Seven former senior Trump aides, including the White House’s top ethics official, may have violated federal law by failing to disclose their future employment on financial reports, according to records seen by MMH.
One of those aides, John McEntee, President Donald Trump’s former personal aide who left in March 2018, reportedly after a problem with his security clearance, also appears to have been paid by the Trump campaign while still working at the White House, also a possible violation of the law, the records show.
High-level staffers are required to disclose their future employment if they have a job lined up to identify potential conflicts of interest between their White House positions and new employers.
It’s the latest in what good government advocates say is a pattern of ethical lapses in the Trump administration.
Several government watchdog groups have criticized the Trump administration repeatedly for allowing high-ranking staffers to spend exorbitant amounts of money on travel, promoting Trump businesses and failing to file legally required financial reports.
The six other former staffers are Reed Cordish, assistant to the president for intergovernmental and technology initiatives; Stefan Passantino, deputy counsel; Marc Short, director of legislative affairs; Bill Stepien, director of political affairs; Katie Walsh, deputy chief of staff; and Paul Winfree, deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy, who served in several top policy jobs.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group, concluded the former staffers may have failed to include the information on their termination based on reviews of campaign finance documents, articles and news releases.
Many of the former aides remain close to Trump, returning to the administration, working for his reelection campaign or his family business. Short returned to the White House this month to serve as Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff. Stepien works for Trump’s campaign.
Passantino who oversaw compliance and ethics when five of the staffers filed their financial reports, personally certifying three of them was recently hired by the Trump Organization to help with the onslaught of House investigations. The White House appears to have recently filled the position he left last August.
CREW sent a letter to the Office of Government Ethics Wednesday asking director Emory Rounds to investigate both the lack of disclosure and McEntee’s additional income.
If OGE determines the aides failed to comply with requirements, the group is asking the agency to launch a more comprehensive review to evaluate whether the White House is properly administering its government ethics program.
“The pattern of apparent failures to disclose future employment agreements or arrangements raises systemic concerns regarding the White House ethics program,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder wrote in the letter, seen by MMH.
The White House and most former staffers did not respond to requests for comment. Federal law requires senior officials to file public financial disclosure reports, including termination reports when they leave the administration.
The reports provide information about financial interests, including arrangements for future employment, even informal ones. The attorney general could take civil or criminal action if a staffer fails to file, though that is rare. Filing a report late is punishable by a $200 fine.
Trump’s White House has seen a record number of staffers leave in the past two years. Some of them were fired, while others chose to leave the administration.
News reports indicated McEntee left his job on March 12, 2018. A day later, Trump’s campaign announced he had been hired as senior adviser of campaign operations, saying he would begin work “in the coming days.”
But McEntee’s termination report, filed July 27, indicated he left the White House on March 30. The Trump campaign paid McEntee $15,000 on March 23 and $7,000 on March 30, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Cordish left the White House on Feb. 21, 2018, with plans to return to his family’s real estate company, according to news reports. His termination report, filed March 22, didn’t indicate what job he was taking next.
“Mr. Cordish’s termination report, as was the case with all his filings, was both accurate and fully vetted by White House counsel for accuracy,” said Cari Furman, director of communications for Cordish Companies.
Passantino left the White House on Aug. 31, filing his termination report the same day and not indicating any future job prospects. However, on Sept. 5, 2018, two business days later, the law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich, headed by former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, announced Passantino had joined the firm. It’s possible that was negotiated after he left the White House.
In a statement sent to MMH, Passantino said he “scrupulously followed the rules every day of my government service and don’t appreciate an insinuation otherwise.”
Passantino added that when he left the White House, he had been in negotiations with and had received expressions of interest from two law firms but had not yet decided which offer to take.
“My wife and family remained in Georgia when I left to serve my country, and [I] wanted to weigh my options with them before making a final decision,” he wrote.
Short left the White House on July 20, after it was announced July 12 that he was joining Guidepost Strategies as a partner and the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs as a senior fellow. He filed a termination report Aug. 15.
Stepien left the White House on Dec. 10, three days after filing his termination report. The move came a few weeks after it had been reported that he would leave to join the Trump campaign and three days after campaign manager Brad Parscale issued a news release announcing that Stepien would join the team. Yet the termination report made no mention of this move.
Walsh left the White House on March 31, 2017, a day after it was reported that she was leaving to join America First Policies, an outside group that has been set up to promote Trump’s agenda. She filed a termination report July 25 without listing her new job.
Winfree left the White House on Dec. 15, 2017, after news reports indicated he was leaving to return to the Heritage Foundation. He didn’t disclose that in the termination report he filed that same day.