July 25, 2017

Members of Congress Ask White House Counsel for Information on Potential Ethics Violation by Top White House Ethics Official Stefan Passantino

Passantino May Have Failed to Recuse Himself from Carl Icahn Discussions

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 sent a letter to White House Counsel Don McGahn, requesting information on his efforts to determine whether top White House ethics official Stefan Passantino violated ethics rules in his work on matters related to President Trump's advisor Carl Icahn.

"The White House's refusal to answer even basic questions about Mr. Passantino's role with regard to Carl Icahn creates a cloud of suspicion. The White House's ethics program-and the attorney who advises it-should be a model for the federal government and above reproach," wrote the Members. "Instead, the failure to be transparent about Mr. Passantino's compliance or any measures taken to hold him accountable for a lack of compliance sends a public message of indifference to the ethics rules that bind our federal workforce."

The letter follows a response from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) to a previous inquiry from the Members of Congress raising concerns about whether Mr. Passantino had properly recused himself from matters related to Mr. Icahn, who serves as a special advisor to President Trump but is not an official government employee. Mr. Passantino had performed legal work for Mr. Icahn prior to joining the Trump Administration, triggering recusal requirements. In responding, OGE wrote that, "Mr. Passantino is subject to the former client restrictions with respect to Mr. Icahn," and said it would raise "the matter to the attention of the Counsel to the President for his review and a determination as to whether action is warranted."

The Members of Congress are now asking Mr. McGahn directly to clarify whether Mr. Passantino provided input on matters related to Mr. Icahn's current designation as a special adviser and whether Mr. Passantino had received any conflict of interest waivers to engage in work regarding Mr. Icahn. They asked for clarification about whether Mr. Passantinio violated ethics requirements, and for Mr. McGahn to specify any actions and steps taken by the White House in response to OGE's letter.

Mr. Passantino had provided paid legal services to Mr. Icahn before joining the Trump Administration, and as the Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO), is now responsible for implementing and overseeing the ethics requirements that apply to Mr. Icahn and to other White House officials.

A PDF copy of the letter is available here.