Federal Ethics Chief Calls Waiver Affecting Bannon ‘Problematic’

  • Unsigned, undated release from ethics pledge cited in letter
  • Agency doesn’t know whether any staff members broke pledge

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A White House ethics waiver that allows chief strategist Steve Bannon to talk to his former employer Breitbart News is “problematic,” the top federal ethics official said in a letter Tuesday.

President Donald Trump’s appointees are required to sign an ethics pledge saying they’ll avoid particular matters involving former employees for two years. But the waiver, one of several pertaining to its staff members that the White House released May 31, allows staffers to “participate in communications and meetings with news organizations regarding broad policy matters.”

The unsigned, undated waiver could be applied retroactively -- essentially allowing staff members who violated an ethics pledge to avoid disciplinary action, wrote Walter Shaub, the director of the federal Office of Government Ethics.

Bannon ran Breitbart, a conservative media site, before he joined Trump’s campaign in 2016. The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

OGE doesn’t know whether there were any violations of the ethics pledge based on communications with news agencies -- by Bannon or anyone else, Shaub wrote in a June 13 letter responding to inquiries from four Democratic senators. The agency is preparing a full report about waivers Trump’s administration has granted, he said.

“As part of preparing that report, OGE will follow up with the White House and other agencies to request additional information, including whether they are aware of any violations of the ethics pledge,” Shaub wrote.

Overall, federal disclosures show that the Trump administration has issued 14 waivers for White House staff members, along with waivers or partial releases from ethics rules for at least 10 executive-branch officials across five agencies.

OGE published the waivers for all the agencies except the White House after Shaub issued a government-wide call for them on April 28. Earlier that month, he had complained to the New York Times that because of a lack of transparency, he had “no idea how many waivers have been issued.”

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