The White House disclosed Wednesday evening that it has granted ethics waivers to 17 specific appointees who work for President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, including four former lobbyists.
The waivers exempt the appointees from certain portions of ethics rules aimed at barring potential conflicts of interest. In letters posted on the White House website, the White House counsel's office wrote that the waivers were in the public interest because the administration had a need for the appointees' expertise on certain issues.
Among the high-profile figures who received waivers: White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, who were both permitted to engage with their former employer or clients. In addition, a blanket waiver was given to all executive office appointees to interact with news organisations — a move that gives senior strategist Stephen Bannon permission to communicate with Breitbart News, the conservative website he used to run.
The waiver information - which was requested of all federal agencies by the Office of Government Ethics in April - provides a window into how far the Trump administration is willing to bend on its “drain the swamp” pledge. As a candidate, Trump vowed to take a hard line on lobbyists, which he promised would not shape his administration.
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.”
“The White House Counsel's Office worked closely with all White House officials to avoid conflicts arising from their former places of employment or investment holdings,” Walters said. “To the furthest extent possible, counsel worked with each staffer to recuse from conflicting conduct rather than being granted waivers, which has led to the limited number of waivers being issued.”
Three of the former lobbyists given waivers to work in the White House serve as staffers to the National Economic Council, headed by former Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn. (Cohn himself did not need a waiver because he recuses himself from participating in matters specific to Goldman Sachs, according to a White House official.)
His aides that received ethics exemptions include Michael Catanzaro, a domestic energy and environmental policy adviser. Catanzaro was granted permission to work on a broad portfolio of matters of interest to his former energy sector clients, including emissions regulations, clear air standards and renewable fuel standards.
Shahira Knight, a White House adviser on tax and retirement policy, received a waiver to participate in a range of tax and financial policy matters. Knight, a former tax lobbyist, served as vice president of Fidelity Investments' public affairs and policy group before joining the White House.
Andrew Olmem, who lobbied on bankruptcy and securities issues at the firm Venable before joining the White House as a financial policy adviser, has an exemption to meet with former clients involved in Puerto Rico's financial crisis and engage in a range of insurance and financial policies.
Joshua Pitcock, who serves as chief of staff to Pence, was issued a waiver when it comes to broad policy matters affecting the state of Indiana, for which he previously worked as a lobbyist. Among the topics he is permitted to wade into: refugee policy, veterans' issues, environmental regulations and health care.
A waiver was granted to Priebus, who was given permission to participate in communications and meetings involving the Republican National Committee, where he served as chairman. Conway received a waiver to interact with former clients of her polling firm, which includes a wide range of political and conservative advocacy organisations.
In addition, six members of the White House counsel's office — including counsel Donald McGahn II — were granted waivers to participate in matters in which their former law firm, Jones Day, is representing the president, his campaign committee or other related political entities.
Trump's predecessors also issued ethics waivers to appointees who had potential conflicts of interest. The Obama administration handed out at least 66 such exemptions to appointees across the federal government — including senior figures such as White House adviser Valerie Jarrett — and regularly posted the ethics waivers online.
The biggest names involved in the Trump-Russia investigation
The biggest names involved in the Trump-Russia investigation
1/11 Paul Manafort
Mr Manafort is a Republican strategist and former Trump campaign manager. He resigned from that post over questions about his extensive lobbying overseas, including in Ukraine where he represented pro-Russian interests.
2/11 Mike Flynn
Mr Flynn was named as Trump's national security adviser but was forced to resign from his post for inappropriate communication with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. He had misrepresented a conversation he had with Mr Kislyak to Vice President Mike Pence, telling him wrongly that he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian.
3/11 Sergey Kislyak
Mr Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US, is at the centre of the web said to connect President Donald Trump's campaign with Russia.
4/11 Roger Stone
Mr Stone is a former Trump adviser who worked on the political campaigns of Richard Nixon, George HW Bush, and Ronald Reagan. Mr Stone claimed repeatedly in the final months of the campaign that he had backchannel communications with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that he knew the group was going to dump damaging documents to the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton - which did happen. Mr Stone also had contacts with the hacker Guccier 2.0 on Twitter, who claimed to have hacked the DNC and is linked to Russian intelligence services.
5/11 Jeff Sessions
The US attorney general was forced to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation after it was learned that he had lied about meeting with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
6/11 Carter Page
Mr Page is a former advisor to the Trump campaign and has a background working as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch. Mr Page met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Mr Page had invested in oil companies connected to Russia and had admitted that US Russia sanctions had hurt his bottom line.
7/11 Jeffrey "JD" Gorden
Mr Gordon met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 Republian National Convention to discuss how the US and Russia could work together to combat Islamist extremism should then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump win the election. The meeting came days before a massive leak of DNC emails that has been connected to Russia.
8/11 Jared Kushner
Mr Kushner is President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a key adviser to the White House. He met with a Russian banker appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in December. Mr Kushner has said he did so in his role as an adviser to Mr Trump while the bank says he did so as a private developer. Mr Kushner has also volunteered to testify in the Senate about his role helping to arrange meetings between Trump advisers and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
9/11 James Comey
Mr Comey was fired from his post as head of the FBI by President Donald Trump. The timing of Mr Comey's firing raised questions around whether or not the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign may have played a role in the decision.
10/11 Preet Bharara
Mr Bahara refused, alongside 46 other US district attorney's across the country, to resign once President Donald Trump took office after previous assurances from Mr Trump that he would keep his job. Mr Bahara had been heading up several investigations including one into one of President Donald Trump's favorite cable television channels Fox News. Several investigations would lead back to that district, too, including those into Mr Trump's campaign ties to Russia, and Mr Trump's assertion that Trump Tower was wiretapped on orders from his predecessor.
11/11 Sally Yates
Ms Yates, a former Deputy Attorney General, was running the Justice Department while President Donald Trump's pick for attorney general awaited confirmation. Ms Yates was later fired by Mr Trump from her temporary post over her refusal to implement Mr Trump's first travel ban. She had also warned the White House about potential ties former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to Russia after discovering those ties during the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign's connections to Russia.
Until last week, it was unclear that the Trump White House would follow suit. Earlier in the month, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, questioned the ethics office's legal jurisdiction and asked OGE to suspend its collection of waiver information. OGE Director Walter Shaub Jr issued a forceful letter defending the office's legal standing and asserting his intention to implement ethics rules “with independence, free from political pressure.” As the showdown escalated, the White House announced Friday that it would release the waiver information.
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