Trump approves ethics waivers for 14 staffers
Critics: Move confirms that president giving lobbyists a pass
President Trump has approved 14 ethics waivers to White House staff, including four to former lobbyists, allowing them to work on their areas of expertise, officials announced Wednesday as they posted extensive details of their decision-making online.
The move was designed to prove Mr. Trump’s commitment to the ethics process he touted during the campaign, but which some watchdogs had feared he was backing away from now that he was in office.
“The White House is really trying to take all of the allegations about our commitment to ethics off the table unilaterally,” said one White House official. “While we don’t necessarily expect people to give us accolades for that, it’s important for us to do.”
Every employee in the executive office was granted a waiver to be able to talk to the press, while all commissioned employees were granted a blanket waiver to talk with political organizations.
Those who used to work at Jones Day, a prominent law firm, were also granted a blanket waiver so they could communicate with their old law firm, which still handles the president’s legal matters from his campaign and as a private citizen.
Specific waivers were granted to his top staffers, such as Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, so he could still talk to the Republican National Committee, his former employer, and to Kellyanne Conway so she could talk with former clients of her polling firm, which include a number of politically important groups with which the White House communicates.
The former lobbyists who earned waivers were Michael Catanzaro, Shahira Knight, Andrew Olmem and Joshua Pitcock.
Posting the information online is a striking move for a White House that just a week ago got into a legal squabble with the Office of Government Ethics.
The OGE had demanded that every federal agency — including the White House — turn over copies of approved waivers. The White House had responded by questioning whether the OGE’s request was legal. The head of the OGE, an Obama appointee, refused to back down.
All told, the White House announced 11 waivers for specific individuals and three for categories of employees.
That’s more than the four waivers President Obama had issued at this point in his tenure.
He had approved waivers for Jocelyn Frye, Cecilia Munoz, William Lynn and Valerie Jarrett.
Overall, watchdog groups say the Trump administration has hired former lobbyists at a faster clip than the Obama administration, and has allowed some of them to work in the same areas in which they lobbied.
The White House official said they had worked hard to avoid having to issue waivers, instead pushing employees to recuse themselves from dealings with former employers or clients.
“This reflects a real commitment by the White House to make sure everyone understands that ethics is a true priority, not just a talking point for us,” the official said.
John Wonderlich, executive director of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, commended the White House but wanted more.
“Publicly disclosing the ethics waivers online is a step in the right direction, reassuring the public that there is in fact some basic level of ethics oversight happening, despite President Trump’s refusal to abide by the same basic standards that apply to the rest of the federal government,” he said.
Other government watchdogs were more suspicious.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) said the announcement confirmed fears that Mr. Trump was giving lobbyists a pass.
“When we heard there were waivers to the ethics pledge given but not released, the fear was that they were giving registered lobbyists a waiver to allow them to work on matters on which they lobbied or Washington insiders the ability to work with former clients,” said CREW spokesman Jordan Libowitz.
“It appears that’s exactly what happened,” he concluded.
President Trump granted ethics waivers to staffers, confirming critics’ fears that he is giving lobbyists a pass.