June 29, 2017

Office of Government Ethics Reports Top White House Ethics Official to White House Counsel for Potential Ethics Breach

In Response to Inquiry from Warren, Whitehouse, Carper, Leahy, and Cummings, OGE Raises Questions about Whether Stefan Passantino Appropriately Recused Himself from Matters Related to Carl Icahn

Text of the letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), today released a letter from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), responding to a previous inquiry about whether Stefan Passantino, President Trump's Deputy White House Counsel and Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO), appropriately followed recusal rules in his interactions with Carl Icahn.

In their initial letter to OGE, the Members of Congress raised concerns about whether Mr. Passantino had properly recused himself from matters related to Mr. Icahn, an advisor to President Trump. Mr. Passantino had provided paid legal services to Mr. Icahn before joining the Trump Administration, and as DAEO, is now responsible for implementing and overseeing the ethics requirements that apply to Mr. Icahn and to other White House officials. The Members noted that as a result, Mr. Passantino appeared to be in violation of President Trump's ethics Executive Order and other ethics rules that require him to recuse himself from "particular matters " related to Mr. Icahn and other former clients.

In OGE's response, Director Walter Schaub clarifies Mr. Passantino's ethics requirements, writing that, "Mr. Passantino is subject to the former client restrictions with respect to Mr. Icahn. For that reason, it is concerning that your letter cites a news report that Mr. Passantino delivered the White House's legal position on Mr. Icahn's employment status to the media." Director Schaub notes that while "OGE lacks the information to assess this news report," he is raising "the matter to the attention of the Counsel to the President for his review and a determination as to whether action is warranted."

The White House has chosen to treat Mr. Icahn as an unofficial advisor and not a government employee, thus exposing Mr. Passantino to ethics rule requirements.

The correspondence with OGE follows a letter sent on April 21, 2017 by the Members to Mr. Passantino directly, asking for clarifications on his financial connections to other members of the Trump Administration and resulting conflicts of interest. Mr. Passantino has yet to reply.