In a reversal critics described as a "big ethical leap backwards" and an invitation to bribery, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has "quietly" overturned internal policy prohibiting White House staffers with legal defense funds from receiving anonymous gifts from lobbyists.
"The Trump administration is inviting bribes in order to pay for staffers' legal defense of other crimes."
—Norm Eisen, CREWPolitico first reported the Trump administration's about-face on Wednesday, which comes just weeks after the resignation of former OGE head Walter Shaub, who said the policy reversal—which was carried out through a few subtle changes to a 1993 policy document—"disgusts" him.
"It's very depressing," Shaub told Politico in an interview. "It's unseemly for the ethics office to be doing something sneaky like that."
"I was hoping it was a technical website glitch," Shaub added on Twitter. "But the acting [OGE] director [David Apol] doesn't feel you deserve any answer, America."
While the changes are superficially minor, they may have deep and far-reaching implications. The "little-noticed" policy move "could help President Donald Trump's aides raise the money they need to pay attorneys as the Russia probe expands," Politico's Darren Samuelsohn observed.
Norm Eisen, the chair of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, argued the change is clear-cut evidence that the "Trump administration is inviting bribes in order to pay for staffers' legal defense of other crimes."
"What could be swampier?"
—David Axelrod, CNN
Echoing Eisen, former OGE acting director Marilyn Glynn told Politico: "You can picture a whole army of people with business before the government willing to step in here and make [the debt] go away."
Given Apol's record—and the Trump White House's continued disregard for even the most basic standards of transparency—commentators were not surprised by the reported policy reversal. Many did, however, take the opportunity to continue ridiculing Trump's campaign promise to "drain the swamp."
Lobbyists now can make anonymous donations to the legal defense funds of WH officials? What could be swampier? https://t.co/nkkq9bPoxN
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) September 14, 2017
Swamp gets murkier by the day https://t.co/aeD9ZwrTm0
— West Wing Reports (@WestWingReport) September 14, 2017
— Adam Smith (@asmith83) September 14, 2017