Federal Ethics Czar: Steve Bannon Violated White House Ethics Rules

The clash between Walter Shaub and the Trump administration continues.

Susan Walsh/AP

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

Last month, when the Trump administration released the ethics waivers it had granted top White House staffers, one stood out. It “retroactively” allowed senior officials to communicate with news organizations that had employed them. The waiver seemed clearly aimed at White House strategist Steve Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart.

President Donald Trump banned his top appointees for at least two years from interacting or communicating in any significant way with their former employers, under an executive order he signed shortly after taking office. But from the outset of the Trump administration, there were reports that Bannon was in contact with his former Breitbart colleagues. In March, watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint with White House Counsel Don McGahn about Bannon’s continued relationship with Breitbart.

Several Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, sent a letter last month to Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics, asking for more information on which ethics rules apply to Bannon. Shaub responded on Wednesday, putting in writing his concerns about the waiver covering Bannon.

First of all, Shaub noted, the waiver is neither signed nor dated. A signature is a basic requirement for the waiver to be in effect, Shaub wrote, citing Trump’s own executive order. Second, Shaub said, the whole concept of a retroactive waiver misses the point of the system.

“The putative retroactivity is inconsistent with the very concept of a waiver, which is to take decisions regarding the appropriateness of an employee’s participation in covered matters out of the employee’s hands,” Shaub wrote. “By engaging in a prohibited matter at a time when the appointee does not possess a waiver, the appointee violates the rule. Although the White House may later decide that such a violation does not warrant disciplinary action, the subsequent issuance of a waiver would not change the fact that a violation occurred.”

Shaub and the Office of Government Ethics are limited in their ability to enforce any punishment for violating the rules, since they were imposed by the administration itself. But Shaub told the senators that he would be asking the White House for an explanation and would follow up with a report.

Shaub’s full letter, which also details which ethics rules apply to Bannon, can be read below:

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.