Shortly after issuing a flurry of pardons to former associates and political cronies late Tuesday into early Wednesday, President Donald Trump used his final hours in office to revoke an executive order on ethics that was meant to bolster his “drain the swamp” campaign promise.
Following up on his swamp draining pledge, one of Trump’s first official acts as president was signing Executive Order 13770 in Jan. 2017. The order—signed before a swath of TV cameras—required all of the administration’s political hires to sign an ethics pledge preventing executive branch officials from lobbying their former agencies for at least five years, or lobbying the White House or political appointees across all federal agencies for the full duration of Trump’s time in office. The restrictions also placed a lifetime ban on lobbying foreign governments.
Trump touted the order as proof that, unlike previous administrations, his presidency would be free of the influence of private interests.
“This is a five-year lobbying ban. It’s a two-year ban now, and it’s got full of loopholes, and this is a five-year ban,” Trump said at the signing ceremony, jokingly adding that the senior staffers flanking him had “one last chance to get out.”
“This was something, the five-year ban, that I have been talking a lot about on the campaign trail,” he said.
Former President Bill Clinton revoked a similar ethics order in his final weeks in office—a move Trump repeatedly used to bash his then-Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton, saying it revealed that the Clinton family was corrupt.
“President Clinton did what the Clintons always do — he rigged the system on his way out,” Trump said in a since-deleted statement. “Clinton lifted the executive order so the Clintons and their cronies like John Podesta could start raking in cash.”
The president did not provide an explanation for rescinding the order, though it may be related to reports that White House officials are having an extremely difficult time landing private sector gigs.
Legal ethics experts derided the decision to scrap the order.
“By rescinding his ethics order and letting his staffers immediately become lobbyists, the man who pledged to drain the swamp took a giant step to fill it. You don’t do things you’re proud of last-minute in the middle of the night when you hope no one is watching. This is one last cravenly corrupt act from our most cravenly corrupt president,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “Fortunately, Congress already has a plan to assure the American people that no future president can pull this bait-and-switch. The For the People Act, HR1/S1, would turn ethics pledge rules into a law, so this could not happen again. Congress should pass this important reform as one of its first orders of business, and incoming President [Joe] Biden should sign it into law.”
Former director of the U.S. Office for Government Ethics Walter Shaub said Trump’s back-tracking was inevitable.
“Like everything else with Trump, this is just ridiculous. But I knew the day he issued this executive order that he’d rescind it on his last day. They were never going to honor that lifetime ban on representing foreign governments,” he said.
Like everything else with Trump, this is just ridiculous. But I knew the day he issued this executive order that he’d rescind it on his last day. They were never going to honor that lifetime ban on representing foreign governments.
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) January 20, 2021
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) hit Trump on this as well.
The most corrupt President in history gave his complicit and incompetent staff a big wet kiss on his way out the door by unleashing them to become lobbyists. Today, we inaugurate a President who believes in ethics, but Congress has to undo this damage. https://t.co/UgGyyT6y4S
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) January 20, 2021
[image via ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS_AFP via Getty Images]
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