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The White House is pushing back on a request to make its ethics waivers public. (Photo: ash_crow/flickr/cc)

'Extraordinary': Trump Administration Seeks to Shut Down Lobbyist Ethics Probe

Letter from Mick Mulvaney is 'yet another demonstration of disrespect for the rule of law and for ethics and transparency coming from the White House'

Deirdre Fulton

The Trump administration is attempting to squash an ethics inquiry into former lobbyists now working for government, according to the New York Times.

Despite signing an executive order in January prohibiting former lobbyists, industry lawyers, and consultants who are hired as political appointees from working for two years on issues involving former employers or clients (weakening the Obama-era version of the restriction), President Donald Trump has stacked his administration with such employees, presumably by granting waivers to the rules. Trump's order also made it so that sharing such waivers is no longer required.

In late April, Office of Government Ethics (OGE) head Walter Shaub, "in an effort to find out just how widespread such waivers have become, asked every federal agency and the White House to give him a copy by June 1 of every waiver it had issued," the Times reported Monday, adding that Shaub "intends to make the documents public."

He may not have the chance to do so.

Times reporter Eric Lipton writes that Trump appointee Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote to Shaub last week asking him to withdraw the request. "This data call appears to raise legal questions regarding the scope of OGE's authorities," said the letter, which the Times obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. It continued, "I therefore request that you stay the data call until these questions are resolved."

Lipton described the move as "highly unusual," while Shaub himself told the Times: "It is an extraordinary thing. I have never seen anything like it."

Former White House ethics lawyer Norman Eisen, meanwhile, said to the Times that the administration's response was "yet another demonstration of disrespect for the rule of law and for ethics and transparency coming from the White House."

Added Paul S. Ryan, vice president of litigation and policy for the watchdog group Common Cause: "This is the latest example in a long line of troubling moves by the Trump administration to conduct the business of government in secret. Just the ethical transgressions from members of this administration that we know about to date are unprecedented. That pattern of behavior makes it even more vital that this administration be transparent to We the People that President Trump was elected to serve."

"'Trust us' is not a sufficient answer from any White House, particularly the Trump White House," said Ryan.

Shaub reportedly told federal government ethics officers on Thursday that "he had the clear authority to make such a request and that they were still obligated under federal law to provide the requested information," Lipton reports. However, to enforce compliance would require cooperation from a reticent White House with which Shaub and the OGE have already tussled.

The OGE "is more or less dependent on the good graces of the party that is in power," said Marilyn L. Glynn, who served as general counsel and acting director of the agency during the George W. Bush administration. She called the Trump administration's latest ethical push-back "unprecedented and extremely troubling."

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