Senate Democrats pledge to force release of ethics waivers

Posted at 4:50 PM, May 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-23 16:50:20-04

Senate Democrats say they’re ready to force the White House to hand over any ethics waivers it has granted to executive branch officials.

In a letter to President Trump’s top budget official Tuesday, 18 Democrats said they will use “all tools available” if the Trump administration doesn’t comply with a request by a federal ethics watchdog to submit the waivers.

The letter comes nearly a month after the Office of Government Ethics first asked the White House and federal agencies for the names of anyone who had been granted an exemption from ethics rules.

For example, if an administration official once worked as a lobbyist, an ethics waiver could allow that person to bypass the rules that are meant to prevent them from working on matters related to their lobbying.

Last week, Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, asked ethics office director Walter Shaub to stop the inquiry, and questioned his authority to ask for the names of anyone granted an exemption.

Shaub on Monday insisted that the White House turn over the names by the previously stated deadline of June 1.

If the budget office “does not stand down,” the Senators wrote in their letter, “we will seek the waivers directly ourselves.”

“The Administration cannot dispute that Congress has the right to this information,” they wrote.

The letter from lawmakers also mentioned Trump’s executive order from January, which prohibits former lobbyists from participating in anything directly related to the businesses of former employers or clients for two years.

Lawmakers said Shaub’s request is “necessary for assuring Americans that the Trump administration is taking its own ethics pledge seriously.”

Mulvaney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Before Shaub’s letter was made public Monday night, the budget office said in a statement that it “stands firmly in support of the highest ethical standards.” But it said the request for the waivers had an “expansive scope and breathless timetable.”