Trump Team Won't Say Who Is Getting a Pass on Ethics Rules
President Trump’s enthusiasm for walls apparently goes beyond the Mexican border.
The New York Times reports this morning that the Trump administration is walling off more information from public scrutiny, telling the government’s internal ethics watchdog to stop asking for copies of ethics waivers the president has issued to former lobbyists now working for federal agencies.
As part of his campaign promise to “drain the swamp,” Trump signed an executive order in January imposing a two-year ban on ex-lobbyists and lawyers hired as political appointees from working on government matters involving their former clients. As President Obama had before him, Trump gave himself leeway to issue waivers on a case-by-case basis.
But where Obama made the waivers and the reasoning behind them public, the Trump administration has declined to release them. The Times reports that the Trump team has hired ex-lobbyists and lawyers at a higher rate than did Obama and that without information on the waivers it’s impossible to know if the new hires are violating federal ethics rules or have been given a pass to ignore them.
Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, had asked that every agency supply his office with information about the waivers; the White House Office of Management and Budget apparently contacted him recently and asked him to withdraw the request.
Shaub, who clashed with the president over ethics questions before Trump took office, insists he will not back down. The Times said he repeated his request for information about the waivers during a conference call with other federal government ethics officers last Thursday. Shaub argued that agencies are legally obligated to honor his request; however, his office apparently lacks authority to force agencies to respond.
Elsewhere on the ethics front, The Washington Post is reporting today that Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and one of his closest advisers, is holding on to nearly 90 percent of his real estate empire despite promises that he would maintain a clear divide between his private interests and his public duties.
Examining a personal financial disclosure report filed by Kushner, the Post said it’s unclear whether any of Kushner’s holdings would intersect with his responsibilities in the White House. Kushner declined the newspaper’s request that he review with a reporter his holdings and the ethics agreement he signed with the administration. The agreement presumably would lay out topics he has pledged to avoid in order to avoid conflicts of interest.