June 19, 2017

After Government Watchdog Cites "Problematic" Waiver, Sens. Warren, Markey, Whitehouse, and Hirono ask White House to Clarify Bannon's Compliance with Ethics Laws

In Letter to Senators, OGE Raises Further Concerns about Bannon's Communications with Breitbart

Text of the letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) today sent a letter to Stefan Passantino, Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO) at the White House, requesting clarification on White House senior advisor Steve Bannon's compliance with federal ethics laws.

"Earlier this month, we received new information from the Office of Government Ethics indicating that Steven Bannon may have violated President Trump's Executive Order on Ethics and other ethics rules via his communications with Breitbart News Network, and that the ethics waivers provided to Mr. Bannon and others may not appropriately address these matters," wrote the senators to Mr. Passantino. "Based on this new information, we are writing to you - again - to seek clarification on and understand Mr. Bannon's compliance with Executive Order 13770."

The senators initially wrote to Mr. Passantino in April, following media reports that Mr. Bannon had discussions with his former employer Breitbart News, potentially violating the Ethics Pledge outlined in Executive Order 13770. That request, along with a similar inquiry sent directly to Mr. Bannon, went unanswered. The senators then asked the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) to provide information on the federal ethics requirements that applied to Mr. Bannon's communications with Breitbart.

OGE's response outlined Mr. Bannon's ethics obligations, and described a retroactive waiver issued by the White House in May, allowing Mr. Bannon and other Executive Office appointees to communicate in some cases with news organizations, as "problematic" and "inconsistent with the very concept of a waiver." It also made clear that the May 31st waiver was "limited," and that Mr. Bannon was still barred from communicating with Breitbart regarding "particular matters involving specific parties," indicating that Mr. Bannon may still be in violation of Executive Order 13770.

The senators asked Mr. Passantino to provide additional information about the White House waiver, as well as Mr. Bannon's prior communications with Breitbart and any recusals he may have made to avoid any conflicts of interest involving his former employer.