October 10, 2017

Investigation Shows Trump Transition Ignored Ethics Officials and Refused to Cooperate with GAO

Lawmakers to Introduce Legislation Addressing Lack of Ethics Compliance Laws Governing Presidential Transitions

Full text of the report available here (PDF)

Washington, DC - Today, United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, released a report compiled by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) at the Members' request showing the Trump Transition Team consistently ignored advice from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) - resulting in ethical crises that extended beyond the transition period into the Trump presidency.

GAO's investigation found that the transition team refused to cooperate with GAO and did not ask OGE to provide assistance to President-elect Trump on how to resolve his conflicts of interest or for input on the President's ethics executive order.  Overall, the GAO findings show a lack of attention to ethics and that precedents from previous Administrations were frequently broken - with little recourse from Congress.

"Presidential transitions are critical periods when policy is crafted, nominees are selected, and agendas are set that can direct the course of an entire presidency," said Senator Warren. "Presidential transitions should focus on the needs of the American people -- not special interests. I will continue working with Senator Carper and Representative Cummings to address ethical shortcomings of presidential transitions revealed by this investigation."

"Peaceful and orderly presidential transitions are a cornerstone of our democracy," said Senator Carper. "Our country faces tremendous challenges, and our President-elects must be able to hit the ground running as Commander in Chief on day one in the White House. This report highlights some glaring inefficiencies in our country's presidential transition process, especially when it comes to ethics. It's clear now that every incoming administration should partake in ethics training to ensure it operates smoothly from the start, recognizes and prevents conflicts of interest, and protects the interests of the American people above all else."

"It is outrageous that President Trump's transition team and Vice President Pence's office in the White House refused to even speak to the nonpartisan auditors at GAO about they spent taxpayer funds during the transition," said Ranking Member Cummings. "Their refusal to cooperate with GAO fits the unfortunate pattern we have seen from this White House of secrecy and a lack of accountability."

GAO's report stated, "We contacted the Office of the Vice President because Vice President Pence also served as the Chairman of the Trump-Pence Transition Team.  The Office of the Vice President did not respond to our request to discuss this work."  GAO also reported that it, "contacted the Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer of the Trump-Pence Transition Team" but they "declined our request for an interview."  

GAO reported that the Trump transition team established an "ethical code of conduct," but failed to designate a transition official responsible for enforcing it.  As a result, transition team members were not strictly required to follow the ethics pledge.  In contrast, the Obama-Biden transition designated the General Counsel of the Transition Team and ethics officials as the appropriate officials to ensure compliance.

OGE gave specific recommendations to the Trump transition team to hire a government ethics expert prior to the inauguration to help manage the nominations process.  In addition, OGE provided a list of potential ethics experts, but the Trump team did not follow OGE's recommendations, instead waiting to hire an ethics expert until after the inauguration.  Following a tumultuous nominations process-during which some nominees withdrew their names from consideration-the President's cabinet has continued to have ethics problems.

In the coming weeks, Warren, Carper, and Cummings will introduce legislation to address the omissions in Presidential transition laws.