Updated 1:30 p.m. | The Office of Government Ethics warns there is “cause for alarm” if the Senate proceeds with confirmation hearings for some of President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees whose financial and other paperwork has not been certified by the agency.
In a letter to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren that was released Saturday, OGE Director Walter M. Shaub Jr. says some of Trump’s nominees have yet to provide even preliminary financial disclosures to the federal ethics watchdog and that some nominees who are scheduled for Senate confirmation hearings have not completed the ethics review process.
Senate committees are scheduled to plow through the confirmation hearings for a slew of Trump picks next week, starting with Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security pick retired Gen. John Kelly on Tuesday. The Senate GOP leadership’s goal is to have people confirmed as quickly as possible after Trump is sworn into office.
“During this presidential transition, not all of the nominees presently scheduled for hearings have completed the ethics review process. In fact, OGE has not received even initial draft financial disclosure reports for some of the nominees scheduled for hearings,” Shaub wrote. “Despite the challenges current circumstances present, OGE’s staff and agency ethics officials have been working diligently in an effort to deliver expedited reviews that meet the Senate’s schedule.”
As of Saturday morning, the OGE had released the ethics agreement and financial disclosures for Sessions (Justice), Rex Tillerson (State), GOP Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas (CIA), Gen. James Mattis (Defense) and Scott Pruitt (EPA). The letter did not specify which Trump nominees have not submitted their ethics paperwork.
The letter to Schumer and Warren is sure to give Democrats more fodder for the argument that Senate Republicans and the Trump transition are rushing the process, particularly with nominees from the business community and people unfamiliar to senators.
Trump’s Cabinet picks include several nominees who are multimillionaires or billionaires, including former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of State, investor Wilbur Ross for Commerce secretary and Betsy DeVos for Education secretary.
Schumer said in a statement that the push to hold hearings on nominees before the OGE has completed its work amounted to “collusion” between the Trump transition operation and the Senate Republican majority.
“The Senate and the American people deserve to know that 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, and that they plan to fully comply with the law,” Schumer said in a statement. “Senate Republicans should heed the advice of this independent office and stop trying to jam through unvetted nominees.”
Shaub said that while his office would work to complete reviews to meet the tight deadlines of a new administration, his staff would not rush to clear folks who may have legitimate questions.
“We remain committed to completing the ethics work on each nominee as quickly as possible without compromising the integrity of our ethics work or the nominee’s future activities on behalf the American public. I am optimistic that we will be able to continue expediting our ethics reviews of the President-elect’s nominees to meet reasonable timeframes without sacrificing quality,” Schaub wrote. “It would, however, be cause for alarm if the Senate were to go forward with hearings on nominees whose reports OGE has not certified.”