Ethics lawyers for Bush and Obama sounds the alarm: Trump’s cabinet hearings must be delayed
Norman L. Eisen and Richard W. Painter, who served as the White House ethics counsel under President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush, respectively, penned an article for the Guardian Monday urging a postponement of this week’s hearings on Donald Trump’s cabinet over questions of conflicts of interest and financial disclosure reports.
Eisen and Painter referred to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s February 2009 letter to then Majority Leader Harry Reid that called for the submission of the Office of Government ethics letter “prior to a committee hearing.” That letter certifies cabinet nominees’ financial disclosure reports and ethics agreements.
“Now, in 2017, with more billionaires than ever before being nominated for top jobs in the [Donald Trump] Administration, this argument for thorough review of financial disclosure and ethics agreements is more compelling than ever,” they continued.
In a letter to Senate Democrats Saturday, Office of Government Ethics director Walter Shaub Jr. expressed concern that several nominees have not completed ethics screening reviews.
“As OGE’s director, the announced hearing schedule for several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process is of great concern to me,” Shaub wrote to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
“This schedule has created undue pressure on OGE’s staff and agency ethics officials to rush through these important reviews,” Shaub added.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Sunday that Senate Democrats need to “grow up and get past” ethics questions pertaining to Trump’s cabinet picks.
“All of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustration at having not only lost the White House but having lost the Senate,” McConnell told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
In their article Monday, Eisen and Painter described the thorough and necessary process cabinet picks go through in order to gain approval from the Office of Government Ethics, including submitting a detailed public financial disclosure report which allows the office to identify ways for nominees to response conflicts.
“Completion of the ethics review process prior to senate confirmation hearings ensures that all parties have a detailed understanding of the nominee’s commitments prior to taking office, offers full transparency to the senate, and mitigates the opportunity for undue influence on the independent ethics review process,” Eisen and Painter wrote.
“Some of president-elect Trump’s nominees have completed this process, but many have not,” they added.
Specifically noting some of the potential conflicts with Trump’s Secretary of Education pick Betsy DeVos, Eisen and Painter argued Trump’s transition team has failed to engage with the Office of Government Ethics, adding it’s indicative of a greater pattern within the upcoming Trump administration.
“The tone of ethical leadership and conduct is set at the top,” Eisen and Painter wrote. “The failure of Trump as president-elect to address the conflicts of interest and constitutional problems deriving from his own business interests is a serious problem.”