The non-partisan Office of Government Ethics that oversees ethics and conflicts of interest in the US federal government is raising concerns over the haste in scheduling the confirmation hearings of Donald Trump's cabinet nominees. The agency said they have yet to receive financial disclosures from some of the nominees who will come before Congress next week.
In a letter to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D- NY) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) that was released on Saturday (7 January), Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub said: "The announced hearing schedule for several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process is of great concern to me." He added that the schedule has put enormous pressure on the OGE staff and ethics officials to race through important reviews.
In the email, Shaub further wrote: "More significantly, it has left some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues shortly before their scheduled hearings. 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."
According to Ethics in Government Act, presidential nominees require OGE certification of their financial disclosures before congressional hearings begin, Shaub said. He stated that the process is "complex" and "labour-intensive", and it takes "weeks, not days" to make sure that the Senate has a complete picture of any potential conflicts of interest.
Senator Elizabeth Warren reacted to the letter in a Facebook post, slamming the GOP for rushing through the process and said: "Mitch McConnell and the Republican leadership are desperately trying to rush Senate confirmation hearings for President-elect Trump's cabinet nominees. But they are bypassing important steps to make sure that these billionaire nominees are free of dangerous conflicts of interest – and Senate tradition."
Shaub also emailed Trump aides in November saying "we seem to have lost contact with the Trump-Pence transition since the election", despite repeated attempts NBC News reported.
However, a Senate Republican source said the OGE certification paperwork in the past hasn't always come before hearings. In 2001, for instance, George W Bush's pick for secretary of education, Rod Paige, had his hearing a week before the committee had his OGE certification.
Senate hearings for as many as six Trump nominees begin next week for cabinet positions and other posts so they can be voted on and sworn in soon after Trump assumes office on 20 January. According to Politico, Schumer is negotiating with McConnell privately to get some committee chairmen to reschedule the hearings.