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Trump Just Named a Consumer Watchdog Who Will Play Dead

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"Yes, yes, everybody deserves legal representation, but the mouthpiece for misery merchants doesn’t deserve a job keeping the rest of us safe from his former clients." (Photo: Mike Licht/Flickr/cc)

"Yes, yes, everybody deserves legal representation, but the mouthpiece for misery merchants doesn’t deserve a job keeping the rest of us safe from his former clients." (Photo: Mike Licht/Flickr/cc)

The rigid vetting standards that have been characteristic of this administration* seem still to be working at peak efficiency. The job of consumer protection advocate at the Federal Trade Commission was open and, on Wednesday, it was filled, as The New York Times reports. As an active consumer, I was happy to hear this until, you know….

The director, Andrew M. Smith, has recently represented Facebook, Uber and Equifax — all companies with matters before the commission — and plans to recuse himself from dozens of cases now that he has been confirmed for the post. And in 2012, Mr. Smith was also part of the legal team that defended AMG Services, the payday lender founded by the convicted racketeer Scott Tucker, whose predatory practices against impoverished borrowers eventually led to a $1.3 billion court-ordered settlement, the biggest in the commission’s history.

Yes, yes, everybody deserves legal representation, but the mouthpiece for misery merchants doesn’t deserve a job keeping the rest of us safe from his former clients.

On October 2016, a federal judge in Nevada hit AMG with a $1.3 billion settlement and held Mr. Tucker personally liable for setting up the complicated enterprise. In January, he was sentenced to over 16 years in federal prison “for operating a nationwide internet payday lending enterprise that systematically evaded state laws for more than 15 years in order to charge illegal interest rates as high as 1,000 percent on loans,” according to a news release from the Justice Department. (Mr. Tucker had used his profits from the payday lending scheme to fund a side career as a race-car driver.) Mr. Muir, his lawyer, received a seven-year sentence. Mr. Smith declined to say whether he had spoken with Mr. Tucker, saying he was unsure whether answering would violate confidentiality agreements with his former clients. “And does it matter?” he said.

Putting the best possible spin on this nomination is to argue that Smith has promised to recuse himself from any investigations into his former clients. However, that isn’t exactly optimizing the power of his office. What good is a watchdog that has to play dead?

Mr. Smith also declined to name other companies on his recusal list. He said many were banks, and were thus typically not regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. He added that he would still stay busy at the agency because there were many companies that were not on his list. “It’s a big world and the F.T.C. has very broad jurisdiction,” he said.

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Charles P. Pierce

Charles P. Pierce

Charles P. Pierce is a writer-at-large for Esquire and his work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the LA Times Magazine, the Nation, the Atlantic, Sports Illustrated and The Chicago Tribune, among others.

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