Gov’t Ethics Chief Presses WH: ‘A Waiver After The Fact Won’t Fix The Problem’

Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, arrives for a scheduled meeting with the leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Jan. 23, 2017.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, arrives for a scheduled meeting with the leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, on Capitol Hill i... Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, arrives for a scheduled meeting with the leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) MORE LESS
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The director of the Office of Government Ethics on Friday pressured the Trump administration for more information about certain ethics waivers that did not include dates or signatures in a recent disclosure.

OGE Director Walter Shaub Jr., who has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump’s business and ethical practices, told the Washington Post that “[t]here’s no such thing as a retroactive waiver” and “[i]ssuing a waiver after the fact won’t fix the problem” if White House officials violated Trump’s January ethics pledge before being issued a waiver.

On Friday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about one White House aide in particular, chief strategist Steve Bannon, and a waiver for all appointed White House staff, exempting them from Paragraph 6 of Trump’s ethics pledge, which reads: “I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.”

The undated, unsigned waiver in question reads: “I am issuing this memorandum retroactive to January 20, 2017 to provide a limited waiver to the restrictions found in paragraph 6 of the Ethics Pledge for all appointees in the Executive Office of the President.”

Both Bannon and an employee of Brietbart News — the conservative outlet he used to lead — have acknowledged communication between Bannon and the news organization, which the progressive watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington pointed out in a complaint to White House Counsel Don McGahn in March.

Spicer said Friday that Trump was “the ultimate decider” on his ethics pledge, but he did not specifically answer charges that some of the waivers may have been retroactive.

He added: “What we discovered was that several individuals on staff had previously worked for media organizations, and in order to continue having those discussions and advancing the President’s agenda and priorities, it was important to make sure that all individuals had the opportunity to be able to speak to the media about what the President was doing to make the country stronger.”

The White House only released its list of waivers — of which there were an unusually high number, Vox noted — after a stand-off with OGE.

Budget chief Mick Mulvaney wrote to Shaub on May 22 that his request for copies of the White House’s ethics waivers, which the Obama administration regularly released to OGE, “appears to raise legal questions regarding the scope of O.G.E.’s authorities.” Shaub persisted, and the White House ultimately released the waivers on May 31.

However, the undated waivers, Shaub told the Post Friday, raise questions “as to whether they were issued before or after the recipients participated in prohibited matters.”

“It would help to know when they were issued,” he added.

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