White House grants 14 ethics waivers to staff

The administration was locked in an escalating stand-off with the Office of Government Ethics, as Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, challenged the agency's request for waiver details.

It prompted an official complaint by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to be filed with the ethics office.

Four of these appointees are former lobbyists.

The waiver, retroactive to January 20, allows White House aides to "participate in communications and meetings with news organizations on matters of broad policy" even if they involve "a former employer or former client". Historically, the White House has immediately disclosed any waivers given to internal staff, but the Trump administration chose not to do so.

When the White House gave waivers to lobbyists to allow them to enter the revolving door of the political swamp, they may have violated ethics rules themselves. Conway received a waiver to interact with former clients of her polling firm, which includes a wide range of political and conservative advocacy organizations. Pence was Indiana's governor before becoming vice president. One of the waivers allows appointees in the Executive Office of the President "to participate in communications and meetings with news organizations on matters of broad policy and particular matters of general applicability". The rule was meant to prevent a revolving door between the White House and the private sector. "This is a major red flag, and raises the question of whether his conduct also constituted other regulatory or statutory ethics violations".

At CGCN, Catanzaro lobbied on many of those issues for several clients, including the American Chemistry Council, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, Devon Energy Corp. and Talen Energy Corp.

Tax policy adviser Shahira Knight and economic aide Andrew Olmem are allowed to work on a variety of financial issues tied to topics for which they once lobbied. "The Administration has an interest in you working on matters in those areas due to your expertise and prior experience", the waiver reads.

Similar waivers were issued during the Obama-era, prompting a rebuke from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE).

He later said, however, that he was concerned that one of the waivers was granted retroactively.

For the Trump White House, even its own highly touted ethics rules are no more than an inconvenience to be waived aside if they interfere with corporate business as usual. Without the waiver, Bannon would be barred from meeting with Breitbart. That clears the way, ethically, for Steve Bannon, Breitbart's former chief executive and now Trump's chief strategist, to ring up reporters at the news site.

The waivers, released by the White House late Wednesday but granted on various dates, undermine Trump's campaign pledge to "drain the swamp" in Washington.

White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway is among about a dozen staff members single out for an individual exemption. John Brennan, at the time one of Obama's deputy national security advisers, had previously worked for The Analysis Company, and he was granted a waiver to use the company's data while investigating the so-called "Underwear Bomber" incident. They say they worry that it could lead to government officials putting private interests ahead of the public and could also further erode public perception of what most lobbyists actually do.

Trump dominated, by contrast, among voters who said they wanted "change".

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said in a statement Wednesday that the voluntary release of the ethics waivers is "part of the president's commitment to the American people to be transparent".

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