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The Government Ethics Office Just Issued Trump A Dire Ultimatum

The Government Ethics Office Just Issued Trump A Dire Ultimatum

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In what is just the latest in a long line of refusals by this White House to observe norms and codes of conduct befitting the office, President Trump is now refusing to comply with long established government ethics rules.  Despite his campaign pledge to ‘Drain the Swamp,’ he’s skirting all rules and regulations designed to do exactly that.

The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) director Walter Shaub sent a 10-page letter to Mick Mulvaney, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), admonishing him for his failure to comply with an OGE order to submit for review waivers and other documents the Trump Administration has granted lobbyists and lawyers to work in the federal government.

Mulvaney not only flatly rebuffed the order because, he said, he wanted time to review the OGE request with the Justice Department to make sure Shaub had the power to make such a request, and that OGE had the authority to compel him to obey.  He went further and asked the OGE to back-off of its inquiry into these waivers.

Federal agencies are not supposed to appoint lobbyists or lawyers directly from the arena any particular agency covers unless they’re more than 2 years removed from the lobbying and counseling services they provided.  For example, you can’t hire a lawyer or a lobbyist for a pharmaceutical company to work in the Food and Drug Administration unless he or she has been out of that position for more than two years.  The reasons are obvious.

Waivers can be granted, however, and they have been regularly granted in the past.  But they are supposed to be reserved for rare exceptions where individuals with extraordinary talent are considered or unique circumstances exist at the agency.  More importantly, waivers are supposed to made public so Americans see for themselves if the waivers are in their best interests.

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President Obama issued such waivers, and was duly criticized by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) who demanded the waivers be made public.  The Obama Administration complied and the waivers were posted on the White House website.  To Sen. Grassley’s credit, he said through a spokesman that he, “stands by his letter from 2009 calling for greater government transparency of ethics waivers,” for the current president as well.

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In Walter Shaub’s 10-page letter, addressed to members of Congress as well, he eviscerates Mulvaney’s obstinance by citing chapter-and-verse the laws that empower him to make such a request – and make his refusal to comply highly problematic and embarrassing for the White House:

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“By law, OGE is the ‘supervising ethics office’ for the executive branch.  Under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 (EIGA), as amended, OGE has plenary authority to collect all information and records that ‘the Director may determine to be necessary for the performance of his duties,’ as well as such reports “as the Director deems necessary,’ except to the extent prohibited by law.

The letter also makes it clear that Shaub and the OGE have no intention of heeding Mulvaney’s request to back-off of its inquiry into the waivers.  “I want to assure you that a request from the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is not something that I decline lightly,” his letter concludes. “For the foregoing reasons, however, OGE is not granting your request to stay the pending directive to produce information and records.”

Buried in the middle of the letter, however, is the paragraph that will have the Trump administration re-thinking its combative approach to dealing with critics:

“In this context, it bears emphasizing that OGE has the authority to institute corrective action proceedings against agencies that fail to comply, or against individuals who improperly prevent agency ethics officials from complying, with the Ethics in Government Act.”

The Office of Government Ethics has been working overtime tracking the many ethics abuses by this administration since before the inauguration.  During the transition, Director Shaub tweeted at the President Elect to pressure him to divest from his businesses and remove any appearance of conflicts of interest.  When Trump announced he was handing over the reins at the Trump Organization to his sons, Shaub condemned the move as not going far enough.

In February, the OGE called on the White House to discipline Kellyanne Conway for promoting Ivanka Trump’s clothing line on FOX News – a clear violation of long-established ethics rules.

His term is up in 8 months, so it’s likely the Trump Administration is simply trying to delay and wait him out until they can replace him with someone, you know, less ethical.  But if Trump’s history of dealing with critics from within the government is any indication, he may be out much sooner.

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