Despite closing out his campaign with promises of cleaning up Washington, President Trump has brought former lobbyists into the White House’s senior ranks at a far greater rate than did President Obama. Now, the New York Times reveals, the President is pushing back on requirements to disclose which officials have worked as lobbyists.
Under ethics rules — installed by Obama and reaffirmed by Trump — lobbyists are barred from serving in the White house until two years after their lobbying has ceased. Obama issued several waivers, all publicly disclosed, in instances where rare skills were necessary, but Trump has brought in dozens of recent lobbyists and refused to disclosed the waivers that allow them to work their posts.
Trump, unlike his predecessor, is trying to conceal those lobbyist waivers.
In an unprecedented move, the White House sent a letter to Office of Government Ethics (OGE) Director Walter Shaub arguing that OGE does not have the legal authority to require copies of waivers. Without disclosing the waivers, the public would which or how many officials are violating ethics rules and who has been granted a waiver to bypass them entirely.
“It is an extraordinary thing,” Shaub said. “I have never seen anything like it.”
Marilyn Glynn, a two-decade veteran of OGE who served as acting director during the George W. Bush Administration, said Trump’s request “challenges the very authority of the director of the agency and his ability to carry out the functions of the office.” She added that it is “unprecedented and extremely troubling.”
Even as its stance is blasted across party lines, the Trump regime is defending itself by attacking the non-partisan agency.
“This request, in both its expansive scope and breathless timetable, demanded that we seek further legal guidance,” a White House statement read. “The very fact that this internal discussion was leaked implies that the data being sought is not being collected to satisfy our mutual high standard of ethics.”
Making the situation worse is the fact that many former lobbyists are now charged with helping to regulated industries they were working for just last year.
The OGE was created in the fallout of the Watergate scandal to create transparency in the government. It has, the Times writes, “clear legal authority to issue such a ‘data request’ to the ethics officers at federal agencies.”
Norman Eisen, former Obama ethics lawyer calls Trump’s stonewalling “yet another demonstration of disrespect for the rule of law and for ethics and transparency coming from the White House.”
For his part, Shaub has irked the White House as a vocal critic of Trump’s many conflicts of interest. In a January speech, he said:
“One of the things that make America truly great is its system for preventing public corruption. Our executive branch ethics program is considered the gold standard internationally and has served as a model for the world. But that program starts with the office of the president. The president-elect must show those in government — and those coming into government after his inauguration — that ethics matters.”
This brazen attempt to hide ethical misconduct from the American people will come as no surprise to anyone but Trump’s blindest followers. Still the flagrant hypocrisy is astounding and the danger to the Republic very real. Ethics laws exist for a reason: to protect the public from corporate elites rigging our system of government to benefit only the wealthiest and most powerful.
In practice, Trump’s strategy is less drain the swamp than fill it with sludge and try to stop people from looking inside.
Sheila Norton is a writer with ten years of Capitol Hill experience. Subscribe to the OD Action email to get all the hottest news delivered right to your inbox every day at www.odaction.com