A fresh batch of ethics waivers made public Wednesday offers new insight into the roles that ex-lobbyists and other one-time industry representatives have taken in the Trump administration to shape health care, immigration and other policy matters.
President Donald Trump pledged on the campaign trail that he would limit the influence of lobbyists, and he issued an executive order that would prohibit them from working on their recent client matters while serving in the executive branch. But the waivers allow them to override the official policy and to weigh in on policy measures that affect clients they had within the past two years.
Lance Leggitt, a former lobbyist at the firm Baker Donelson, for example, now serves as chief of staff at the Health and Human Services Department. “Granting this limited waiver will allow Mr. Leggitt to freely carry out the full responsibilities of his office rather than requiring him to continue to recuse from particular matters on which he lobbied,” wrote White House Counsel Donald McGahn in an April memo.Leggitt’s registered lobbying clients in 2016 included the Arthroscopy Association of North America and Arriva Medical, among others, according to disclosures filed with Congress.
The Trump administration also offered a waiver of its ethics pledge to Brian Callanan because of his brief tenure with the firm Cooper & Kirk, which has clients involved in housing finance litigation. Callanan, Treasury’s deputy general counsel, may now “fully participate in policy matters related to housing finance reform,” the waiver states, adding that he has no financial stake in the issue.
The Office of Government Ethics — which requested documents concerning any waivers granted between May 1, 2016 and April 30, 2017 — made the files public Wednesday.
The documents followed a previous batch from the administration last week that detailed ethics waivers for White House employees. Those waivers, more sweeping in scope than those of the Obama administration, revealed that former lobbyists, such as presidential advisers Michael Catanzaro and Shahira Knight, may freely take part in meetings and decisions that affect their former clients and one-time employers.
Robert Weissman, president of the liberal group Public Citizen, said that based on the two batches of ethics waivers, “conflicts of interest and revolving door problems are pervasive in the thinly staffed administration.”
Many of the documents included in OGE’s Wednesday release were for officials from the Obama administration, including for then-National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who had financial interests in Canadian companies.