Senate Republicans’ confirmation hearings schedule for President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet choices is of “great concern” to the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics and may leave some of his selections with “potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues,” the director of the agency wrote to Senate leaders on Friday.
The Senate GOP is racing to ready many of Trump’s choices for confirmation as soon as Inauguration Day, with six Cabinet-level confirmation hearings scheduled for Wednesday and several others scheduled over the next two weeks.
But since the Trump transition team did not pre-clear any of its selections for Cabinet positions with OGE before announcing them over the past two months, not all of the nominees have undergone their ethics review that helps Cabinet secretaries avoid conflicts of interest.
”The announced hearing schedule for several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process is of great concern to me. This schedule has created undue pressure on OGE’s staff and agency ethics officials to rush through these important reviews,” wrote OGE Director Walter Shaub. “More significantly, it has left some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues shortly before their scheduled hearings.”
Shaub said he was unaware of any occasion that hearings went forward before an ethics review. Democrats say that several nominees, including Education Department choice Betsy DeVos and Department of Homeland Security selection John Kelly, have not yet completed their ethics reviews ahead of their Wednesday hearings, though DeVos is said to be close according to her aides. Democrats want the DeVos hearing delayed.
The OGE director said his organization is working overtime to complete the requisite reviews before hearings that begin on Tuesday but said generally such tasks require “weeks, not days.” Emails from after the election in November show Shaub had difficulty contacting Trump’s transition team. That correspondence says it takes on average 40 days to approve ethics reviews and agreements.
”This normally intensive process has been further complicated by both the Senate hearing schedule and the announcement of nominees prior to consulting OGE for an evaluation of any ethics issues,” Shaub wrote in the letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “During this Presidential transition, not all of the nominees presently scheduled for hearings have completed the ethics review process. In fact, OGE has not received even initial draft financial disclosure reports for some of the nominees scheduled for hearings.”
Schumer is privately negotiating with McConnell to get some committee chairmen to reschedule hearings with six of them scheduled for Wednesday, though McConnell and top Republicans have resisted. President Barack Obama’s nominees also had simultaneous Cabinet-level hearings in 2009, though all completed their OGE and FBI reviews before the hearings.
Schumer said the OGE letter made clear that the GOP should “ stop trying to jam through unvetted nominees.”
“The Office of Government Ethics letter makes crystal clear that the transition team’s collusion with Senate Republicans to jam through these cabinet nominees before they’ve been thoroughly vetted is unprecedented,” Schumer said in a statement released alongside a copy of the letter.
McConnell’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Shaub’s term runs through January 2018.
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.