April 21, 2017

Udall, Heinrich Call on Trump to Disclose Ethics Waivers and White House Visitor Logs

'The American public is entitled to know who meets with the president and White House policy makers’ 

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich called on President Trump to make public who has been allowed into the White House without signing the administrations's ethics pledge and who is visiting his White House to influence policy. Udall and Heinrich were joined by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) in demanding transparency from the Trump administration amid reports of lobbyists, lawyers, and consultants from a range of industries shaping federal policy and coming and going from the administration with ease.

The letter follows recent news reports that the Trump administration has hired former lobbyists for numerous administration positions and that it has been waiving rules that prevent administration officials from leaving the White House directly to work as lobbyists — despite Trump's promise to "drain the swamp" of special interests and lobbyists' influence in government. At the same time, the Trump White House has decided to discontinue a practice started under President Obama of posting the White House visitor logs online.

“Scandal follows conflict of interest like night follows day,” the senators wrote in a letter sent to the White House. “Your decisions permit industry lobbyists to advance their agendas in your administration, confer with former clients and employers to craft government policy behind closed doors, and cash out by returning to their high-paying lobbying jobs to take advantage of those new policies, all thanks to secret waivers that are never made public.”

In their letter, the senators asked President Trump to make all waivers to his ethics pledge available to the public as soon as they are granted and release White House visitor records. “Should you take these initial steps,” the senators wrote, “we stand ready to work with your administration to ensure the federal government meets the highest ethical standards. We are prepared to press for legislation to address these issues if you do not.”

The Trump administration announced Friday that it would discontinue the previous administration’s policy of releasing White House visitor logs, citing “grave national security risks." The senators note in their letter, “We are not aware of any instance where the disclosure of the name of a visitor to the White House, as long as three months after that visit, created a national security risk. The American public is entitled to know who meets with the President and White House policy makers.”

Udall recently introduced the MAR-A-LAGO Act to require the disclosure of visitor lists at the White House and at locations like the Trump Organization's Mar-A-Lago Club - sometimes billed as the "Winter White House" by Trump officials - Trump Tower in New York City, and the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

Conflicts of interest and a lack of transparency have become major issues for the Trump administration as nears its 100-day mark. On Sunday, the New York Times reported several lobbyists, lawyers, and consultants from oil and gas interests, financial services companies, and the construction industry who have assumed top positions in the White House and federal agencies. The Times cites several examples of those officials’ direct involvement in shaping policy that affects the interests they formerly served. Bloomberg broke news last week that one of Trump’s senior advisers is already leaving his post to represent the banking industry. To do so, the administration granted the adviser a waiver of the binding ethics pledge he signed, which bans lobbying by former Trump administration officials for five years after they leave service. The Washington Post has reported on a Trump State Department appointee who left without signing the ethics pledge at all and has already registered as a lobbyist for Verizon and Inovio Pharmaceuticals. A Pro Publica analysis of Trump appointees found three dozen former lobbyists hired by the Trump administration from the health insurance, pharmaceuticals, construction, energy, and finance industries.

Full text of the letter is below and can be found here.

April 20, 2017

The President
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write to urge you to take immediate steps to reverse a number of decisions by your administration that create conditions for conflicts of interest and potential corruption throughout the federal government.

The New York Times reported this weekend that your administration is being filled with “former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck.”[1] These do not appear to be isolated appointments. According to the Times and other media outlets, your administration includes lobbyists that have represented oil and gas interests, financial services companies, and the construction industry.[2] A March 2017 review by ProPublica found at least 36 former lobbyists among your administration’s earliest hires.[3]

In addition, several Senators have raised concerns to your staff about the role Carl Icahn is playing as a “special advisor” for regulations, a role that apparently allows him to skirt all conflict of interests laws, regulations and pledges while he advocates for policies that would directly benefit him and his companies.[4] Others have raised concerns about the proliferation of former Goldman Sachs employees in your administration, and the conflicts of interest they bring to economic policy and financial oversight.[5] There are now even reports that members of your administration are already getting secret waivers to return to the private sector and lobby the agencies they served, after only six months rather than the five-year ban required by your Ethics Pledge.[6]

Early in your term, you issued Executive Order 13770, “Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Employees” that maintained, and in some cases extended, the conflict of interest restrictions put in place by the Obama administration. Those who took you at your word that you would “drain the swamp” in Washington may have seen this as following through on your commitment, but that appears not to be the case. Since you issued this Executive Order, it appears you have undermined it by freely and secretly issuing waivers to allow former lobbyists to work on matters that could benefit their former clients.

The Obama administration released its waivers and the rationale supporting them to the public.[7] You have not followed this precedent. The Director of the Office of Government Ethics has reportedly advised career government ethics officials that the process for getting waivers from your ethics rules lacks transparency and that they should not get involved in what has become a “political decision.”[8] To compound this lack of transparency, you have chosen to keep these waivers secret and stonewall congressional inquiries into the conflicts your appointees bring to their positions.[9] As of this writing, the White House website where the Obama administration disclosed this information is blank.[10]

Secrecy is becoming the hallmark of the Trump White House. Last week, your administration announced it would break with precedent and refuse to make public White House visitor logs. This announcement stressed, among other things, “grave national security risks” associated with disclosing these records.[11] We are not aware of any instance where the disclosure of the name of a visitor to the White House, as long as three months after that visit, created a national security risk. The American public is entitled to know who meets with the President and White House policy makers. There has been strong bipartisan support for releasing the visitor logs and congressional Republicans conducted vigorous oversight over the Obama administration’s implementation of its disclosures.[12]

Your decision to spend an unprecedented amount of time and conduct significant government business at the Mar-a-Lago resort, which you call the “Southern White House,” has compounded this lack of transparency. Despite repeated requests, your administration has refused to respond to congressional inquiries about security and screening at Mar-a-Lago. You have also refused to extend the Obama-era visitor log policy to that and other Trump properties at which you expect to regularly conduct government business.

Scandal follows conflict of interest like night follows day. Your decisions permit industry lobbyists to advance their agendas in your administration, confer with former clients and employers to craft government policy behind closed doors, and cash out by returning to their high-paying lobbying jobs to take advantage of those new policies, all thanks to secret waivers that are never made public. When industry captures its regulators, the American people rarely benefit.

We hope our assessment of your administration is wrong. We hope that it does not take a tragedy like a public health emergency or financial collapse caused by policies crafted by lobbyists to benefit their industry for you to begin to take seriously your pledge to “drain the swamp.” We urge you to take these two steps to start to address these concerns:

1. Make public all waivers to your ethics pledge as soon as they are granted.

2. Release White House visitor records. If “grave national security risks” are a legitimate concern, provide us the specific basis for your decision and work with us to develop a policy that addresses those concerns.

Ultimately, no one benefits from a government riddled with conflict, scandal, and corruption. Should you take these initial steps, we stand ready to work with your administration to ensure the federal government meets the highest ethical standards. We are prepared to press for legislation to address these issues if you do not.