Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who is Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general, failed to disclose his ownership of oil interests as required, ethics lawyers who reviewed state records said. The records from Alabama show the senator owns subsurface rights to oil and other minerals on more than 600 acres in his home state, some near a federal wildlife preserve.
According to The Washington Post, records show that Sessions' holdings produce revenue in the range of $4,700 (£3,862) annually. However, the attorney general nominee did not report those interests in his forms to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). Sessions' confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin on Tuesday (10 January).
"I am troubled by any omissions," Senator Richard Blumenthal said. "But this is particularly troubling because this ownership interest involves oil and gas holdings connected to a federal wildlife refuge." The Connecticut Democrat is a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Fellow Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is the committee's ranking Democrat, added: "If Senator Sessions failed to disclose all of his financial information this is a serious matter."
Charles Cooper, a lawyer assisting Sessions during the confirmation process, told The Washington Post that they were reviewing the reporting forms submitted to the OGE "to be sure that they have accurately characterised the senator's holdings. To whatever extent that's not the case, the forms will be amended."
Cooper noted that the interests Sessions receives is small and that his team had discussed the holdings in private with Justice Department ethics officials, who did not raise objections. He added Sessions listed the amount of overall revenue he receives and listed the revenue as rent or royalties.
According to ethics experts, OGE rules require more specific public disclosure. "Office of Government Ethics guidance clearly states with regards to mineral rights leases that filers must disclose their real estate holdings as well as the identity of the lessee and the specific type of resources being extracted," said Bryson Morgan, who once served as investigative counsel to the Office of Congressional Ethics. Morgan now works for the Caplin & Drysdale law firm.
Democrats argue that Republicans are attempting to push through President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees before background and ethics checks are complete. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, has demanded that Democrats "grow up and get past" Trump's victory and allow the confirmation hearings to continue without all the ethics reviews in place.
In response, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sent McConnell the exact letter he sent former minority leader Harry Reid eight years ago when Republicans demanded a full ethics review of each nominee before they were given a hearing. Schumer crossed out Reid's name from the letter, substituting McConnell's name, and replaced McConnell's original signature with his own.