How the Trump Administration May Be Skirting Its Own Ethics Rules
Justin Elliott reports for ProPublica:
The Trump administration appears to be either ignoring or exempting top staffers from its own watered-down ethics rules.
As we have detailed, President Trump in January issued an order weakening Obama-era ethics policies, allowing lobbyists to work at agencies they had sought to influence. The Trump order did limit what lobbyists could do once they entered government, banning them from directly handling issues on which they had lobbied.
But the administration may not be even following that.
We’ve found three hires announced this week who, in fact, are working on the same issues on which they were registered lobbyists while in the private sector.
Consider Shahira Knight, President Trump’s special assistant for tax and retirement policy.
Lobbying disclosures show that Knight lobbied the government on a host of retirement and tax issues for financial services giant Fidelity. In one case, she lobbied against a regulation requiring financial professionals to act in the best interests of their clients when it comes to retirement accounts such as 401(k)s. The regulation is strongly supported by consumer advocates and strongly opposed by Fidelity. Retirement savers lose billions of dollars a year because of conflicts of interest in the industry, the Obama administration estimated.
The Trump executive order says former lobbyists like Knight cannot work in the “specific issue area” in which they lobbied, though that phrase is not defined.
Given that Knight lobbied on tax and retirement issues and is now working as Trump’s assistant on tax and retirement issues, how can she be in compliance with the ethics policy?
It’s not at all clear.
One possibility is that the Trump administration has issued waivers exempting Knight and the other lobbyists they’ve hired from the new rules.
Unfortunately, there’s no way for the public to know if this has been done. In a little-noticed action, Trump killed the Obama-era requirement that the Office of Government Ethics publish an annual report disclosing such waivers. Trump’s order also removed the requirement to provide a public interest justification for waivers.
That means Trump can exempt an official from the lobbying limits at any time, for any reason, with no public disclosure.
Critics of the administration’s approach to conflicts of interest said it is impossible to know whether the rules are being ignored or rendered irrelevant by the officials implementing them.
“I very much suspect that Trump’s ethics executive order either is not understood within the administration and not enforced, or the White House counsel is single-handedly interpreting the restrictions of the executive order so narrowly that they are next to meaningless,” said Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen.
The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment about whether any waivers have been issued or the how the ethics policy is being enforced. . .
Read the whole thing. Later:
Just a few months ago Catanzaro was lobbying on fuel standards and greenhouse gas regulations for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. He is now special assistant to the president for domestic energy and environmental policy.