Democrats, watchdog seek Trump's ethics waivers

Sir Roger Moore

As the Times points out, the Mulvaney memo is not just questioning Shaub's ability to request these documents from the White House, but from the entire executive branch, even though federal regulations give OGE the authority to conduct "reviews of agency ethics programs in order to ensure their compliance with program requirements and to ensure their effectiveness in advancing the mission of the executive branch-wide ethics program". "I have never seen anything like it".

Exemptions had been granted under former President Barack Obama, in cases where there was an evident skills gap and the waivers were subsequently made public.

The latest conflict came in recent days when the White House, in a highly unusual move, sent a letter to Walter M. Shaub Jr., the head of the Office of Government Ethics, asking him to withdraw a request he had sent to every federal agency for copies of the waivers.

"Your role is particularly important because the White House itself is keeping this information secret", he added. The Trump administration hired plenty of lobbyists at a premium rate compared to prior administrations, and the worry is what they were paid to do, and what they are doing.

Created in the aftermath of the Watergate Scandal, the Office of Government Ethics has the authority to make data requests from ethics officers at any federal agency.

The administration is claiming that Shaub's inquiry is too broad.

The White House, the Trump Organization, and the Office of Government Ethics did not respond to multiple requests for comment. That request was first reported Monday by The New York Times.

In the letter, Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, and seven other members, implore Shaub to make copies of the waivers publicly available "as soon as practicable" after he gets his hands on them.

And while the OGE has the authority to seek "data calls" like this, it lacks the power of enforcement. Until late a year ago, he was working as a lobbyist for major industry clients such as Devon Energy of Oklahoma, an oil and gas company, and Talen Energy of Pennsylvania, a coal-burning electric utility, as they fought Obama-era environmental regulations, including the landmark Clean Power Plan.

For example, if an administration official once worked as a lobbyist, an ethics waiver could allow that person to bypass rules restricting the issues he or she can work on.

In his letter Monday, Shaub told Mulvaney that dozens of agencies had already complied with his request, well in advance of the June 1 deadline.

"It is yet another demonstration of disrespect for the rule of law and for ethics and transparency coming from the White House", Mr. Eisen said.

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