Refilling the Swamp? Trump Rescinded The Ethical Lobbying Bar For Aides As He Was Leaving Office
In a column this week, I was recently critical of the pardons issued by former President Donald Trump, including additional figures convicted of different forms of political corruption. For a person who pledged to “drain the swamp,” his pardons show an unprecedented sense of sympathy (and clemency) for those who profiteered in public office. Yet, those pardons pales in comparison to the contradiction in one of Trump’s last acts as President: rescinding his bar on current and former members of his administration from lobbying their respective agencies for five years.
The order required his political appointees to agree to the lobbying ban as a condition for their positions, as well as pledge not to undertake work that would require them to register as a “foreign agent” after leaving government. It was one of the few actual moves to reinforce government ethics in the Administration. I was critical of the Administration for openly embracing nepotism and tolerating violations of the Hatch Act.
The signing of the one-page revocation of the ethics order on Tuesday before his departure was the ultimate act of cynicism. President Bill Clinton signed a similar order on his way out the door. What is so striking is how such politicians openly acknowledge that their earlier ethical positions were nothing more than a political ploy.
Biden is expected to issue a new rule the prohibited former aides from lobbying the White House or executive branch agencies during his term in office. Thus, it would have the same temporal coverage as the Trump rule that was rescinded at the end of his term. However, Biden is expected to include a provision that those who depart toward the end of his tenure will be prohibited from lobbying the White House for at least two years. Trump simply rescinded the rule in its entirety.
Of course, Trump is not the first to promise to drain the swamp only to add to its corrupt ecosystem. However, the move shows how voters are played for chumps with these pledges of governmental ethics in Washington.