Thursday, June 8, 2017

Trump White House Lacks Waivers for Longtime Lobbyists

At least a half-dozen former Lobbyists are working in President Trump’s White House even though they haven’t received Waivers from the Administration’s Ethics Rules, raising questions about how much the Rules do to prevent Conflicts of Interest.

The Ethics Pledge Trump implemented in January, which he touted as part of his Campaign-Trail Pledge to “Drain the Swamp” of Washington, bars Administration Officials from working on any Issues they Lobbied on during the past two years.

The Trump Administration has granted Exemptions from the Rules for a handful of Staffers, as President Obama’s Administration did. But at least six former Lobbyists now working in the White House haven’t received such Waivers, meaning they must Recuse themselves internally from any Issue where they have Conflicts, according to the White House.

The lack of Transparency on how these Staffers are following the Ethics Rules has drawn criticism from Democratic Members of Congress and Ethics Lawyers who question whether Officials with broad portfolios can Recuse themselves from a wide array of Issues.

“I have been concerned by the number of White House staff who have already received ethics waivers this year,” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who voted against a former Lobbyist Trump nominated to the No. 2 Post at the Interior Department this week, said in a statement. “But what may be even more troubling is that several veteran lobbyists are working as key advisors in the White House without waivers, which invites the question: Does President Trump, who pledged to ‘drain the swamp’ during his campaign, take ethics rules seriously?”

“Employees who have not received waivers have been advised of their need to recuse where the law requires,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters wrote in an email.

“I think it would be hard for them to do their jobs without waivers,” said Don Fox, a former Acting Director and General Counsel of the Office of Government Ethics.

Marc Lotter, the Vice President’s Press Secretary, said that none of them had Responsibilities now that overlapped with the Specific matters they Lobbied on in the past two years. “They have been counseled on the restrictions in Execution Order 13770; signed the Ethics Pledge; received training on the restrictions in the Pledge, as well as additional ethics training on conflicts of interest,” Lotter wrote in an email. “Should a conflict arise, they will recuse themselves and pass the issue to another staff member.”

In practice, though, Recusing from a wide range of Policy issues can be tricky.

In the Obama Administration, Officials with Conflicts of Interest who hadn’t received Waivers were expected to Remove themselves from Email Chains that mentioned things they’d worked on before joining the White House and Walk Out of Meetings in which they came up. “There is no incentive to comply with the rules in this situation,” Richard Painter, a Former Ethics Lawyer in George W. Bush’s Administration, wrote in an email.

The Trump Administration has also taken flack for the Waivers it has granted, which allow White House and Agency Staffers to Shape Policy on matters they Lobbied on just months earlier.

Some Lobbyists who didn't get Waivers have narrower Lobbying Portfolios. Daris Meeks, the Vice President’s Director of Domestic Policy, worked for Pence while he was a Congressman before heading to K Street. He Lobbied on Banking, Bankruptcy, Copyright issues, Finance, Housing and Insurance for about a dozen Clients in the two years before joining the Administration; he De-Registered as a Lobbyist for Venable in January.

Sarah Makin, the Vice President’s Director of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, Lobbied for a single Client, the U.S. Consumer Coalition. Other White House Staffers who haven’t received Waivers include Mark Paoletta, the Vice President’s Counsel, who Lobbied on Defense, Health Care, Taxes, and Telecommunications Policy. Matt Morgan, the Deputy Counsel, who Lobbied on Budget issues, Health Care, Medicare and Medicaid Issues, Roads, Trade, Transportation, and Urban Development.

The Batch of Waivers released by the Office of Government Ethics on Wednesday afternoon also didn’t include several former Lobbyists working in other Parts of Government. They include Kristi Boswell at the Agriculture Department, Geoffrey Burr at the Labor Department, Keagan Lenihan at the Department of Health and Human Services, Justin Mikolay at the Defense Department, Stephen Vaughn at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and Chad Wolf at the Transportation Security Administration.

Mike England, a spokesman for the TSA, wrote in an email that Wolf had "neither requested nor received a waiver." None of the other Agencies responded to questions about whether the former Lobbyists working there had received Waivers. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative did not confirm that Vaughn hadn’t received a Waiver but said he was following the Rules. "Stephen Vaughn has had and continues to have discussions about ethics issues with appropriate USTR officials and that is in full compliance with applicable ethics requirements," a spokesman said in a statement.

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