On Wednesday night, the White House released information on the ethics waivers it has granted to White House employees working for President Trump and, in one case, Vice President Mike Pence. The 16 Trump dispensations from ethics rules he signed include visible figures like Kellyanne Conway, who was given permission to interact with clients of her polling firm, and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who can talk freely with the Republican National Committee.
Six of the waivers went to White House lawyers, including counsel Don McGahn, allowing them to communicate with their former law firm, Jones Day. And four White House officials got waivers to work on issues they focused on as lobbyists: Michael Catanzaro, who worked against Obama-era environmental rules as an energy lobbyist, can oversee the office trying to repeal those rules; Shahira Knight, who left her job as a top lobbyist for Fidelity Investments, is allowed to work on tax and retirement policy; Andrew Olmem, who lobbied on bankruptcy and securities issues as a partner at the law firm Venable, can work with former clients in his role as financial policy adviser; and Joshua Pitcock, Pence's chief of staff, can work on issues that affect Indiana, which he lobbied for.
Chief strategist Stephen Bannon, former head of Breitbart News, was the apparent target for a blanket waiver retroactively allowing all Trump White House appointees to communicate "with news organizations on matters of broad policy" including "a former employer or former client." The White House released the waivers under pressure from the Office of Government Ethics, which requested waiver information in April for all federal agencies; along with the White House waivers released Wednesday night, information about dispensations to other federal appointees are expected to be made public in coming days.
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said that the Trump administration had tried "to the furthest extent possible" to get staffers "to recuse from conflicting conduct rather than being granted waivers," so, for example, chief economic adviser Gary Cohn did not need a waiver because he voluntarily recuses himself from matters specific to Goldman Sachs, where he was a top executive. Waivers became more common under former President Barack Obama, made necessary by ethics rules he put in place to block lobbyists; over eight years, he issued 17 total waivers for White House employees, including three in the first few months, and about 70 to all federal appointees.