U.S. President Exempts Officials from White House Ethics Rules

The ethics pledge in the White House has been waived at least 11 times since the Trump administration came into office in January, a White House online statement cites.

Hence, waivers allow senior staff to tackle matters that could affect their former employers or clients or involve issues from which the aides would normally be excluded because of past lobbying work.

Trump’s executive order on the ethics pledge came along with promises that he would “drain the swamp” of the Washington influence industry, based on a standard set by his predecessor Barack Obama.

One waiver gives a blanket exemption to all political appointees in the Executive Office of the President, allowing them to talk to the media about policy matters. For example, Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist, is the former head of conservative news outlet Breitbart, and this waiver from ethics rules would allow him to contact his former outlet.

“The Administration has an interest in interacting with news organizations on issues of importance to the Administration. It is important that all appointees be able to communicate and meet with news organizations, and disqualification from such meetings or communications would limit the ability of the White House Office to effectively carry out Administration priorities,” said White House Counsel Don McGahn.

Another blanket waiver allows all commissioned officers in the White House to communicate with Republican political organizations — including the Republican campaign arm, Trump’s presidential campaign, and a group for Republican governors — about broad policy areas.
Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway received a waiver that allows her to partake in “communications and meetings involving former clients which are political, advocacy, trade, or non-profit organizations,” the White House said.

Conway’s polling firm, The Polling Company/WomanTrend had a variety of clients including the American Conservative Union, Catholic University, FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity.

These newly disclosed waivers show how often the White House has set those rules aside in order to allow key staffers to oversee issues they worked on in the private sector.

The latest release comes right before the June 1 deadline, and immediately following a White House conflict with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), which compiles ethics waivers from other agencies. The White House had questioned OGE’s authority to request the waivers, but ultimately said the disagreement was rather a “misunderstanding”.

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