Go Forth and Lobby: Trump Nixes Own Ethics Pledge for Aides

On his way out the door, the outgoing president lifted a five-year lobbying ban that he proudly adopted four years ago.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump walk Wednesday to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, en route to their Mar-a-Lago Florida Resort. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Freeing current and former members of his administration from an ethics pledge that would have prevented them from lobbying their former agencies for five years, President Donald Trump revoked an ethics pledge in one of his final acts of office.

Trump issued the order late Tuesday but only released its text Wednesday after 1 a.m. on the White House’s website. Those words are now in a brief limbo, however, as the White House changed hands at noon with the swearing in of President Joe Biden. The National Archives is still processing Trump records.

It was Trump who signed the ethics pledge after his own inauguration in 2017, meant to fulfill his original “drain the swamp” campaign promise. The pledge required Trump officials to vow that they would not lobby against their former industries in the five years after their terms — a notable requirement as Trump’s administration for four years filled the executive chairs of numerous departments with private industry insiders and former lobbyists who had pushed for deregulation of the departments they led during Trump’s tenure.

Former coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler was appointed to head the Environmental Protection Agency where he rolled back environmental protections. Former oil and energy industry lobbyist David Bernhardt took post secretary of the Department of the Interior where he offered up national refuge lands to oil and gas developers. Eugene Scalia, an attorney who had previously represented an industry group that said fair labor regulation was a threat to American business competition, was appointed as the secretary of the Department of Labor and rolled back protections for tipped workers.

With Trump’s parting revocation, all of these officials, as well as others, can presume lobbying work against their former departments immediately.

“Employees and former employees subject to the commitments in Executive Order 13770 will not be subject to those commitments after noon January 20, 2021,” the one-page revocation states.

Under the 2017 executive order, the attorney general could have pursued any administrator who breached the pledge via civil suit. The pledge had also asked that Trump aides not take “foreign agent” positions after leaving their government posts.

The Biden administration has said it will bar lobbyists from jobs in regulatory departments that they have previously sought to influence in its own ethics plan. In a Pew Research Center survey released last week, 46% of those polled said they expect overall ethics and honesty in the federal government to rise with Joe Biden’s presidency.

Trump is not the only president to sign a revocation of this nature. Former President Bill Clinton also released his aides from a lobbying ban a few weeks prior to his leaving office.

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