‘Trump seems to have mistaken ethics waivers for pardons’: Bush lawyer blasts possible violation of ethics rules
According to a New York Times report, the waivers may have skirted federal ethics rules for Steve Bannon. The exemption allowed White House aides to communicate with Breitbart News. In fact, the White House issued an exemption that allows all aides to communicate with all news organizations even if they were “a former employer.”
The move comes in the wake of anonymous leaks coming from the president’s own staffers.
The concern was not with the waiver it was that the waiver was “retroactive.”
“There is no such thing as a retroactive waiver,” said Walter M. Shaub Jr., the head of the Government Ethics Office. “If you need a retroactive waiver, you have violated a rule.”
The ethics office also pressed the administration to make the waivers public. Doing so revealed possibly conflicts with new Trump aides and their government duties. One of Trump’s first executive orders was to put strict ethics rules in place for political appointees like Bannon and others. That policy restricted Bannon from contacting Breitbart workers for two years about issues he was overseeing, however, Bannon continued his contact in violation. Breitbart has experienced a striking drop in traffic since Trump officially took office.
It prompted an official complaint by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to be filed with the ethics office. Breitbart has enjoyed special treatment in the White House with official press access as a media organization.
In another case, Kellyanne Conway acted “inadvertently” when she promoted the Ivanka Trump brand on Fox News while standing inside the White House and speaking as a spokesperson for the White House.
Don Fox, the general counsel of the ethics office explained in 2010 “waivers and authorizations must be issued prospectively in order to be valid.” Evaluating the waivers is one of the more serious and significant duties of the office, he explained.
“Both the individual employee’s interests and those of the government are best served when this process is carried out in a careful and consistent manner,” he said.
Shaub noted that he’s not even sure if they can evaluate a waiver because it was issued after the conduct othrewise prohibited.
“The only retroactive waiver I have ever heard of is called a pardon,” said George W. Bush’s White House Counsel Richard W. Painter.