The White House last week announced that President Donald Trump had been granted a second 45-day extension to file his annual financial disclosure report. While the administration initially said in a statement that the extension was required because the report was “complicated” and the president had been “focused on addressing the coronavirus crisis and other matters,” in the two weeks since the extension was approved, the president has yet to provide a specific reason as required by federal law to justify any additional delay.
In a newly revealed June 29 letter to Trump’s tax attorney Sheri A. Dillion, Deputy Counsel to the President Scott F. Gast, the ethics official charged with reviewing the president’s disclosure, wrote he had “determined that good cause exists to grant the President an additional 45-day extension to the annual public financial disclosure report deadline.”
However, as several legal experts pointed out Monday, simply stating that “good cause exists” is insufficient without also including the reason behind such a finding.
Former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub, a frequent Trump critic, first drew attention to the problem, noting that the “regulations require that Trump request the extension in writing [and] ‘set forth’ the reason why good cause exists.”
Hey Lachlan, the regulations require that Trump request the extension in writing "set forth" the reason why good cause exists. Ask them to share that letter, if it exists. pic.twitter.com/xrGlfLhVoC
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) July 13, 2020
Indeed, the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 5 § 2634.201, which Gast specifically cited to in the letter, states:
The reviewing official may, for good cause shown, grant an additional extension of time which must not exceed 45 days. The employee must set forth in writing specific reasons why such additional extension of time is necessary. The reviewing official must approve or deny such requests in writing.
Minutes later, Shaub called out the lack of transparency.
“Donald Trump, the corruption party candidate who doesn’t care about government ethics, sets a new record as the first president to request two 45-day extensions for filing a financial disclosure report,” Shaub tweeted. “He has time to golf and tweet but not to disclose his conflicts of interest.”
Donald Trump, the corruption party candidate who doesn't care about government ethics, sets a new record as the first president to request two 45-day extensions for filing a financial disclosure report. He has time to golf and tweet but not to disclose his conflicts of interest. https://t.co/htoMF19sO7
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) July 13, 2020
Attorney Ross Garber similarly pointed to the relevant law concerning the only public documentation of the president’s finances.
WH lawyer gives Trump an extension to file financial disclosure. As @waltshaub notes, the applicable regulation requires Trump specify the reason for the extension, which, if it exists, the WH has not released. Might just be: 🖕 https://t.co/7SDdBnRBlV
— Ross Garber (@rossgarber) July 13, 2020
Former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Joyce Vance White — who was also required to file annual financial disclosure during her time as a federal prosecutor — said that the purpose of such disclosures was to “expose conflicts of interest on any issues you are working on.”
Even before I was a presentiallynappointed US Atty, as my office’s appellate chief, a career position, I filed disclosures once a year. The date wasn’t a mystery, you knew it was coming. The info would expose conflicts of interest on any issues you are working on. https://t.co/m5fiqKrKTl
— Joyce Alene (@JoyceWhiteVance) July 13, 2020
Adding more context to the president’s decision, Norm Eisen, the former Special Counsel for Ethics and Government Reform under Barack Obama, argued last week that the president’s reasoning was likely a lie, as Trump is almost certainly not preparing the report himself, indicating he may have something to hide.
“I oversaw Pres. Obama’s financial filings in a time of two wars & the Great Recession. So I can tell you that the excuse Trump is giving is a lie,” Eisen wrote. “His lawyers and accountants prepare this form, not him. Why is he lying? The usual: something to hide.”
[image via Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images]
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