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, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

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:

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly 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