WASHINGTON - The Trump administration has secretly issued waivers to some officials who may have violated ethics rules, according to a new media report.
The New York Times, in collaboration with Pro Publica, an investigative news service, reported that after analysing reports from lobbyists and interviews with ethics officials, it appears that at least two of Trump's appointees in the White House may have violated ethics rules.
However, the newspaper said it is nearly impossible to determine the details of such violations, as the administration is reportedly issuing secret waivers to the rules. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders reportedly turned down The Times' requests to speak with Stefan Passantino, the White House ethics lawyer, but did offer a brief statement about the report.
"The White House takes its ethics pledge and federal conflict of interest rules very seriously. The White House requires all of its employees to work closely with ethics counsel to ensure compliance and has aggressively required employees to recuse or divest where the law requires," the statement read.
The Times listed a handful of White House staff members who could be the subject of ethics violations, including a top energy adviser, Michael Catanzaro, who until late 2016 worked as a lobbyist for major energy and oil industries.
Another person examined was the Transportation agency chief of staff Chad Wolf, who previously lobbied to secure funding for the Transportation Security Administration.
Walter Shaub, the director of the Office of Government Ethics, which advises federal agencies including the White House on complying with federal ethics law, criticized the administration's handling of the ethics rules.
Shaub said Trump's executive order in late January eliminated a requirement adopted by former President Obama that executive branch appointees not accept jobs at agencies they have lobbied.
He also said it's easier for former lobbyists who have joined the government to get waivers allowing them to focus on matters potentially benefitting former clients. “There’s no transparency, and I have no idea how many waivers have been issued,” he told the newspaper.