Top presidential adviser Steve Bannon may have violated a White House ethics pledge by communicating about official matters with employees of his former media company, the rightwing site Breitbart News, according to a Washington, D.C., watchdog group.
Since joining the White House, Bannon, who serves as President Donald Trump's chief strategist and senior counselor, has spoken to two of the top editors at the outlet he used to chair, the group Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) said in a complaint filed Thursday.
The White House confirmed this week that it had not waived portions of the ethics pledge for Bannon.
"It seems to me to be a very clear violation," CREW board member and former presidential ethics lawyer Richard Painter told the Daily Beast on Thursday.
The watchdog group explained in a statement that as part of the ethics pledge, which was created by Trump's executive order,
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Bannon promised not to participate in certain matters related to his former employers for two years after being appointed. These prohibited matters include "any meeting or other communication relating to the performance of one's official duties." Since taking the White House job, Bannon apparently repeatedly engaged in communications with Breitbart's editor-in-chief Alex Marlow and Washington editor Matthew Boyle, often about Breitbart's coverage of the Trump White House.
CREW sent a request for investigation to White House counsel Donald McGahn—at least the fourth it has sent in the two months Trump has been in office, along with calls to look into ethics issues with presidential advisers Kellyanne Conway and Chris Liddell, as well as potential violations of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
"The purpose of the ethics pledge is to ensure government officials have no conflict of interest between their current and former employers," CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder said. "If Bannon discussed White House matters with Breitbart, tried to drive favorable coverage of the White House with his former employer, and gave Breitbart favored access, that would be a serious problem and may have violated the ethics pledge he took when he joined the administration."
CREW board chair and former presidential ethics lawyer Norman Eisen said, "This is only the latest of the many questions that have been raised about ethics pledge compliance issues in the Trump administration. This matter is particularly significant because of Mr. Bannon's prominent role, and that of Breitbart, in connection with the president. It deserves the closest scrutiny."