January hearings are premature because the nominees haven’t been fully vetted for conflicts.
Richard W Painter, ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, and Norman L Eisen, Obama’s ethics counsel, penned a open letter urging that hearings on President-Elect Trump’s cabinet nominations be delayed.
“We and others worked hard to make sure nominees’ financial disclosure reports and ethics agreements were finalized and certified by the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) before their hearings, so that the Senate and thus the public could explore any conflicts of interest and how they were addressed,” write Painter and Eisen, adding that this week’s hearings for the president-elect’s cabinet are flouting that practice.”
Until the OGE can certify the nominee disclosures and ethics agreements, the hearings must be postponed, they write.
The letter continues: “Short-changing the ethics review process in Congress jeopardizes nominees’ ability to do their jobs if confirmed. The Senate, and all of us, need to know if nominees will, for example, sell investments that create conflicts.”
It’s also vital that agreements are in place providing for recusal when conflicts do arise, Painter and Eisen say.
They point to Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, writing that she “likely has potential conflicts of interest with respect to education,” such as her investment in “K12 Inc, which manages public for-profit online charter schools, and indirectly invested in an online student lending firm.”
However, “there is no public disclosure of these or other any investments in the information included in her Senate nomination paperwork that has been made publicly available.”
Painter filed an ethics complaint against FBI Director James Comey in late October, alleging that his late disclosure in the Hillary Clinton email investigation was a violation of the Hatch Act.
“This is no trivial matter, ” Painter said of Comey’s move. “We cannot allow FBI or Justice Department officials to unnecessarily publicize pending investigations concerning candidates of either party while an election is underway. That is an abuse of power. Allowing such a precedent to stand will invite more, and even worse, abuses of power in the future.”