White House Granted Ethics Waivers To 17 Staffers, Including Conway, Priebus

Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon, left, walks with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, right, to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

The White House on Wednesday night disclosed the ethics waivers the Trump administration has granted to former lobbyists, lawyers, and political operatives, revealing that at least 17 staffers have been granted waivers.

The disclosure came after the White House initially pushed back on the Office of Government Ethics’ push to see the waivers and make them public.

The ethics waivers exempt staffers from Trump’s executive order on ethics meant to avoid conflicts of interest after Trump campaigned on “draining the swamp” of lobbyists in government. The waivers were granted to four lobbyists and six lawyers who formerly worked for the Jones Day law firm, which still represents Trump.

The Trump administration granted waivers to several other appointees, allowing them to interact with their former clients and employers.

The White House also issued two blanket waivers for an unspecified number of staff members. One of the waivers allows appointees in the Executive Office of the President “to participate in communications and meetings with news organizations on matters of broad policy and particular matters of general  applicability.” This waiver would let adviser Steve Bannon communicate with his former employer, Breitbart News.

Another blanket waiver allows certain staffers to communicate with Republican political organizations, including the Republican National Committee and Trump’s presidential campaign.

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said that the White House worked with many staffers to avoid conflicts of interest without issuing ethics waivers.

“The White House has voluntarily released the ethics waivers as part of the President’s commitment to the American people to be transparent,” Walters said in a statement. “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. 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.”

The Trump administration is so far outpacing the Obama administration with ethics waivers granted to White House appointees. The Obama administration granted ethics waivers to 17 White House appointees over Obama’s eight years in office.

Kellyanne Conway, a former Republican pollster, was granted a waiver allowing her to work with former clients, and Reince Priebus was given a waiver allowing him to work with the Republican National Committee, his former employer.

The White House issued waivers to three former lobbyists who work under Gary Cohn at the National Economic Council. Michael Catanzaro, the special assistant to the president for domestic energy and environmental policy, worked for the CGCN Group representing energy industry clients. Shahira Knight, the special assistant to the president for tax and retirement policy, worked in the policy and public relations group at Fidelity Investments. Andrew Olmem, the special assistant to the president for financial policy, was a partner at Venable where he lobbied on financial issues.

The White House also gave a waiver to Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Joshua Pitcock, who was a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. for the state of Indiana.

This post has been updated.