Trump ap­proves ethics waivers for 14 staffers

Crit­ics: Move con­firms that pres­i­dent giv­ing lob­by­ists a pass

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY S.A. MILLER AND STEPHEN DINAN

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.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Trump granted ethics waivers to staffers, con­firm­ing crit­ics’ fears that he is giv­ing lob­by­ists a pass.

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