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With a cabinet dubbed the wealthiest administration in modern U.S. history, conflicts of interest should come as no surprise.
Days before their confirmation hearings begin, many of President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees remain unvetted by the Office of Government Ethics, leaving many possible conflicts of interest potentially unexplored.
For four days beginning Tuesday, Jan. 10, eight of Trump’s picks will face various senate committee hearings. Wednesday, Jan. 11, will be the fullest, with six major confirmation hearings scheduled. Trump also rescheduled a press conference for that day, and a 'vote-o-rama' has also been organized – where Senators vote endlessly on various amendments "with no apparent end," according to Politico.
This packed schedule has been criticized as a strategy to distract the public and lawmakers, “preventing any one nominee from dominating a news cycle,” according to a piece in the Washington Post.
However, many of those nominees have failed to submit their financial statements to the OGE, despite numerous well-documented potential conflicts of interest.
In a letter released on Friday by Walter Shaub, the head of the OGE, in response to a "progress report" request by two Democratic senators, he expressed “great concern” for this apparently unprecedented strategy. He explained that it put “undue pressure” on OGE officials to rush through important and sensitive reviews.
"More significantly, it has left some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues shortly before their scheduled hearings,” wrote Shaub, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2013.
“I am not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process."
While Republican senators contested this claim, arguing Democrats had done it too in the past, ethical experts on both sides agree the decision to have confirmation hearings without full ethical reviews is troublesome and “unprecedented.”
“This suggests that there has been a real breakdown between the transition and the Office of Government Ethics,” said Trevor Potter, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission who served as counsel to several Republican presidential candidates and cabinet nominees.
The cabinet estimated accumulated wealth amounts to more than $35 million, discounting Trump’s own riches. Thus, conflicts of interest should come as no surprise.
From wealthy insiders and bankers connected to the very industries they are appointed to oversee, to others currently caught in legal scandals and investigations, Trump’s cabinet is fraught with controversy.
Rex Tillerson, for instance, one of his latest appointments as U.S. Secretary of State, was until very recently the chairman and CEO of oil and gas company Exxon-Mobil. With no public sector experience, and with known ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he will be appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.
Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, appointed attorney general despite a spotty racial record, is another key figure in the hearings.
Back in 1986, the Alabama senator was accused of making racist comments while serving as a U.S. attorney in Alabama. This included calling the NAACP "un-American" and "communist-inspired," which caused him to lose the federal judge seat he had been nominated to by then-President Ronald Reagan. This was based on his views on "race and his role in prosecuting a voter fraud case against black civil rights activists in Alabama," according to the Post.
While Democrats have vowed to not let the nominees through without resistance, they acknowledge that most of them will probably slither in by the end anyway.
The packed schedule of hearings was organized between the Trump transition team and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican. He has vowed that “all the president-elect’s Cabinet appointments will be confirmed,” according to the Post.