If ever the nation needed an organization like CREW — Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — it’s during a Trump administration that seemingly isn’t the least bit familiar with the concepts of ethics and responsibility.
As an independent government ethics watchdog, CREW fights to reduce the influence of money in politics and help foster a government that is accountable and held to the highest moral principles.
The importance of an organization like CREW is apparent from the latest complaint it has filed with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics asking the bureau to “investigate whether seven former White House officials violated the Ethics in Government Act (“EIGA”) and OGE regulations by failing to disclose agreements for future employment in their termination financial disclosure reports (“termination reports”).”
Kyle Griffin, the producer of MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, called attention to CREW’s allegations in a Twitter post this morning.
At least seven former White House aides may have violated ethics laws by failing to disclose arrangements for future employment in their termination financial disclosure reports, according to a complaint filed by CREW. https://t.co/Gk24y1T6Hi
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) March 31, 2019
The eight-page letter from CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder to Emory Rounds III, the Director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, that Griffin links to in the tweet details the scope of the violations that the organization wants to be investigated.
“EIGA and OGE’s implementing regulations require covered individuals to report detailed financial information and business relationships in their termination reports, including any agreements and arrangements for future employment. CREW’s review of news articles, press releases, and campaign finance reports has revealed that the following former White House officials appear to have failed to disclose such agreements or arrangements for future employment: John McEntee, Marc Short, Katie Walsh, William Stepien, Paul Winfree, Reed Cordish, and Stefan Passantino. Mr. McEntee also appears to have violated EIGA’s prohibition against receiving outside earned income and the requirement that he disclose all non-government income in his termination report,” Bookbinder’s letter says.
The CREW head points to a particularly corrupt situation that ironically shows the depth of the corruption within the Trump administration — that one of the officials he names was also the Designated Agency Ethics Official for the White House and the National Security Council.
“In addition, Mr. Passantino was serving as the Designated Agency Ethics Official (“DAEO”) for the White House and National Security Council (“NSC”) when five of the other former employees filed their termination reports, and he personally certified three of them. The potential disclosure and ethics issues addressed in this complaint, as well as the White House’s apparent delay in naming a replacement for Mr. Passantino as DAEO, raise serious concerns about the White House’s government ethics program.”
“Accordingly, if OGE finds these officials failed to comply with disclosure and ethics requirements, CREW further requests that OGE undertake a comprehensive review to evaluate whether the White House is properly administering its government ethics program,” Bookbinder writes.
The letter from CREW then goes on to exhaustively detail the potential violations committed by each of the former Trump administration staffers — complete with citations and footnotes — before urgently requesting that a comprehensive review of the government ethics program be conducted.
The letter’s conclusion states CREW’s aims quite succinctly.
“As many as seven outgoing White House officials, including former White House ethics official Stefan Passantino, may have failed to comply with their obligations to disclose arrangements for future employment in their termination reports. One of them, John McEntee, also apparently failed to disclose income from the Trump campaign prior to his termination. In addition, if Mr. McEntee provided any services in connection with that income, he likely violated the prohibition against outside earned income. CREW therefore respectfully requests that OGE investigate whether these possible violations occurred and, if so, take corrective action.”
“This pattern, along with the involvement of Mr. Passantino and the White House’s delay in naming a new DAEO, also raises serious questions about the quality of the White House’s ethics program. Accordingly, CREW respectfully requests that OGE consider conducting a comprehensive review of the White House’s government ethics program.”
“CREW was able to identify several officials who appear to have omitted agreements for future employment from their termination reports by reviewing articles, press releases, and other public information. The public and OGE should not, however, have to rely on the media and watchdog groups to report information that the law requires to be disclosed. It is entirely possible that even more administration officials had agreements for future employment upon leaving government that were not made public. These omissions therefore may represent a larger issue within the White House ethics program. In addition to the disclosure issue, it is important for departing officials to report agreements for future employment so ethics officials may properly scrutinize the agreements for potential conflicts.”
In the Trump era, it almost seems quaint that there are still people who expect the administration to comply with the norms and laws that previous presidents took as their moral obligation to follow. So benumbed by outrage have the American people become that these seemingly minor ethical lapses can fall under the radar of public scrutiny quite easily.
Luckily, watchdogs like the folks at CREW are on the case and paying attention in order to hold the Trump administration accountable for their deliberate violations of the nation’s will as expressed through its duly passed laws. Our hats are doffed in honor of their valuable service to America.
Follow Vinnie Longobardo on Twitter.