Circumstances and justifications of waivers raise eyebrows
Today, government watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust announced three new additions to the organization’s Ethics Waiver Tracker. These additions, for political appointees in the Office of the Vice President (OVP), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Agency for International Development (USAID), reflect the most recent waivers released by the Federal government’s Office of Government Ethics.
Kristine Lucius was Vice President Kamala Harris’ Chief of Staff in the Senate prior to becoming her Legislative Director in the Office of the Vice President. In her current role she is being paid by the U.S. Senate and her waiver was granted by a political appointee rather than the typical process requiring evaluation and approval from a career ethics official. Ms. Lucius’s waiver allows her to participate in particular matters on which she lobbied while she was with the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights, for whom she was Executive Vice President for Policy from 2017-19 before joining Ms. Harris’s Senate team. According to her waiver, Ms. Lucius is “uniquely qualified for this role because she has extensive and vital expertise on a broad range of legislation and policy issues core to the OVP’s mission and mandates.” Additionally, the waiver appeared to carve out exemptions from the Biden Ethics Pledge for lobbyists from non-profit organizations because it “is not the type of business-oriented, prior client relationship the [Biden Ethics Pledge] intended to reach.”
David Cohen is Deputy Director of the CIA, a role in which he also served during the Obama Administration. He was granted a waiver to allow him to communicate with a former client, John Brennan. Mr. Brennan is an MSNBC commentator and the former CIA Director during the Obama Administration. President Trump threatened to revoke the former CIA Director’s security clearance at one point and Mr. Brennan was later forced to admit, “I don’t know if I received bad information but I think I suspected there was more than there actually was,” after the Mueller Report failed to substantiate claims he had made regarding collusion during the 2016 election between Russian intelligence and the Trump campaign.
Gabriela Chojkier is the Deputy Assistant Administrator (DAA) for Public Affairs in the Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs (LPA) at USAID, the chief communications officer for the agency. Ms. Chojkier also served in the Obama White House. She was granted a waiver to participate in particular matters involving entities for whom she worked as a consultant through her company VIM Global during the previous two years. Some of these clients “have or may in the future work with USAID in its international development efforts,” according to the waiver document.
“Waivers can help to ensure that the American public benefits from having the most highly-qualified people serving in the Federal government,” said Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “But the circumstances and justifications for waivers can also raise eyebrows, especially when considering what are ‘unique qualifications’ and when they are not evaluated and granted by career ethics officials. The apparent carve out for those who lobbied for non-profits may also come as a surprise for those familiar with the long-standing interpretation of administration ethics pledges. Would similar deference be granted to a former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or Pharma, non-profits all? We at PPT will continue to shine a light on ethics waivers and their justifications.”