Blizzard of ethics complaints filed against Trump administration by Public Citizen
Public Citizen is alleging possible violations of “drain the swamp” ethics rules that Trump announced just days into his presidency.
by Adam Edelman / Mar.26.2018 / 1:59 PM ET
A prominent government watchdog group has filed 30 ethics complaints with various federal agencies — including the White House — alleging that employees are working in violation of President Donald Trump’s executive order intended to “drain the swamp” and keep government free of former lobbyists.
The group, Public Citizen, filed the complaints in recent days, charging possible violations of ethics rules that Trump announced just days into his presidency.
The complaints, obtained by NBC News, cite Executive Order No. 13770, which effectively barred former lobbyists from being appointed, without a waiver, to governmental positions in which they would manage issues they’d lobbied on within the past two years.
Last summer, Public Citizen identified 36 lobbyists who’d been tapped for government jobs dealing with issues they’d lobbied on, and only six of those appointees have received waivers since then, the group said.
“These 30 apparent violations of Trump’s own ethics rules are only the tip of the iceberg,” said Craig Holman, co-author of the June 2017 report and lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.
Holman added that the Trump administration had issued the waivers only to appointees whose apparent violations had received attention and scrutiny through media reports.
One individual cited by Public Citizen was Byron Anderson, a special assistant to the secretary of labor, who the group said “appears to be working on the same specific issue areas he had lobbied on within the last two years, and has not received a waiver from the ethics rules.” According to Anderson’s LinkedIn profile, he worked as a vice president of federal affairs at Transamerica until January 2017.
Another individual cited for the same reason was Andrew Wheeler, who worked as a lobbyist for the coal industry as recently as May 2017, according to Bloomberg News.
The group also filed complaints citing employees at the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Health and Human Services, Commerce, Interior, Energy, Education, Agriculture, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Public Citizen has sent the complaints to ethics officers at each agency where the appointees are working, requesting that they investigate.
The White House has not responded to a request for comment.
“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.”
Trump has come under frequent criticism from watchdog and oversight groups, as well as Democrats, for not making good on the promise to make government a lobbyist-free zone.
Many of the president’s Cabinet heads and aides have routinely raised legal and ethical questions. For example, former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned after just eight months on the job amid a public outcry over his use of private jets to conduct government business, which cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have also come under scrutiny for paying for the use of private jets with taxpayer money
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