Senators call for disclosure of administration's ethics waivers

Senators call for disclosure of administration's ethics waivers
© Greg Nash

Three senators, including the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, are calling for greater transparency from the White House regarding waivers to the administration’s ethics pledge granted to federal officials.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Kavanaugh paper chase heats up MORE (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary panel, wrote in a letter to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney that the White House office should focus on making the waivers public. The letter was co-signed by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump, Putin meet under cloud of Mueller’s Russia indictments Dems launch pressure campaign over migrant families California Dems endorse progressive challenger over Feinstein MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee.

The lawmakers are asking Mulvaney to ensure that any Trump administration waiver is posted to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) website, as was the practice under former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump has the right foreign policy strategy — he just needs to stop talking The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump faces bipartisan criticism over Putin presser, blames media for coverage Wall Street Journal editorial board rips Trump on Helsinki: It was a 'national embarrassment' MORE.

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“Public disclosure of these records … is essential to ensuring that ethical commitments are maintained so that the American people can be confident that government employees are working in their interest,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter, which was copied to OGE acting director David Apol.

Shortly after taking the oath of office, President Trump issued an executive order, which largely mirrored one Obama set in place, aiming to curb the influence of lobbyists inside his administration.

A political appointee in certain circumstances may be granted a waiver to the rules — such as not being able to work on issues that would directly impact a former employer or client — and those forms become public record.

“Please ensure that the practice of providing ethics pledge waivers and recusals to OGE contemporaneously upon their issuance is continued,” the senators wrote. “We trust that you believe this standard is reasonable in that it allows the American people to better understand how those employed at the highest levels of our government are fully focused on the public interest and not a private interest.”

The White House has already posted an initial batch of waivers to ethics rules, which were due by May 31. It listed 11 waivers issued by the White House and five others issued within other government agencies. 

Grassley had asked for similar information from the Obama administration, which had a total of 83 waivers to its similar ethics rules during the former president's eight-year term. Those documents remain available on OGE’s website.

Mulvaney and OGE, an independent office that writes ethics rules for the federal government, had clashed prior to the June 1 release of the first Trump administration waivers.

It was one of many scuffles between the White House and the ethics office, which was then helmed by Walter Shaub — an outspoken critic of the president's and the administration’s ethics compliance.

Mulvaney said in a letter at the time that the OGE’s request for the waivers “appears to raise legal questions regarding the scope of OGE’s authorities … I therefore request that you stay the data call until these questions are resolved.”

Shaub replied to the letter, calling the request “unusual,” and said OGE “reiterates its expectation that agencies will fully comply with its directive by June 1, 2017.”

“Public confidence in the integrity of government decisionmaking demands no less,” Shaub added.

Mulvaney ultimately said the whole scuffle was a misunderstanding, and that OMB had not intended to scuttle the request for the forms.

“OMB shares the belief that the executive branch must uphold the highest ethical standards in accordance with the law,” Mulvaney wrote. “Contrary to your assertions, OMB has never sought to impede OGE nor to prevent others, including agencies from acting as required by law.”