Senator Asks Agencies If Trump Transition Is Meddling in Ethics Investigations

Delaware Senator Tom Carper. Delaware Senator Tom Carper. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

A key senator has sent a letter to 17 federal agencies asking for details of their efforts to identify potential conflicts of interest with President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees, reminding agency officials they are subject to criminal penalties if they violate requirements.

Unlike Trump himself, said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., cabinet officials must comply with ethics laws as spelled out in various ethics laws. Specifically, the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said the appointees are legally prohibited from “participating in any governmental matter in which that official has any financial interest.”

Carper noted each nominee must send a financial disclosure statement listing all of their financial holdings to their agency’s designated ethics official. The official is responsible for creating an ethics agreement with the appointee to resolve any potential conflicts of interest, which can include “recusals, divestitures, resignations, waivers, or the establishment of qualified blind or diversified trusts.” Those agreements are then sent to the Office of Government Ethics, which, upon certifying there are no unresolved issues, sends the information to the relevant Senate committee.

The process is not required to begin until the president officially sends the nomination to the Senate. 

“As the principal manager of your agency’s ethics program, you play an important role by assuring that public servants remain free from conflicts of interest and that public service remains a public trust,” Carper wrote. “It is important that Congress support your office’s ability to fulfill its responsibilities under the Ethics in Government Act regardless of any inappropriate pressure that may occur.”

The senator asked each agency’s ethics official if any representatives from Trump’s transition team had contacted them, if they had already received any disclosure forms and whether they had been asked to expedite their review in an unreasonable timeframe. He also asked if any nominees have refused to provide information and when they would make a referral to the Justice Department about a potential conflict or agreement violation.

Carper asked for a response from each of the cabinet-level agencies by Jan. 5. 

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