Trump White House clashes with federal ethics watchdog

Posted May 22, 2017

Exemptions had been granted under former President Barack Obama, in cases where there was an evident skills gap and the waivers were subsequently made public.

The Trump administration is trying to block the top federal ethics watchdog from disclosing which former lobbyists have been granted waivers to work in the executive branch, it was reported Monday.

In a letter to Walter Shaub, who heads the Office of Government Ethics, the White House asked the independent agency to withdraw its request for copies of waivers that federal agencies have issued to former lobbyists since the current administration took over.

Upon receiving Mulvaney's letter, Shaub told the Times that he'd "never seen anything like" the administration's attempt to keep such waivers private.

Dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers are working in the Trump administration, which has hired them at a much higher rate than the previous administration.

The OGE "is more or less dependent on the good graces of the party that is in power", said Marilyn L. Glynn, who served as general counsel and acting director of the agency during the George W. Bush administration.

One of President Trump's first executive orders states that if the administration hires a former lobbyist, that person can't work on anything directly related to their lobbying until at least two years have passed.

It was Shaub who balked publicly in response to Trump's decision to maintain ownership of his business ventures while serving as president.

'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, ' a statement to the Times said.

Shaub was requesting copies of these waivers, per the Times.

In the letter dated May 17 obtained by The Times, Mulvaney writes that Shaub's request "appears to raise legal questions regarding the scope of OGE's authorities". "I, therefore, request that you stay the data call until these questions are resolved". That's something the White House will likely be doing a lot.

"It is yet another demonstration of disrespect for the rule of law and for ethics and transparency coming from the White House", Mr. Eisen said.

Created in the aftermath of the Watergate Scandal, the Office of Government Ethics has the authority to make data requests from ethics officers at any federal agency. Now, Trump is issuing similar waivers in secret and refusing to offer explanations, even to the government's own ethics office.

The OGE censured presidential aide Kellyanne Conway in February after she urged Americans to buy products made by Trump's daughter, Ivanka, during a television interview from the White House briefing room.

Now, like many other campaign promise reversals, it looks as if that whole draining of the swamp thing was easier said than done.