry as Attorney General of Oklahoma, including episodes where Pruitt took language drafted by industry lobbyists and sent it to federal officials as his own advocacy.

They’re right. It’s been widely reported that Tillerson has little standing in the Trump Administration, and the White House is virtually ignoring the State Department. It’s notable that when Trump and Tillerson finally got together, their purpose was to promote the interests ExxonMobil. Forget about foreign policy. Their business is crony capitalism.

Of course, it’s also possible that the releases reflect this Administration’s typical blend of incompetence and dishonesty. Maybe the White House just plagiarized ExxonMobil. And the jobs claims certainly fit within Trump’s pattern of claiming credit for economic decisions that predate him: Exxon’s own release says that its investment began in 2013 (hilariously, the White House even copied that portion of the release). Companies are playing along with these phony jobs announcements, taking whatever free press they can from the world’s most powerful media magnet. The claim that the project will create 45,000 new jobs is also flatly misleading. Politico reports that the company says the projects will create just 12,000 full-time jobs. The rest are construction jobs (read: temporary, and possibly part-time).

Finally, this is a terrible investment if you’re serious about boosting the economy: With a $20 billion price tag, the (purported) 45,000 jobs cost $444,444 apiece. Limited to the 12,000 full-time employees, the cost soars to $1.67 million per job. And that’s before we account for the cost of added pollution, worker injuries, climate change, and the $700 million to $1 billion per year that ExxonMobil gets in government handouts. The U.S. economy would be far better off if we could use that $20 billion to invest in renewable energy, which is clean, less expensive, and creates more jobs. Art of the deal, indeed.

On a question of cronyism, incompetence, and dishonesty, the smart money is on all three: It’s the trifecta of Trump scandals.