Federal Politics

Published — May 16, 2018

From bowling at the White House to the Chicago Cubs: Our findings from Office of Government Ethics emails

Introduction

Newly released government emails show how the Office of Government Ethics dealt with the Trump administration during its early weeks.

The email exchanges from Jan. 20, 2017, to July 24, 2017, reveal numerous questions the president and key members of the administration faced as they navigated murky ethical waters with the Office of Government Ethics.

In an effort to gain insight into potential conflicts of interest in the administration, the Center for Public Integrity filed a FOIA request for the emails in early 2017.

The Office of Government Ethics, a part of the executive branch, is tasked with preventing conflicts of interest by executive branch members and monitoring employees’ compliance with federal law. But the agency only has the power to file complaints and no tangible power to force the administration’s compliance or penalize those who don’t follow established rules.

Even before entering the White House, Trump’s presidential campaign provoked concerns about conflicts of interest. The president-elect’s statements inspired a sarcastic tweetstorm in November 2016 from the Office of Government Ethics’ official Twitter account about Trump divesting his businesses.

The Center for Public Integrity’s FOIA request, along with similar requests from other news organizations, came at a time when Trump was refusing to release his federal tax returns or fully divest from his business empire. (To date, Trump has not done either, although he did today release his annual personal financial disclosure — a separate document.)

The email exchanges below are just a snapshot of the sometimes-fraught relations between the Trump administration and Office of Government Ethics.

 

The president’s financial disclosures

In early March 2017, a member of the ethics office compliance division wrote to Ethics Counsel Christopher J. Swartz to “make sure periodic transaction reporting is on the President’s radar,” highlighting the fact that Trump has a broad portfolio and the turnaround process between when a transaction occurred and when a filing was required was very short.

Kellyanne Conway’s potential ethics violation

“Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would tell you,” Kellyanne Conway said in an interview with Fox & Friends in February 2017. “I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today, everybody.”

That comment caught the attention of Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, over the perceived misuse of her position. Shaub cites a violation of federal law and his concern over the failure to discipline Conway.

“Not taking disciplinary action against a senior official under such circumstances risks undermining the ethics office,” Shaub wrote.

Shaub eventually resigned in July over the administration’s approach to ethics compliance. He today works for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan government reform group and has been an outspoken critic of how Trump conducts himself.

Bowling night

In February 2017, Charles Swartz, a White House ethics lawyer, floated the idea of inviting junior staffers and desk officers from the Office of Government Ethics to go bowling at the White House, so they could have the opportunity to see it for the first time. “I think it would be nice to offer them that experience,” Swartz said.

Chicago Cubs game

In March 2017, after the nomination of Alex Acosta for Secretary of the Department of Labor, the White House Counsel lamented having to make the Department of Labor’s head ethics official leave a Chicago Cubs spring training game early to sign off on a disclosure report.

Steve Bannon

The Office of Government Ethics officials also engaged in a back-and-forth with the White House over former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s “certificate of divestiture” — a document that helps government officials offset the tax burden of selling assets deemed to be conflicts of interest with their public work.

The Center for Public Integrity last year reported Bannon, who resigned in August, misreported $2 million in mortgage debt when filing his annual personal financial disclosure. Bannon later revised his disclosure document.

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SOUTH JERSEYTed SiroisMark SullivanTom LarkinAnonymous Recent comment authors
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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

jan v
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jan v

all the lobbyists are running all our government agencies and all the career civil servants who know how to run the country have been fired. YOU think this is a good thing ? what a crock…

thomas alessi
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thomas alessi

I am for Trump

Martin Shellabarger
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J. Stevenson, what are you drinking? Trump has more lobbyists in his administration than probably any other president. Trump is totally “for sale”, and the corporations know it. Grow a brain!

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
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David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.