An APM Reports review of news coverage, ethics agreements and government financial disclosure forms has found that more than half of President Trump’s 20-person Cabinet has engaged in questionable or unethical conduct.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s chief of staff “doctored an email and made false statements to create a pretext for taxpayers to cover expenses for the secretary’s wife on a 10-day trip to Europe last summer,” the Washington Post reports.
“Vivieca Wright Simpson, VA’s third-most senior official, altered language in an email from an aide coordinating the trip to make it appear that Shulkin was receiving an award from the Danish government — then used the award to justify paying for his wife’s travel, Inspector General Michael Missal said in a report released Wednesday.”
“The account of how the government paid travel expenses for the secretary’s wife is one finding in an unsparing investigation that concluded that Shulkin and his staff misled agency ethics officials and the public about key details of the trip.”
Politico: “The House Ethics Committee announced late Thursday that it was expanding its investigation into GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold to include allegations he improperly used official resources for campaign activities, as well as lying to the panel. Farenthold is already under investigation over claims that he sexually harassed at least one former staffer. Thursday’s announcement, however, means the stakes have gone up dramatically for the Texas Republican, as misuse of official resources is a potential violation of both House rules and federal law.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “is privately telling colleagues he will not back off of an ethics investigation if Roy Moore (R) is elected,” CNN reports.
“Senate Republicans plan to convene a meeting Wednesday morning to discuss their next steps if Moore wins the race.”
“State lawmakers around the country have introduced and supported policies that directly and indirectly help their own businesses, their employers and sometimes their personal finances,” according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press.
“The news organizations found numerous examples in which lawmakers’ votes had the effect of promoting their private interests. Even then, the votes did not necessarily represent a conflict of interest as defined by the state. That’s because legislatures set their own rules for when lawmakers should recuse themselves. In some states, lawmakers are required to vote despite any ethical dilemmas.”
Mike Allen: “Capitol Hill veterans expect that ‘a lot more’ sexual-harassment settlements by lawmakers will be uncovered. So now there’s a race to strengthen workplace rules that are scandalously archaic.”
“The existing system is a racket. Settlements are secret, and the Ethics Committee is notorious for protecting its own. We — as in all of us taxpayers — pay the hush money, because that’s who foots the bills for these settlements. Only a few lawmakers have publicly pushed for broad, quick change.”
Politico: “Pressure is mounting on congressional leaders to release the names of lawmakers who have secretly settled sexual harassment claims at taxpayer expense — a move that some members of Congress are loath to make. President Donald Trump told reporters this week that he believes Congress should disclose the settlements.”
“A handful of House members from both parties are calling on Republican leadership to do the same. And Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) proposed legislation Wednesday that would mandate public disclosure of sexual harassment settlements — and ban Congress from footing the bill for such deals in the future. Within a few hours of introducing his bill, DeSantis had been contacted by several Republican and Democratic lawmakers asking to sign on.”
Congressional ethics investigators have concluded there is “substantial reason to believe” Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) “engaged in insider trading and either took or requested official actions” to benefit a company in which he’s the largest shareholder, USA Today reports.
“Those may violations of House rules, standards of conduct and federal law.”
“Collins — who was the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump’s presidential campaign — is a board member of an Australian biotechnology company called Innate Immunotherapeutics.”
The House Ethics Committee is reviewing allegations that Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) “engaged in misconduct, four months after his personal investment practices came under scrutiny in the media,” the Washington Post reports.
“The New York Republican, who has denied wrongdoing, received a barrage of negative headlines in April and May after the Daily Beast reported that he wrote legislation that would benefit a pharmaceutical company in which he held a substantial interest.”
“Important White House ethics rule: don’t lie to a grand jury.”
— Bush White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter, on Twitter.
“It’s hard for the United States to pursue international anticorruption and ethics initiatives when we’re not even keeping our own side of the street clean. It affects our credibility. I think we are pretty close to a laughingstock at this point.”
— Outgoing government ethics chief Walter Shaub, quoted by the New York Times.
Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub told NPR he is turning in his resignation.
“The move follows months of clashes with the White House over issues such as President Trump’s refusal to divest his businesses and the administration’s delay in disclosing ethics waivers for appointees.”
Said Schaub: “The current situation has made it clear that the ethics program needs to be stronger than it is.”
“The Office of Government Ethics plans to press the White House to clarify when it issued a slew of ethics waivers giving its staffers permission to interact with their former employers or clients, an indication that the exemptions might not have been properly granted,” the Washington Post reports.
“Ten of the 14 waivers publicly disclosed this week by the White House are undated and unsigned, raising questions about when they were put in place.”
“Before he was named Trump’s health secretary, Tom Price took a congressional trip to Australia and pressed officials to extend protections for drug companies in an international trade agreement,” ProPublica reports.
“Price’s lobbying abroad, which has not previously been reported, is another example of how his work in Congress could have benefitted his investment portfolio. He traded hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of shares in health-related companies while taking action on legislation and regulations affecting the industry. ProPublica previously reported that Price’s stock trades are said to be under investigation by federal prosecutors.”
“The White House disclosed Wednesday evening that it has granted ethics waivers to 17 appointees who work for President Trump and Vice President Pence, including four former lobbyists,” the Washington Post reports.
“The waivers exempt the appointees from certain portions of ethics rules aimed at barring potential conflicts of interest. In letters posted on the White House website, the White House counsel’s office wrote that the waivers were in the public interest because the administration had a need for the appointees’ expertise on certain issues.”
“The rate at which the Trump White House has handed out waivers is far faster than that of the Obama administration, which issued 17 exemptions for White House appointees over eight years.”
“Justice Department ethics experts have concluded that newly appointed special counsel Robert Mueller can oversee the investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election — even though his former law firm represents several people who could be caught up in the matter,” the Washington Post reports.
“The Trump administration, in a significant escalation of its clash with the government’s top ethics watchdog, has moved to block an effort to disclose the names of former lobbyists who have been granted waivers to work in the White House or federal agencies,” the New York Times reports.
“The latest conflict came in recent days when the White House, in a highly unusual move, sent a letter to Walter M. Shaub Jr., the head of the Office of Government Ethics, asking him to withdraw a request he had sent to every federal agency for copies of the waivers. In the letter, the administration challenged his legal authority to demand the information.”
“Dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers are working in the Trump administration, which has hired them at a much higher rate than the previous administration. Keeping the waivers confidential would make it impossible to know whether any such officials are violating federal ethics rules or have been given a pass to ignore them.”