In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Senate scheduled hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet before the Office of Government Ethics properly vetted the nominees. Just a day before Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions’ hearing, the OGE discovered he had falsely reported his involvement in the oil and gas industry, a conflict that could prevent him from running parts of the Department of Justice.
Sources inside the FBI also revealed this week that several nominees have not finished their background checks or been granted the security clearances necessary for their positions. The OGE is an independent agency charged with a lofty goal: ensuring ethics in the executive branch of government. The Ethics in Government Act requires that every nominee be thoroughly reviewed by the OGE in order to ensure that his/her only commitment is to the president and the American people. A past of bribery, theft, tax evasion, graft or misuse of public office is disqualifying. This critical and complex review can take “weeks, not days,” according to OGE Director Walter Shaub. In a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Shaub expressed his concern that several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process already received hearing dates. This has therefore left some of the nominees with potentially unknown and unresolved conflicts of interest before their scheduled hearings. “I am not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established,” wrote Shaub, “when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process."Several Senate Republicans pointed out that President Obama’s nominees were confirmed shortly after President Barack Obama's own confirmation. However, ethics lawyers argued that Obama’s nominees submitted their financial disclosures early and worked with the OGE and the FBI to vet cabinet picks.
When the OGE revealed that Obama’s Health and Human Services cabinet nominee Tom Daschle had been paid over $16 million by a health care lobbyist, Obama withdrew his nomination. The U.S. Senate should hold Trump similarly accountable by ensuring that his nominees work with the independent watchdog group to disclose holdings and divest from conflicts of interests. The American people deserve to know if any of the men and women nominated to run the federal government have been bought by special interests or foreign powers. We should demand that our Louisiana senators not confirm any appointments until the OGE completes their ethics reviews of every cabinet nominee.
This is not a Republican or Democrat issue; this is about ensuring honesty in government. When I worked in the U.S. Senate, it was my job to answer the calls of Louisiana voters, and I know each and every one had an effect on how our representatives voted. Call the offices of Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy to demand an investigation of our government leaders' ethics before they are confirmed.
Scoville Fellow at the Truman Center for National Policy