One of the vital lessons I learned as an undercover CIA officer, and later as an adviser to Republicans in Congress, was how corrupt leaders escalate their abuses of power at the expense of their citizens’ freedom while trying to retain power. It motivated my service at the time and continues to drive my work to protect and improve American democracy now. It also informs my grave concern about recent reporting that President Donald Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, pressured the government of Ukraine to help them dig up dirt on Trump’s primary political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
Despite Trump and Giulani’s cajoling and claims to the contrary, Ukrainian prosecutors are not investigating Biden and do not have evidence of wrongdoing.
Following in the footsteps of others
Some of the most extreme cases of such corrupt leaders are Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s Ali Khamenei and North Korea's Kim family dynasty. In recent years, aspiring authoritarian leaders and movements have also risen to power closer to home in Hungary, Turkey and Poland.
Each is in a unique position on the spectrum of corruption, but they have many traits in common, including attacks on the independent news media, attempts to dismantle other power centers within their own governments, self-dealing and various efforts to weaken their people’s ability to vote them out of office.