White House

Priebus, Conway among White House staffers who got ethics waivers

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway were two of 11 Trump administration staffers who received ethics waivers, according to a list made public Wednesday evening. 

In addition to the 11 named staffers, the list also noted that so-called "blanket" waivers were given to all appointees in the Executive Office of the President (EOP), commissioned officers in the White House Office and former employees of the law firm Jones Day, including White House Counsel Don McGahn.

The EOP waiver states that all presidential appointees "may participate in communications and meetings with news organizations regarding broad policy matters." That clears the way, ethically, for Steve Bannon, Breitbart's former chief executive and now Trump's chief strategist, to ring up reporters at the news site.

Priebus, the former head of the Republican National Committee, is permitted to "participate in communications and meetings involving the [RNC]." Conway, Trump's former pollster, is allowed to "participate in communications and meetings involving former clients which are political, advocacy, trade, or non-profit organizations."

Four of the waivers were given to former registered lobbyists: Michael Catanzaro, Shahira Knight, Andrew Olmem and Joshua Pitcock.

Catanzaro and Knight have drawn some of the most intense scrutiny of government watchdogs because their new jobs seem to closely align with their private-sector lobbying. 

As a lobbyist for CGCN Group, Catanzaro's clients included Devon Energy, an oil and gas company based in Oklahoma, and other energy providers. In the Trump administration, he's a special assistant to the president, focusing on energy policies.

Catanzaro's duties can include "broad policy matters and particular matters of general applicability relating to energy and environmental policy issues," according to his waiver. "The Administration has an interest in you working on covered matters due to your experience and expertise on these issues."

Knight, a former employee of Fidelity Investments, is focusing on issues related to taxes, retirement and financial services.

Pitcock, who had been Indiana's sole lobbyist in Washington and now serves as Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, is permitted under a waiver to stay in the room when matters involving Indiana arise.

The publication of the waivers marked a bid by the White House to end a standoff with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) over the disclosure that former lobbyists and other individuals are shaping policy in areas they worked in before joining the administration. Other executive branch agencies and departments, such as Treasury, State and Defense, are expected to share similar information with OGE by Thursday.

The White House waivers were vetted by McGahn and Stefan Passantino, the chief ethics officer. The White House says it only grants waivers if those lawyers find it's too impractical for the person to recuse from the ethics issues triggered by their past work.

"To the furthest extent possible, counsel worked with each staffer to recuse from conflicting conduct rather than being granted waivers, which has led to the limited number of waivers being issued," White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters told the Associated Press.

Trump signed an executive order in January stating that lobbyists hired into government would be banned from working with former clients on "particular" issues they had formerly been involved with for two years unless they received a waiver. 

After the order was signed, the OGE requested to review the waivers and make them public in an effort to ensure that the Trump administration was following the order.

On May 16, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney requested that the OGE suspend its inquiry to review the waivers and make them available to the public. OGE Director Walter Shaub responded with a 10-page letter declining Mulvaney's request and reiterating that the executive branch had until June 1 to comply with the order.

Fox News' John Roberts and the Associated Press contributed to this report.