Politics

Shaub: Trump’s ‘Wall of Secrecy’ Could Extend to Ethics Report

Financial disclosure forms could offer clues about Stormy Daniels, ex-Ethics head says

President Donald Trump disclosed $315 million in liabilities last year. Observers are watching this year’s financial disclosure for clues about payments to Stormy Daniels. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Updated 8:56 p.m. | President Donald Trump filed his annual financial disclosure to a government ethics watchdog on Tuesday, but it’s not yet clear whether he reported reimbursing his attorney for payments made to Stormy Daniels or when the public will see the document. 

Walter Shaub Jr., a frequent Trump critic who ran the Office of Government Ethics until last summer, said the disclosure may well document loans to Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, who has said he made a $130,000 payment to Daniels, an adult film actress who alleges she had an affair with the president years ago.

Under a 1978 ethics law, the president would need to disclose any liability from the previous calendar year that exceeded $10,000, Shaub said. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has said publicly that Trump paid Cohen back in a series of payments, most of which, if not all, occurred in 2017.

Though the annual financial disclosures of most presidents in the past were released within days of the May 15 deadline, it could take weeks before the public gets a glimpse of Trump’s form, Shaub said during a news conference call with reporters Tuesday.

Shaub, who is now the senior director of ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, added he was uncertain whether the form would include the loans from Cohen and reiterated his concerns that ethics in the executive branch are in a “state of crisis.”

“Am I optimistic? I don’t know what to expect,” he said.

Government officials required to file financial disclosures by Tuesday’s deadline could have asked for an extension, but Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both filed on time, according to White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters.  

The president, however, is not bound by the same rules to avoid potential conflicts of interest that govern senior officials, such as Cabinet members — a fact that Trump has touted numerous times. Shaub has called on lawmakers to revamp those laws to require presidents to do more to unload their assets.

Last year, Trump voluntarily submitted a financial disclosure report that was signed in June. It listed more than $315 million in liabilities.

A White House spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on whether the disclosure would include information about any loans to Cohen. 

The president has nominated Emory Rounds III, an associate counsel at OGE, to replace Shaub as director of OGE, but the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has not yet scheduled a confirmation hearing.

Shaub said both Republican and Democrats on the panel had contacted him and that he talked with the committee back in March.

“I don’t know why it’s moving slowly,” Shaub said. “I gave him a glowing review in both cases and encouraged them to confirm him.”

Shaub cited numerous Trump administration scandals related to ethics in government and criticized the president yet again for failing to divest his assets, including in the Trump Organization now run by his adult sons and another executive.

In addition, White House senior aide Kellyanne Conway has violated ethics rules. Scott Pruitt, who heads the Environmental Protection Agency, has been dogged by reports of having cozy relationships with corporate lobbyists, including his former landlord.

“Our president has gone to great lengths to actually create a wall of secrecy,” Shaub said. “That’s created a very significant problem at the top in terms of the ethical tone.”

Shaub said he’s been urging lawmakers to take on new ethics legislation, but admits he’s “not optimistic” bills will pass before the next presidential election.

Still, Meredith McGehee, a strategic adviser with the Campaign Legal Center and also executive director of the campaign finance group Issue One, said ethics issues offer a rare opportunity for Democratic and Republican collaboration.

“When you talk about ethics issues, you can get pretty strong bipartisan support,” she said, adding that’s not the case when it comes to political money proposals.

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