Richard W. Painter, an ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, and Norman L. Eisen, Obama’s ethics counsel, write about the hard work that they put in to put procedures into place that explore any conflicts of interest of cabinet nominees, and how these procedures are being delayed in order to rush confirmation hearings:
“We and others worked hard to make sure nominees’ financial disclosure reports and ethics agreements were finalized and certified by the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) before their hearings, so that the Senate and thus the public could explore any conflicts of interest and how they were addressed.”
The letter goes on to state:
“In 2017, with more billionaires than ever before being nominated for top jobs in the Trump administration, this argument for thorough review of financial disclosure and ethics agreements is more compelling than ever.”
Specifically, the authors call out Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for secretary of education. They write that:
“DeVos likely has potential conflicts of interest with respect to education. She reportedly invested in K12 Inc, which manages public for-profit online charter schools, and indirectly invested in an online student lending firm. In 2011, the New York Times chronicled the failings of one of the schools managed by K12 Inc, which had nearly 60% of its students behind grade level in math and 50% behind in reading. Whether and to what extent DeVos and/or her husband still invests in these companies is significant for conflicts of interest purposes.
However, there is no public disclosure of these or other any investments in the information included in her Senate nomination paperwork that has been made publicly available. To the contrary, in the public portion of her Senate paperwork, she did not provide detailed information in response to a request for information regarding business relationships, dealings or financial transactions that would constitute a potential conflict of interest.”
Painter and Eisen state that “While a billionaire should not be held to any higher ethical standard than other nominees, she should not be (nor should she want to be) held to lower ethical standards.”
The Republican-controlled Senate is pushing hard to hold confirmation hearings for Trump’s cabinet picks, before their financial disclosure reports and ethics agreements are finalized.
Although Mitch McConnell was one of those that insisted on these procedures back in 2009, he seems to have abandoned the “fair and consistent” application in the Era of Trump.
You can read the entire open letter here.