Holder, others granted ethics waivers

The White House late on Friday published ethics waivers for several political appointees in the administration, setting aside the executive order President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama shares summer reading list ‘Three Californias’ plan would give Dems more seats Loyalty to Donald Trump is new normal for the Republican Party MORE signed on his first full day in office.

The move to disclose the waivers came after public interest groups pushed the administration to consolidate waivers granted by other federal agencies besides the White House into one location, which has turned out to be the Office of Government Ethics website. Six waivers have now been granted to staff at the White House and ten to employees at other agencies. 

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“We note that decisions to grant the limited waivers have been exceedingly rare. The six White House and ten agency waivers together apply to 16 out of approximately 1890 appointments that have been made: that is less than one percent,” said Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, in a blog post on the White House website. “And out of the 1890 appointments, only 3 times has the Administration waived the ethics pledge lobbying provision — that is less than one tenth of one percent.”

None of the waivers are related to past lobbying activity by the appointees, but rather allow them to work with their prior employers before they joined the administration. The most high-profile person to receive a waiver was Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderHolder redistricting group backs lawsuits for 3 additional majority-black congressional districts Liberal groups launches ads against prospective Trump Supreme Court nominees Ready for somebody? Dems lack heir apparent this time MORE.

Holder and two other appointees at the Justice Department, Lanny Breuer and David Ogden, received waivers in order to work on an investigation into what went wrong with the prosecution of former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Stevens was indicted and convicted for failing to disclose gifts from a benefactor in his financial disclosure reports but charges were later dropped after the probe into the Republican senator was found to be botched.

Under investigation themselves, Justice officials running the Stevens case have hired Holder’s and Breuer’s old firm, Covington & Burling, as their defense attorneys, according to documents released by the White House on Friday. Another Justice official under investigation for conduct during the Stevens probe hired Ogden’s old firm, WilmerHale, for representation.

According to the documents, Holder, Breuer and Ogden can participate in the investigation of the Justice officials but still cannot have any “direct contact” with their old firms.

Other prominent administration officials received waivers to do limited work that might involve their prior employers.

For example, Charles Bolden, NASA administrator, will be allowed to work at “the policy or program level” with SAIC, a government contractor that he worked for as a consultant, and GenCorp, an aerospace company at which he served on the board. But Bolden still will not be able to engage with one-on-one meetings with executives for those companies or participate in contracting decisions regarding them.  

Other appointees will be able to talk with their prior employers. Naomi Walker, associate deputy secretary at the Labor Department, can have “individual communications” with the AFL-CIO, where she worked as director of state government affairs, but cannot participate in regulations and contracts that would directly affect the union for two years after the administration.

Obama’s executive order was designed to halt the revolving door between K Street and the incoming administration. But criticism came from lawmakers and public interest organizations after some lobbyists were hired and received waivers from the order. 

Releasing the ethics waivers won some praise from watchdog groups.

“This is a big step in the right direction towards open government. This gives a taste of transparency and we are thirsty for more,” said Danielle Brian, executive director, Project On Government Oversight, in a statement.