By Craig Holman
On a Saturday afternoon about a week into his term, President Trump issued an ethics executive order designed to implement his campaign pledge to “drain the swamp.”
The ethics order came as a surprise to many and borrowed some key provisions from President Barack Obama’s earlier ethics executive order. A key provision of the ethics order prohibits former lobbyists from being appointed without a waiver to governmental positions that oversee the same specific issue area they lobbied within the past two years. The relevant clause of the order reads, in part: “If I was a registered lobbyist within the 2 years before the date of my appointment…I will not for a period of 2 years after the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter on which I lobbied within the 2 years before the date of my appointment or participate in the specific issue area in which that matter falls.”
However, in a report last year entitled “The Company We Keep,” Public Citizen identified dozens of appointments throughout the Trump administration that appear to violate this rule. Public Citizen has now sent 30 letters to the respective designated agency ethics officers requesting that they investigate and explain 30 such lobbyist appointments. Numerous executive branch agencies and offices – including the White House itself – may have violated Trump’s ethics rules, according to Public Citizen, which has filed 30 ethics complaints against the agencies and White House.
These 30 apparent violations of Trump’s own ethics rules are only the tip of the iceberg. Public Citizen examined only a quarter of all presidential appointees because records were not readily available at the time, but the true number of potential violations may be fourfold.
Public Citizen’s previous research identified 36 lobbyists who have been appointed to positions that oversee the same specific issue areas they recently lobbied, with only six of those appointees having received publicly disclosed waivers from the ethics rule.
Violations of Trump’s ethics rules by the remaining 30 former lobbyists would occur if they are in any way involved in influencing official actions on the matters that they had recently lobbied in the private sector and have not received a waiver.
“The bottom line is that neither Trump nor his administration take conflicts of interest and ethics seriously,” said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for Public Citizen. “‘Drain the swamp’ was far more campaign rhetoric than a commitment to ethics, and the widespread lack of compliance and enforcement of Trump’s ethics executive order shows that ethics do not matter in the Trump administration.”