A member of the House of Representatives this week launched an investigation into Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short over his potentially unlawful conflicts of interest in the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic.
The probe, launched by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), comes on the heels of multiple reports revealing that Short had been serving on the White House’s coronavirus task force while simultaneously maintaining his individual stock holdings in several companies directly associated with the administration’s response.
“I’ve opened this investigation because Mr. Short’s apparent refusal to resolve his conflicts of interest is especially disturbing during this pandemic as Americans need their public officials to put the country first,” Krishnamoorthi told Law&Crime. “Along with Mr. Short’s specific case, we’re looking at how the Office of Government Ethics is addressing similar conflicts of interest elsewhere in the administration.”
The holdings, which are jointly owned by Short and his wife, include stock in companies such as 3M, CVS, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Walmart, and Roche–all of which have been publicly championed by Trump administration officials–as well as manufacturers of drugs, medical tests, medical devices, medical instruments, personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning supplies, and antiseptics.
In a four-page letter to the Director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE), Krishnamoorthi noted that Short was present in meetings with particular companies whose stock he held, even after filing an application for a certificate of divestiture (CD), which essentially conceded he was aware of the conflict of interest.
CDs allow government officials to offset the capital gains tax burden of selling assets deemed to be conflicts of interest with their public work. However, merely applying for a CD requires that officials attest to having a probable conflict of interest which they pledge to address even if their application is denied.
“The Vice President’s office indicates that Mr. Short applied for a certificate of divestiture, which would have provided a tax break upon his divesting from his conflicted assets. However, your agency declined to grant this certificate because he refused to divest from all his potentially conflicted assets,” the Illinois congressman wrote in the letter. “This means that Mr. Short was still required to resolve the conflict of interest caused by his stock ownership, whether or not OGE granted him a certificate of divestiture, and that the ethics official for the Office of the Vice President was required to explain why Mr. Short’s stock holdings posed a conflict of interest with his official duties.”
Krishnamoorthi also highlighted Short’s public praise for 3M as one of the “primary producers” of respirator masks while simultaneously owning between $65,002 and $150,000 worth of the company’s stock.
The congressman included a detailed list of questions for OGE about what it is “doing to address” Short’s “apparent violations.” The letter also asks OGE for information on how it conducts oversight of Trump administration officials more broadly.
Read the full letter to OGE below:
[image via CNBC screengrab]
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