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Trump revokes lobbying ban for administration officials he signed at beginning of presidency

President pledged to "drain the swamp," but the revolving door will soon be spinning.

President Trump
President Trump
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Updated: January 21, 2021 - 5:20pm

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In a last-minute move on his final day in office, then-President Trump signed an executive order lifting a five-year lobbying ban for members of his administration — despite his longtime pledge to "drain the swap."

The order, issued early Wednesday, nullified an ethics pledge taken by all members of his administration that required them to wait five years before engaging in lobbying activities. Former administration members often move just up the road to K Street and join lobbying firms, where they can offer insight and expertise on numerous issues. 

"Employees and former employees subject to the commitments in Executive Order 13770 will not be subject to those commitments after noon January 20, 2021," Trump's order reads. 

Executive Order 13770, entitled "Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees," was issued by Trump just eight days into his presidency. The order also banned lobbying by certain officials for the remainder of the Trump administration.

But the move is not unusual at the end of a president's term: Former President Clinton signed a similar waiver with just weeks left in his second and final term, the Associated Press reported.

The move will allow some in the administration to work in the private sector without worry. "By rescinding his ethics executive order before leaving office, Trump is freeing former officials from any lingering concern that they could face consequences for running afoul of the ethics policy as they return to the private sector," wrote the AP. "Many of them will now try to leverage their experience to secure high-paying jobs in Washington's influence industry."

But Trump's original ethics pledge didn't have teeth, anyway, according to a 2019 report by ProPublica

"[L]oopholes, some of them sizable, abound. At least 33 former Trump officials have found ways around the pledge," the watchdog site found. "Among the 33 former officials, at least 18 have recently registered as lobbyists. The rest work at firms in jobs that closely resemble federal lobbying. Almost all work on issues they oversaw or helped shape when they were in government. (Nearly 2,600 Trump officials signed the ethics pledge in 2017, according to the Office of Government Ethics. Twenty-five appointees did not sign the pledge." 

Trump's last-minute move was heavily criticized. "By rescinding his ethics order and letting his staffers immediately become lobbyists, the man who pledged to drain the swamp took a giant step to fill it," Noah Bookbinder, executive director of non-partisan ethics watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told Forbes in a statement. "You don't do things you're proud of last-minute in the middle of the night when you hope no one is watching."

It's unclear why Trump took the action — now-former White House officials were unreachable. But scattered calls to blacklist Trump administration officials — exemplified in a recent opinion piece by a Forbes magazine editor threatening editorial reprisals against any company that might hire a former Trump press secretary — could shed some light.

The riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was "an insurrection ... rooted in lies," asserted Forbes' Chief Content Officer Randall Lane in an op-ed published Jan. 7. "[Lies that] a fair election was stolen. That a significant defeat was actually a landslide victory. That the world's oldest democracy, ingeniously insulated via autonomous state voting regimens, is a rigged system. Such lies-upon-lies, repeated frequently and fervently, provided the kindling, the spark, the gasoline."

The piece cited Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway and former Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, as well as others who worked for the Trump administration.

"Let it be known to the business world: Hire any of Trump's fellow fabulists above, and Forbes will assume that everything your company or firm talks about is a lie," Lane warned. "We're going to scrutinize, double-check, investigate with the same skepticism we'd approach a Trump tweet. Want to ensure the world's biggest business media brand approaches you as a potential funnel of disinformation? Then hire away."

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