White House re­lents in fight over ethics waiver dis­clo­sure

Ad­min­is­tra­tion will pub­licly post doc­u­ments

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY MATEA GOLD matea.gold@wash­post.com

The White House plans to com­ply with a re­quest from the gov­ern­ment’s chief ethics of­fi­cer to share in­for­ma­tion about ethics waivers granted to for­mer lob­by­ists and other ap­pointees, back­ing down from a heated show­down that threat­ened to un­der­cut Pres­i­dent Trump’s “drain the swamp” pledge.

White House spokes­woman Lind­say Wal­ters said Satur­day that by June 1, the ad­min­is­tra­tion will pub­licly post waivers given to ap­pointees who have been ex­empted from as­pects of fed­eral ethics rules, in­clud­ing an ex­ec­u­tive or­der that Trump signed in Jan­uary. The New York Times first re­ported the de­ci­sion.

So far, Trump has not dis­closed how many waivers have been granted to ap­pointees who are in vi­o­la­tion of his or­der, even as his ad­min­is­tra­tion has tapped nu­mer­ous lob­by­ists for posts.

In April, the Of­fice of Gov­ern­ment Ethics is­sued a memo re­quest­ing that the White House and all fed­eral agen­cies dis­close de­tails about such waivers by June 1. But Mick Mul­vaney, di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, ques­tioned whether the ethics of­fice had le­gal juris­dic­tion to pur­sue such in­for­ma­tion and asked the OGE to sus­pend its data col­lec­tion.

Vet­eran ethics of­fi­cials called the White House re­sis­tance un­prece­dented and Demo­cratic law­mak­ers ob­jected to the move. OGE Di­rec­tor Wal­ter M. Shaub Jr. is­sued a force­ful nine-page let­ter de­fend­ing the of­fice’s le­gal stand­ing and as­sert­ing his in­ten­tion to im­ple­ment ethics rules “with in­de­pen­dence, free from po­lit­i­cal pres­sure.”

In a let­ter Fri­day to Shaub, Mul­vaney said that the OMB never sought to im­pede the ethics of­fice or other agen­cies “from act­ing as re­quired by law.” His con­cern was “pro­tect­ing the process,” he added, not the sub­stance of the re­quest for in­for­ma­tion.

“OMB shares the be­lief that the Ex­ec­u­tive Branch must up­hold the high­est eth­i­cal stan­dards in ac­cor­dance with the law,” Mul­vaney wrote, adding that the bud­get of­fice has not is­sued any ethics waivers.

Shaub said that he was glad to re­ceive Mul­vaney’s lat­est re­sponse.

“Col­lect­ing ethics records from agen­cies is just about the most rou­tine thing OGE does,” he said in a state­ment to The Wash­ing­ton Post. “I’m cer­tain agency ethics of­fi­cials never had any doubt about their le­gal duty to re­spond. All the same, Di­rec­tor Mul­vaney’s sec­ond let­ter was help­ful in clear­ing up any con­fu­sion his first let­ter may have cre­ated. Agency ethics of­fi­cials can now feel safe pro­vid­ing the sort of re­sponses they’ve al­ways pro­vided. I’m glad things are back on track.”

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