Former Trump Aides Didn’t Disclose Job Deals, Complaint Charges

(Bloomberg) -- A liberal watchdog group is calling for a comprehensive review of the White House’s ethics program, citing a pattern of omissions about future employment on financial disclosure forms by aides to President Donald Trump.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said Wednesday that seven former White House officials, including its top ethics lawyer, may have omitted information about their future employment arrangements from their disclosures. CREW said that the pattern raises "systematic concerns" that ethics rules aren’t being followed.

CREW filed a complaint asking the Office of Government Ethics for an investigation of the officials, in addition to the review of the White House ethics program. Ethics laws require disclosure of any agreements, formal or informal, for private sector employment made while working for the government. Officials must recuse themselves from matters involving a future employer to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Among those cited in the complaint was Stefan Passantino, the lawyer responsible for overseeing ethics rules in the White House Counsel’s office until he stepped down at the end of August. He joined Michael Best & Friedrich LLP’s government relations, public policy and compliance practice in Washington in September.

White House Lawyer

The CREW complaint says Passantino started at Michael Best & Friedrich two business days after leaving his job at the White House. On his final financial disclosure form before leaving the government, called a termination report, Passantino didn’t disclose he had an agreement with the firm.

Noah Bookbinder, CREW’s executive director, said it’s alarming that "the lawyer charged with directing the ethics and financial disclosure programs at the White House appears to have been involved in this troubling practice."

CREW also requested reviews of disclosures filed by former White House aides John McEntee, Marc Short, Katie Walsh, William Stepien, Paul Winfree and Reed Cordish. The complaint cites news reports, press releases or social media posts that announced new jobs for each of those officials before their last day in the White House.

Outside Income

In the case of John McEntee, Trump’s personal assistant, CREW also asked OGE to determine whether he earned outside income while still working for the government, a violation of federal ethics rules. Federal Election Commission records show that the Trump campaign, which hired him after he left the White House, paid him $22,000 before his government service ended, the complaint alleges. McEntee left the White House last year after reports his security clearance was revoked over an investigation into his finances.

CREW’s complaint asked OGE, which oversees compliance with disclosure and conflict-of-interest rules, to determine whether the White House ethics program is properly administered. It notes that after Passantino’s departure, his position, known as the designated agency ethics official, was left vacant for six months until Scott Gast was named last week.

CREW has been critical of the Trump administration from the start and sued Trump days after his inauguration claiming he was in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments ban, which bars federal officeholders from accepting payments from foreign governments. The suit was dismissed in Dec. 2017.

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