President Trump's White House counsel has issued at least 24 ethics waivers to allow top administration officials to participate in matters they either lobbied for, or worked on for private clients, prior to joining the government, The Associated Press reports. In doing so, Trump neatly circumvents his own executive order banning such activities, and further muddies his promise to "drain the swamp."
"I was very surprised and at the same time very hopeful that [Trump] was going to take his pledge to 'drain the swamp' seriously," said Craig Holman, who advocates for stricter lobbying rules with Public Citizen. "It is now quite evident that the pledge was little more than campaign rhetoric."
In its own investigation published Wednesday, ProPublica found:
At least 187 Trump political appointees have been federal lobbyists and ... many are now overseeing the industries they once lobbied on behalf of. We've also discovered ethics waivers that allow Trump staffers to work on subjects in which they have financial conflicts of interest. In addition, at least 254 appointees affiliated with Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and at least 125 staffers from prominent conservative think tanks are now working in the federal government, many of whom are on teams to repeal Obama-era regulations. [ProPublica]
One waiver cited by AP, for example, grants FBI Director Christopher Wray permission "to participate in matters involving a confidential former client." Wray formerly worked at a law firm representing banks and other corporations. AP notes that his waiver "gives no indication about what Wray's conflict of interest might be or how it may violate Trump's ethics order."
Former President Barack Obama wrote almost 70 waivers to executive branch officials while in office, although he had imposed more rigorous conflict of interest rules than Trump beginning in 2009. Holman said a total of five waivers went to former lobbyists under Obama. Jeva Lange