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Washington - What Swamp? Lobbyists Get Ethics Waivers To Work For Trump

Published on: March 8, 2018 12:01 PM
By: AP
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White House lawyer Don McGahn gestures while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), at National Harbor, Md., Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)White House lawyer Don McGahn gestures while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), at National Harbor, Md., Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Washington - President Donald Trump and his appointees have stocked federal agencies with ex-lobbyists and corporate lawyers who now help regulate the very industries from which they previously collected paychecks, despite promising as a candidate to drain the swamp in Washington.

A week after his January 2017 inauguration, Trump signed an executive order that bars former lobbyists, lawyers and others from participating in any matter they lobbied or otherwise worked on for private clients within two years before going to work for the government.

But records reviewed by The Associated Press show Trump’s top lawyer, White House counsel Don McGahn, has issued at least 24 ethics waivers to key administration officials at the White House and executive branch agencies.

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Though the waivers were typically signed by McGahn months ago, the Office of Government Ethics disclosed several more on Wednesday.

One allows FBI Director Chris Wray “to participate in matters involving a confidential former client.” The three-sentence waiver gives no indication about what Wray’s conflict of interest might be or how it may violate Trump’s ethics order.

Asked about the waivers, Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman, said, “In the interests of full transparency and good governance, the posted waivers set forth the policy reasons for granting an exception to the pledge.”

Trump’s executive order on ethics supplanted a more stringent set of rules put in place by President Barack Obama in 2008. Nearly 70 waivers were issued to executive branch officials during Obama’s eight years, though those were generally more narrowly focused and offered a fuller legal explanation for why the waiver was granted.

Craig Holman, who lobbies in Washington for stricter government ethics and lobbying rules on behalf of the advocacy group Public Citizen, said he was initially optimistic when Trump issued his executive order.

“I was very surprised and at the same time very hopeful that he was going to take his pledge to ‘drain the swamp’ seriously,” Holman said Wednesday. “It is now quite evident that the pledge was little more than campaign rhetoric. Not only are key provisions simply ignored and not enforced, when in cases where obvious conflicts of interest are brought into the limelight, the administration readily issues waivers from the ethics rules.”

An analysis by the AP shows that nearly half of the political appointees hired at the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump have strong industry ties. Of 59 EPA hires tracked by the AP over the last year, about a third worked as registered lobbyists or lawyers for chemical manufacturers, fossil fuel producers and other corporate clients that raise the very type of revolving-door conflicts of interests that Trump promised voters he would eliminate.

Most of those officials have signed ethics agreements saying they would not participate in actions involving their former clients while working at the EPA. At least three have gotten waivers allowing them to do just that.

Erik Baptist, a top EPA lawyer, worked until 2016, as senior lawyer and registered federal lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, the national trade group for the oil and gas industry. According to disclosure reports, he lobbied Congress to pass legislation repealing the Renewable Fuel Standard, a program created more than a decade ago to set minimum production quotas for biofuels to be blended into gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel.

Baptist signed an ethics agreement pledging to recuse himself from any issues involving his former employer, including several lawsuits filed against the agency where he now works. But in August, McGahn granted him approval to advise EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on issues surrounding the renewable fuel law.

McGahn wrote that he was exempting Baptist from the ethics pledge because “his deep understanding of the RFS program and the regulated industry, make him the ideal person to assist the administrator and his senior leadership team to make EPA and its renewable fuel programs more efficient and effective.”

Pruitt, a Republican who was closely aligned with the oil and gas industry as an elected official in his home state of Oklahoma, proposed modest cuts last summer to production quotas for biofuels that include ethanol, despite promises from Trump to leave the Renewable Fuel Standard alone.

That triggered bipartisan outrage among members of Congress from major corn-growing states, who threatened last fall to block Senate votes on the administration’s environmental nominees unless Pruitt backed down.

Jeffrey M. Sands previously worked as a top lobbyist for Syngenta, a major pesticide manufacturer. Following a request from the EPA, McGahn determined it was “in the public interest” to allow Sands to work as Pruitt’s senior adviser for agriculture.

Dennis “Lee” Forsgren, the deputy assistant administrator helping oversee the EPA’s enforcement clean water regulations, was allowed to work on the EPA’s hurricane response efforts involving the Miccosukee, a Native American tribe in Florida for whom he was a registered lobbyist up until 2016.

“All EPA employees get ethics briefings when they start and continually work with our ethics office regarding any potential conflicts they may encounter while employed here,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said when asked whether the ethics waivers violate the spirt of Trump’s executive order.

The Treasury Department asked McGahn for three waivers. Anthony Sayegh, appointed as the assistant secretary for public affairs, previously worked as a Fox News contributor. His waiver allows him to “participate in matters involving his former client.”

Brian Callahan, the department’s top lawyer at Treasury, was granted a waiver concerning issues involving his former position as general counsel at Cooper and Kirk PLLC. The law firm represents Fairholme Funds, which recently filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department and the Fair Housing Finance Agency.

McGahn’s waiver allows Callahan to participate in discussions about policy decisions pertaining to housing finance reform, even though “some of these discussions could at some point touch upon issues that might impact the litigation.”

The State Department got five waivers. The former law firm of Edward T. McMullen, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, represented Boeing. The Swiss government recently announced its intent to purchase military equipment and accept bids from American companies.

Another waiver, which was heavily redacted before release, allows communications director Heather Norby to work with employees of Fox News even though she used to work as a broadcast journalist for the network.

At the Pentagon, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall G. Schriver got a waiver allowing him to “participate in any particular matter involving specific parties,” including his former client: the Japanese government.

Health and Human Services asked for waivers for senior counselor to the secretary Keagan Lenihan, a registered lobbyist who recently worked for a pharmaceutical and health services company and for chief of staff Lance Leggitt, who recently lobbied on behalf of his law firm’s health law practice group.

Agriculture Department policy adviser Kailee Tzacz is allowed to “participate personally and substantially in matters regarding the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” a guide that offers nutritional information and recommendations.

McGahn’s waiver didn’t offer much detail into the potential conflict Tzacz’s appointment would pose. But other records show she most recently served as food policy director for the Corn Refiners Association, a trade organization representing producers of corn starch, corn oil and high fructose corn syrup.

Before that, she lobbied on behalf of SNAC International, a trade association for snack food manufacturers.



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Read Comments (15)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Mar 08, 2018 at 12:17 PM Phineas Says:

Shameless Administration

2

 Mar 08, 2018 at 01:37 PM Trump's BS Says:

Trump: "My swamp is better than your swamp;" or
"All swamps are created equal, but my swamp is more equal than yours."

He's full of it

3

 Mar 08, 2018 at 01:57 PM Educated Archy Says:

Liberals define swamp to what they perceive it to be then mock the president for their made up fake news definitions.

Swamp has very little to do with lobbysts.. Swamp is about people stuck in the beuractric ways and blocking things from getting done. That could be certain lobbysts. But here is what it really means. The president was elected to do what he said he'd do on the campaign. He has an agenda and platform. In most presidencies, bureaucrat of the deep state (perhaps often due to lobbyists but no exclusive) get in the way and obstruct agenda's. And the president just gets swamped by whoever lines his pockets, votes.Or they get bossed around by the deep state employees who have thier own agenda. President Trump has no problem with lobbyists that support his view. So all those anti EPA lobbyists including Preuitt is who we want in charge. We are looking to diminish their over regulated, over bearing powers. That's what he was elected to do.

As yonason would say there are bad lobbyists and some very fine lobbyists. We like the very fine ones who support our agenda. They are not the swamp.

4

 Mar 08, 2018 at 03:40 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #3  
Educated Archy Says:

Liberals define swamp to what they perceive it to be then mock the president for their made up fake news definitions.

Swamp has very little to do with lobbysts.. Swamp is about people stuck in the beuractric ways and blocking things from getting done. That could be certain lobbysts. But here is what it really means. The president was elected to do what he said he'd do on the campaign. He has an agenda and platform. In most presidencies, bureaucrat of the deep state (perhaps often due to lobbyists but no exclusive) get in the way and obstruct agenda's. And the president just gets swamped by whoever lines his pockets, votes.Or they get bossed around by the deep state employees who have thier own agenda. President Trump has no problem with lobbyists that support his view. So all those anti EPA lobbyists including Preuitt is who we want in charge. We are looking to diminish their over regulated, over bearing powers. That's what he was elected to do.

As yonason would say there are bad lobbyists and some very fine lobbyists. We like the very fine ones who support our agenda. They are not the swamp.

"Lobbyists" were, and are, at the center of what became known as "the swamp." I think you like to hear yourself go on ad nauseum, whether or not you know what you are talking about.

5

 Mar 08, 2018 at 03:42 PM Educated Archy Says:

Reply to #2  
Trump's BS Says:

Trump: "My swamp is better than your swamp;" or
"All swamps are created equal, but my swamp is more equal than yours."

He's full of it

Nope. Your swamp is your own made up words. Don't decide what the swamp is then say full of it.

Swamp= bureaucracy aka Mueller, Commey etc.. Not lobbyists. That's your own fake news

6

 Mar 08, 2018 at 03:51 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #1  
Phineas Says:

Shameless Administration

Shameless? Are you really that dense? Which part of his policies and campaign promises kept don’t you like? Tax cuts? Getting tough on our enemies (no wonder N Korea is coming crawling on their knees)? Declaring Jerusalem Israel’s Capitol? Moving the embassy? Bringing back billion dollar companies to the US along with tens of thousands of jobs? Liberals just have hate, no rational policies.

7

 Mar 08, 2018 at 04:45 PM Esther Says:

Reply to #2  
Trump's BS Says:

Trump: "My swamp is better than your swamp;" or
"All swamps are created equal, but my swamp is more equal than yours."

He's full of it

The AP etc have written/broadcast so many fake news stories about this president that many of us can't take any of these stories seriously or even be bothered with reading them.

8

 Mar 08, 2018 at 05:10 PM Lawrence M. Reisman Says:

Reply to #5  
Educated Archy Says:

Nope. Your swamp is your own made up words. Don't decide what the swamp is then say full of it.

Swamp= bureaucracy aka Mueller, Commey etc.. Not lobbyists. That's your own fake news

When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

9

 Mar 08, 2018 at 05:15 PM Phineas Says:

Reply to #6  
Anonymous Says:

Shameless? Are you really that dense? Which part of his policies and campaign promises kept don’t you like? Tax cuts? Getting tough on our enemies (no wonder N Korea is coming crawling on their knees)? Declaring Jerusalem Israel’s Capitol? Moving the embassy? Bringing back billion dollar companies to the US along with tens of thousands of jobs? Liberals just have hate, no rational policies.

He said he would drain the swamp and is now appointing ex-lobbyists. How dense are you that you are bringing up points that have nothing to do with the article Mr. Anonymous. Also, your "facts" are appallingly simplistic.

North Korea is not on their knees. This happened before. Brought back billion dollar companies (facts are a little murky here but Apple had announced their return before the administration), tax cuts are not funded by new revenue sources and, according to just about everyone, will result in deficits which Republicans used to be against. Israel's capitol, how does this change any facts on the ground or make Israel safer?

10

 Mar 08, 2018 at 09:39 PM Educated Archy Says:

Reply to #9  
Phineas Says:

He said he would drain the swamp and is now appointing ex-lobbyists. How dense are you that you are bringing up points that have nothing to do with the article Mr. Anonymous. Also, your "facts" are appallingly simplistic.

North Korea is not on their knees. This happened before. Brought back billion dollar companies (facts are a little murky here but Apple had announced their return before the administration), tax cuts are not funded by new revenue sources and, according to just about everyone, will result in deficits which Republicans used to be against. Israel's capitol, how does this change any facts on the ground or make Israel safer?

How is Israel safer ? Very simple . Part of me he conflict with the Palestinians is a physiological war of the minds which legitimizes sides . By showing the world we recognize Israel right to exist we legitimize Israel side and further weaken the Palestinians. Yes a weaker Palestiniane makes us safer

11

 Mar 08, 2018 at 09:41 PM Educated Archy Says:

Reply to #4  
Anonymous Says:

"Lobbyists" were, and are, at the center of what became known as "the swamp." I think you like to hear yourself go on ad nauseum, whether or not you know what you are talking about.

Wrong you and Lawrence and Yonason are lying . That's what swamp was in your brains . You saw things thru Bernie lenses and decided fake definitions .

Swamps are and always were people the obstruct the presidents agenda while working for him like sally Yates and comney

12

 Mar 09, 2018 at 10:13 AM yonasonw Says:

For crying out loud, Archy, stop labeling as "liars" people who disagree with you...it's not mature...and research the issue. The term swamp is very often used in the context of the "revolving door," where well connected people left government, worked as lobbyists and wind up back in government again.

13

 Mar 09, 2018 at 10:35 AM Anonymous Says:

Agent orange is the biggest con man alive. Inflation is starting to pick up and when that becomes stagflation, the orange ferd will become just a loud mouthed Jimmy Carter.

14

 Mar 09, 2018 at 11:40 AM Educated Archy Says:

Reply to #13  
Anonymous Says:

Agent orange is the biggest con man alive. Inflation is starting to pick up and when that becomes stagflation, the orange ferd will become just a loud mouthed Jimmy Carter.

The federal reserve for years have been targeting inflation and in fact kept complaining that its well behind target of whats needed to grow the economy.

Now inflation is bad???? Make up your mind.

"and when that becomes stagflation"

I think you meant to say "and when that becomes hyper inflation". Carter suffered from Hyper inflation not stagflation. Stagflation means no inflation. We already had stagflation under Obama. Inflation is often good, Hyper inflation is bad. So far there are no signs of hyoer inflation just inflation

15

 Mar 09, 2018 at 11:37 AM Educated Archy Says:

Reply to #12  
yonasonw Says:

For crying out loud, Archy, stop labeling as "liars" people who disagree with you...it's not mature...and research the issue. The term swamp is very often used in the context of the "revolving door," where well connected people left government, worked as lobbyists and wind up back in government again.

The term swamp is very often used

Often used but not always used. You & I both know Trump never meant that.
You really think Trump ever meant, lobbysts who support my polices won't be tolerated? I think its quite obvious that he meant lobbysits who impede what I am elected to do won't thrive.

That's why I call you a liar. Its when you ignore the obvious (Just like the fine people lie that you keep on reitrating as if you don't know that many were "uneducated " trump voters who knew nothing about Sepencer and only knew that LEE and the confederate is helig.)

16

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