The brutal fallout, including both nationwide and worldwide condemnation for President Trump's regrettable decision to pull the US out of the historic Paris Climate Agreement, continues as the Administration tries and lies to explain the wildly irresponsible and seemingly senseless move, while also working hard to avoid answering whether or not the President of the United States still believes that climate change is a "hoax", as he's previously asserted.
As that story unfolded this week, the Administration was finally forced to release the ethics waivers they say were granted to dozens of White House and executive agency officials allowing them to avoid ethics requirements set out in Trump's Executive Order issued, purportedly, to keep corporate lobbyists out of the government and ensure those working for the Administration did not work with companies whose employ they had just left.
But getting the waivers released at all was "like pulling teeth," according to my guest today, Craig Holman, the long time Government Affairs lobbyist, specializing in campaign finance and government ethics at Public Citizen. He joins us to discuss what is revealed by the waivers released by the White House so far, and why Trump's approach to ethics guidelines cannot even be compared to previous Administrations. "There is a sea-change of difference between the Obama system and the Trump system," he says, describing how even though Obama issued some waivers himself, he did so only in line with "a very tough legal standard" and only after it was "demonstrated that no one else could do the appointee's job."
Trump, on the other hand, "eliminated any criteria for issuing waivers" and even went a step further by failing to disclose them until group's like Holman's and the aggressive current head of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), Walter Shaub, required White House Counsel Don McGahn (who also apparently wavered himself!) to do so.
In addition to top White House officials like Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and Reince Priebus receiving waivers, Holman explains, "We saw people like Shahira Knight, who was a lobbyist for Fidelity on retirement issues, stepping in to the White House and being the special adviser for retirement issues, which would appear to be a violation of the ethics Executive Order. But was she issued a waiver? We didn't know. So we're banging at the door of the White House wondering what was going on." (As it turns out, yes, she got one too.)
Holman is more troubled still by the fact that almost all of the waivers seem only to have been created this past Wednesday, in order to meet a disclosure deadline on Thursday. "I've gone through each and every waiver, and almost all of them are undated, and unsigned," he says. If it's true that they were issued retroactively, Walter Shaub, the Director of the OGE told the New York Times, "There is no such thing as a retroactive waiver…You have violated a rule." Richard Painter, George W. Bush's White House ethics lawyer told the Times,"The only retroactive waiver I have ever heard of is called a pardon."
But what punishment exists for violating Executive Orders and ethics rules, even though both supposedly carry "the force of law"? And who, exactly, would enforce such violations, anyway? White House Counsel Don McGahn? Attorney General Jeff Sessions? Can groups like Public Citizen sue for enforcement? We discuss all of that and much more with Holman today.
Finally today, an iceberg the size of Delaware is on the brink of falling off of an Antarctic ice shelf; the Special Counsel's investigation of the Trump Administration may reportedly be widening to include a probe of AG Jeff Sessions himself; and what is likely the real (and disturbing) reason that Trump ultimately decided to pull out of the Paris Accord? All of that and much more on today's BradCast!
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