Sep 14, 2017

Lobbyists can anonymously fund WH aides' Russia legal fees

Jared Kushner listens right as Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the White House. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

The Office of Government Ethics will now allow lobbyists to contribute anonymous gifts to White House staffers' legal defense funds — including those caught up in the current Russia probes, per a Politico report. Lobbyists were previously banned from doing so.

Why it matters, as Politico's Darren Samuelsohn writes: "The little-noticed change could help President Donald Trump's aides raise the money they need to pay attorneys as the Russia probe expands — but raises the potential for hidden conflicts of interest or other ethics trouble."

The history behind the decision:

  • A 1993 OGE guidance document allowed anonymous donations under the presumption that staffers receiving funds wouldn't know who donated.
  • However, the Clinton-era OGE decided that policy might bring unwanted scrutiny and advised attorneys to avoid anonymous donations.
  • Though the OGE's internal policy changed, the guidance document itself was never officially altered because the administrations of Presidents Bush and Obama never faced significant personal legal trouble.

The decision:

  • Then-OGE head Walter Shaub had been trying to formalize the Clinton administration's interpretation of the 1993 guidance document to make it clear anonymous donations were barred by adding a note reading "SOME STATEMENTS IN THIS OPINION ARE NOT CONSISTENT WITH CURRENT OGE INTERPRETATION AND PRACTICE."
  • As Shaub planned his departure from the OGE in July, the office's new head, David Apol, told him that he'd had conversations with the White House about abiding by the original recommendations of the 1993 guidance document.
  • Under Apol, a note has been added to the 1993 guidance document stating that its original intent "HAS NOT CHANGED," adding that the decision is "BECAUSE EACH ANALYSIS IS VERY FACT SPECIFIC."

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