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Ethics office sounds alarm as Trump nominees near Senate hearings

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, above, has been

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, above, has been told by the Office of Government Ethics that several of President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees have yet to file required disclosure forms even as confirmation hearings are set for next week. Above, McConnell on Dec. 12, 2016. Credit: AP / Susan Walsh


WASHINGTON — A federal ethics official said Saturday that several of President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet choices scheduled to go before Senate confirmation hearings next week have not filed required financial disclosures or ethics agreements.

Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics, sent that warning in a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), with a copy to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), ahead of as many as nine hearings Republicans have set for next week.

“In the past, the ethics work was fully completed prior to the announcement of nominees in the overwhelming majority of cases,” Shaub wrote.

“During this Presidential transition, not all of the nominees presently scheduled for hearings have completed the ethics review process,” he said. “In fact, OGE has not received even initial draft financial disclosure reports for some of the nominees scheduled for hearings.”

Nominees for presidential Cabinet appointments requiring Senate confirmation must get ethics office certification of financial disclosure reports and ethics agreements, according to the Ethics in Government Act passed in 1978 after the Watergate scandal.

Shaub did not identify the appointees who have not completed the filings. But the ethics office website shows no public reports or agreements for six of them.

Trump has chosen nominees who have the most wide-reaching financial interests and are the wealthiest of any previous presidential Cabinet, with a net worth estimated by Forbes to be $4.5 billion — holdings that raise concerns about ethics and conflicts.

Schumer said he’s asked McConnell to delay hearings for those without completed ethics paperwork. But McConnell has pushed ahead in a bid to confirm as many as possible after Trump is inaugurated on Jan. 20.

“The Office of Government Ethics letter makes crystal clear that the transition team’s collusion with Senate Republicans to jam through these Cabinet nominees before they’ve been thoroughly vetted is unprecedented,” Schumer said Saturday.

The presidential transition team did not respond to a request for comment. A McConnell spokesman said Shaub’s letter contained “inaccuracies” but didn’t identify them.

Among nominees without ethics reports filed is billionaire charter school advocate Betsy DeVos, the Education secretary nominee who will appear Wednesday before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Margaret Atkinson, Republican committee spokeswoman, said, “We have received all of the HELP committee paperwork that is required to have a hearing on Mrs. DeVos.”

Atkinson said ethics office paperwork can be turned in after the hearing but must be submitted before a committee vote on the nomination.

Democratic Committee spokesman Eli Zupnick produced a memo by McConnell to committees vetting incoming President Barack Obama’s nominees in 2009 that demanded that “the Office of Government Ethics letter is complete and submitted to Committee in time for review and prior to a Committee hearing.”

Zupnick added: “But it will be up to the Republican majority to decide if they want to change that practice and rush President-elect Trump’s nominees through without one.”


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