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Senate Republicans scheming to protect Trump nominees from ethics scrutiny

Congressional Republicans’ hostility to rigorous ethics enforcement cannot be in question, given their failed attempt to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics just last week. Now, they are attempting to undermine the work of the Office of Government Ethics by scheduling confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees before the OGE has time to complete […]

By Melissa McEwan - January 07, 2017
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Senate Republicans

Congressional Republicans’ hostility to rigorous ethics enforcement cannot be in question, given their failed attempt to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics just last week.

Now, they are attempting to undermine the work of the Office of Government Ethics by scheduling confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees before the OGE has time to complete standard ethics reviews.

The Senate GOP is racing to ready many of Trump’s choices for confirmation as soon as Inauguration Day, with six Cabinet-level confirmation hearings scheduled for Wednesday and several others scheduled over the next two weeks.

But since the Trump transition team did not pre-clear any of its selections for Cabinet positions with OGE before announcing them over the past two months, not all of the nominees have undergone their ethics review that helps Cabinet secretaries avoid conflicts of interest.

“The announced hearing schedule for several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process is of great concern to me. This schedule has created undue pressure on OGE’s staff and agency ethics officials to rush through these important reviews,” wrote OGE Director Walter Shaub. “More significantly, it has left some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues shortly before their scheduled hearings.”

…The OGE director said his organization is working overtime to complete the requisite reviews before hearings that begin on Tuesday but said generally such tasks require “weeks, not days.”

Schaub’s attempts to work with Trump’s transition team were thwarted by a lack of response, and now, he writes in his letter to Senate leaders, the OGE “has not received even initial draft financial disclosure reports for some of the nominees scheduled for hearings.”

Given the array of potential ethics concerns facing a number of Trump’s nominees — from ties to Russia to allegations of insider trading — it is imperative that the OGE have the requisite time to complete their ethics reviews.

And it is also clear why the GOP is trying to stymie their efforts: A thorough vetting of Trump’s nominees might reveal that some of them are as corrupt as the president-elect, who is still poised to commit an impeachable offense on day one by virtue of his refusal to divest himself of his business holdings.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer is reportedly engaged in private negotiations with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to reschedule hearings, but “McConnell and top Republicans have resisted.”

In a statement, Schumer admonished Senate Republicans for “trying to jam through unvetted nominees,” noting that “the American people deserve to know these Cabinet nominees have a plan to avoid any conflicts of interest, that they’re working on behalf of the American people and not their own bottom line.”

“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,” said Schumer.

“Unprecedented” is a word we are hearing a lot these days. President-elect Trump, his transition team, and his party are thumbing their noses at established laws, protocols, and norms — to the detriment and disrespect of the American people.


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