Watchdog Sues to Force Release of Ethics Waivers from Eight Trump Administration Agencies

American Oversight Also Files New FOIAs for Records Requested by Office of Government Ethics

Washington, DC – Amid news reports that the Trump administration is attempting to block the release of ethics waivers given to former lobbyists working in the government, non-partisan watchdog American Oversight today sued to obtain copies of any ethics waivers issued by eight federal agencies.

“President Trump has a disturbing track record of hiring lobbyists into senior jobs despite obvious conflicts of interest. The public has a right to know whether there are other Michael Flynns appointed to top jobs and making policy decisions financially benefiting their former employers,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight. “There is no precedent for hiding these waivers from public view. What is the Trump White House trying to hide?”

On Monday, the New York Times reported that the White House had instructed the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) to halt its efforts to collect and publicly release ethics waivers from across the government. OGE had written to federal agencies on April 28, 2017 asking for any waivers to be submitted by the start of June.

American Oversight’s lawsuit against the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Health and Human Services, Interior, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, and the Environmental Protection Agency was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

American Oversight had submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests requiring these agencies to produce the ethics or conflict of interest waivers the Trump administration had granted allowing political appointees to work on policies on which they had previously lobbied.

After the eight agencies failed to respond to the FOIA requests, American Oversight sued, asking the court to order the agencies to release the ethics waivers. There is no exemption in the FOIA that would allow the government to withhold ethics waivers from release. The Obama administration previously had established a policy of posting waivers online.

Also today, American Oversight will file a new series of FOIA requests today with 23 agencies, seeking the same information that OGE had requested in April. In addition, American Oversight is asking those agencies that are refusing to comply with OGE’s request to produce any records – including emails or instructions – related to that decision.

Evers continued, “Back in 2012, Donald Trump tweeted, ‘Why does Obama believe he shouldn’t comply with record releases that his predecessors did of their own volition?  Hiding something?’  In fact, it seems it’s the Trump administration that believes it has a lot to hide.”

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