“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.”
“Congressional ethics investigators are probing Rep. Chris Collins’ (R-NY) role in attracting investors to an Australian biotech company,” the Buffalo News reports.
“They are looking into any potential role played by Collins, the firm’s largest shareholder, in persuading investors to buy stock in the company.”
Earlier this year reporters overheard Collins in a cellphone conversation just off the House floor, bragging about “how many millionaires I’ve made in Buffalo the past few months.”
Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) purchased $2.2 million worth of stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics as part of its initial public offering in late 2013, the Daily Beast reports.
“The IPO prospectus said Innate would seek FDA approval of its drug to treat multiple sclerosis. More than a year later, Collins wrote into a bill language to expedite the FDA’s approval process for such drugs. Four months before the bill was signed into law, Collins again purchased stock in Innate, this time as much as $1 million.”
Politico: “Ivanka Trump, who now serves as an official government adviser to her father, complete with a security clearance and an office in the West Wing, announced Thursday she won’t do any publicity for her book – no tour, no book signings, and none of the television interviews that help boost a book to the bestseller lists.”
New York Times: “The husband-and-wife team of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, now both senior federal government officials, has been alongside President Trump as the White House has hosted dozens of chief executives and a handful of world leaders in recent weeks.”
“But the financial disclosure report released late Friday for Mr. Kushner, which shows that he and his wife still benefit financially from a real estate and investment empire worth as much as $740 million, makes clear that this most powerful Washington couple is walking on perilous legal and ethical ground.”
“Unlike Mr. Trump, who is exempt from conflict of interest laws, both Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump — who took a formal White House position this past week — are forbidden under federal criminal and civil law to take any action that might benefit their particular financial holdings.”
President Trump’s team “rejected a course for senior White House staff, cabinet nominees and other political appointees that would have provided training on leadership, ethics and management,” according to documents obtained by Politico.
“The documents suggest the program could have better prepared officials for working within existing laws and executive orders, and provided guidance on how to navigate Senate confirmation for nominees and political appointees, how to deal with congressional and media scrutiny, and how to work with Congress and collaborate with agencies — some of the same issues that have become major stumbling blocks in the early days of the administration.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s (D-HI) “visit with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has already raised controversy. Now she’s in hot water yet again for failing to comply with House ethics rules,” the Daily Beast reports.
“Gabbard hasn’t yet submitted the required disclosure forms which detail who paid for her trip, and who else she met while she was in Syria.”
“South Dakota legislators are set to dismantle new ethics regulations that voters imposed on them less than three months ago, a brazen test of whether elected officials or their constituents should have the final say,” the AP reports.
President Donald Trump’s hotel-management company wants to expand its namesake luxury hotels across the U.S. while it holds off on new overseas business, Bloomberg reports.
Said Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danzinger: “There are 26 major metropolitan areas in the U.S., and we’re in five. I don’t see any reason that we couldn’t be in all of them eventually.”
“Three months after investing in four companies with manufacturing plants in Puerto Rico, President Donald Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary introduced legislation that would directly benefit those companies,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“The proposed House legislation by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) — which would have made permanent an expiring tax deduction for Puerto Rican facilities — didn’t pass… The bill nevertheless marks another instance in which Mr. Price was involved in legislation that could have benefited his stock holdings.”
New York Times: “Conflicts that for months have been theoretical are now about to become real — most immediately a possible challenge by the federal government. It owns the building that houses Mr. Trump’s hotel and has granted him a 60-year lease. From the moment he is sworn in as president at noon Friday, Mr. Trump may be in violation of that lease, given a provision that appears to prohibit federal elected officials from renting the Old Post Office building, the Pennsylvania Avenue landmark that houses the hotel, from the government.”
“Guests at the hotel include foreign diplomats and politicians who could be looking to curry favor with Mr. Trump — but even the act of paying their bills as they check out after the inauguration may open Mr. Trump to a challenge that he has violated the United States Constitution, which prohibits federal government officials from taking payments or gifts from foreign governments.”
Political Wire Conversations: Is Donald Trump Above the Law?
Norm Eisen, an expert in government ethics and a Fellow at the Brookings Institution, is our guest on the latest episode of Political Wire Conversations.
Follow the host of our podcast, Chris Riback, on Twitter @chrisriback.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, issued a stern letter which including a veiled threat of an investigation to the federal government’s top ethics monitor, who this week had questioned President-elect Donald Trump’s commitment to confront his potential conflicts of interest, the New York Times reports.
Playbook: “Going after the government’s ethics watchdog is not easy, and laced with political peril. We bet Chaffetz will get close supervision from GOP leadership on this.”
“Just hours after President-elect Donald Trump said he would not sell his vast business empire and would instead hand it over to a trust controlled by his two oldest sons, the government’s top ethics monitor said his plan was wholly inadequate and would leave the president vulnerable to ‘suspicions of corruption,” the New York Times reports.
“The unusual public criticism from Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, followed Mr. Trump’s most detailed explanation yet of his plans to distance himself from the global business operations of the Trump Organization. No modern president has entered the White House with such a complicated array of holdings.”
Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, White House ethics lawyers for Obama and Bush, respectively:
The tone of ethical leadership and conduct is set at the top. The failure of Trump as president-elect to address the conflicts of interest and constitutional problems deriving from his own business interests is a serious problem.
Last week, there was a failed attempt by some congressional Republicans to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics (President-elect Trump rightly dressed them down for that – on Twitter of course – and they quickly backed down). This week the serious and independent work of the Office of Government Ethics appears to be in jeopardy unless the Senate slows down and insists that each nominee take both financial disclosure and ethics agreements seriously.
To preserve the integrity of the ethics review process, we urge Senate leadership to postpone any confirmation hearing unless the nominee’s financial disclosure reports and ethics agreements are finalized in advance.
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