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Bill Shine Departing White House Under Ethical Cloud

Bill Shine, the former president of Fox News, resigned from his position as White House communications director on Friday, the fifth person to leave that role under President Donald Trump. He will be joining the president’s re-election campaign, which is not an uncommon transition for a White House official to make mid-term.

But Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, pointed out that there’s an ominous cloud hanging over Shine’s White House tenure:

Indeed, New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer found in a bombshell article this week that Shine has been receiving a $7 million payout from Fox News while he’s been working at the White House. Some speculated it may even have been Mayer’s revelations that triggered Shine’s departure.

“In December, four Democratic senators sent a letter to the White House counsel’s office, demanding proof that Fox’s payments to Shine don’t violate federal ethics and conflict-of-interest statutes,” said Mayer.

“Because Bill Shine had Fox stock options, the criminal conflict of interest law required him to recuse from any ‘particular matter’ affecting Fox’s interests. A ‘particular matter’ includes a matter affecting an industry (news media) or parties (the outlets with WH credentials),” said Shaub Friday on Twitter.

The pulling of the press credentials, mentioned in the tweet above, refers an incident in which Trump’s White House pulled CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s pass in November 2018. CNN challenged the decision in court and won immediate relief, and the White House essentially backed down. But Shine had initially signed a letter revoking the pass, a decision Shaub now suggests he shouldn’t have been involved in.

“Shine received an authorization under an impartiality regulation to meet with Fox. But that authorization did not waive the conflict of interest law. I wonder if anyone can explain how the WH communications director meets with Fox without affecting its financial interests,” said Shaub. “I have no idea why Shine resigned, and I’m not implying these things caused his resignation. But these are things the media ought to be asking the WH about. Fox News could start by sharing information about any meetings it had with Bill Shine. Or does state media not do that?”

Shine’s highly dubious arrangement receiving pay from both the White House and Fox News at the same time, all the while making government decisions that affect Fox’s bottom line, raises serious concerns. But the fact that these highly irregular conflicts have gone largely under the radar also speaks to the fact that Trump’s administration is so wildly scandalous that many people may feel they’re able to get away with behavior that would not otherwise be tolerated.

Commerce Secretary Ross Flouts Ethics Rules By Filing False Financial Reports

Reprinted with permission from DCReport.

Wilbur Ross, Donald Trump’s Commerce secretary, is required by federal law to report to the attorney general that he has engaged in illegal conduct that could get him five years in prison.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Ross to comply or for prosecutors to act. In this administration, the de facto ethics policy is, “We do as we please, the law and common decency be damned.”

Ross falsely reported not once, but twice that he had sold his shares of Bank United stock in May 2017. He identified the shares as sold in his September 2017 report (see Page 2). Then he filed his annual financial disclosure report in August 2018. His original 2017 reports are here and here.

In this administration, the de facto ethics policy is, ‘We do as we please, the law and common decency be damned.’

The second false report came after Ross was warned in writing by the Office of Government Ethics about being accurate. The forms in question are signed under penalty of perjury.

Ross’s 72-page disclosure form was rejected by the head of the Office of Government Ethics, Emory Rounds, on Feb. 15.

The Center for Public Integrity revealed in December that Ross falsely claimed he had sold the stock. He got tripped up on his two-time lie when he reported a United Bank dividend.

Lying on disclosure forms is a sort of Trump White House specialty.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and government-paid adviser on almost everything, and his wife Ivanka have repeatedly had to amend their ethics reportsIvanka Trump was fined once, her husband twice, for false filings.

Trump repeatedly told voters that he was worth more than $10 billion. But once he became president, Trump filed a statement showing his net worth was only about 10% of the claimed amount. He filed after his lawyers asked if Trump could submit his ethics report without signing it.

Even that report overstated his net worth significantly. He listed exceptionally generous valuations for his properties, which other records, including some of his own filings with local governments, indicate were worth far less.

Ross, whom I first interviewed three decades ago, has often publicly claimed he was worth billions from his years as a “vulture capitalist.” His specialty was squeezing money out of bankrupt firms, often to the detriment of workers and vendors.

His now-rejected financial statements suggest his net worth is in the hundreds of millions, not billions.

For Ross, what is brazen is that he was on notice about the need to be accurate and truthful. He was explicitly warned, according to the Office of Government Ethics letter explaining the reasons it will not certify Ross’ 2018 financial disclosure filing.

“OGE is declining to certify Secretary Ross’ 2018 financial-disclosure report because that report was not accurate, and he was not in compliance with his ethics agreement at the time of the report,” the OGE wrote.

Ross, in the blasé manner of numerous Trump appointees, issued a statement. He lamely asserted that he is just doing what Commerce Department ethics advisers tell him. We look forward to seeing an email or letter from any such adviser telling him to make a false report.

Two years ago, we reported on how Ross had been vice chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, a favorite for Russian money laundering. A link to the full report by our investigative economics editor, Jim Henry, is in the short version of the story we ran back then.

The other Bank of Cyprus vice chair was an appointee of Vladimir Putin. The bank’s chief executive was the disgraced former head of Deutsche Bank, the only bank known to have loaned money directly to Trump in the last decade.

Deutsche, which has paid more than $600 million in fines for laundering Russian money and an eye-popping $22 billion in fines for other improprieties. Why would Ross hire an executive with that kind of track record, especially in helping Russians launder money?

The amount of stock Ross lied about is piddling, assuming Ross wasn’t also lying about the value of his shares. He put them down as less than $15,000.

The ethics disclosure rules Congress has enacted, going back many decades, make no room for reporting you sold something that you still own.

Ross has only one legal option to avoid informing William Barr, the newly named attorney general. Congress says that Ross “shall” report his illegal conduct:

…each Secretary concerned… shall refer to the Attorney General the name of any individual which such official or committee has reasonable cause to believe has willfully failed to file a report or has willfully falsified or willfully failed to file information required to be reported.

The only out for Ross, would be that he believes his action even after being warned was not willful. How could it be anything but? Well, to be generous, it could be just callous disregard for the laws that Ross swore to uphold.

“Individuals who fail to file a report, file a false report, or fail to report required information risk serious consequences,” the Ethics office advises all affected officials.

The attorney general can prosecute any official who “knowingly and willfully falsifies information required to be reported or… knowingly and willfully fails to file or report.”

Again, don’t hold your breath.

IMAGE: Wilbur Ross testifies before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be commerce secretary on Capitol Hill, January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Ethics Office Rebukes Commerce Secretary For Concealing Bank Stock

The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) refused to certify Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’ financial disclosure form — because Ross lied about owning certain stocks.

The move comes after the OGE warned Ross in the summer of 2018 about the consequences of his repeated problems with inaccurate disclosures.

In a letter dated Feb. 15, 2019, OGE Director Emory A. Rounds declared that the office would not certify Ross’ disclosure because the “report was not accurate and he was not in compliance with his ethics agreement at the time of the report.”

Ross lied about owning BankUnited stock, the Center for Public Integrity reported in December 2018. According to the ethics agreement Ross signed in early 2017, Ross was supposed to divest this stock no later than the end of May 2017.

But he didn’t. In fact, he continued to own some stock in the company all the way until the end of October 2018, despite signing several financial disclosure forms saying he sold them all in the intervening months.

“Wilbur Ross clearly is not taking his ethics obligations seriously,” Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, told the Center for Public Integrity in December. “He’s been warned and at this point he needs a full audit by OGE and probably Congress to make sure he’s not operating with blatant conflict of interest.”

Democrats on Capitol Hill took notice as well. In December, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) told the Center for Public Integrity that this “administration’s contempt for the most basic checks on corruption is bottomless.”

Lying on an ethics form isn’t the only way Ross makes headlines. During the Trump shutdown, Ross was baffled that some federal workers were struggling after not being paid for 35 days. When a reporter asked Ross about federal workers who were visiting homeless shelters to get food, Ross replied that he knew about it, but, he said, “I don’t really quite understand why.”

Like many in Trump’s Cabinet, Ross may see himself as above the rule of law. Unfortunately, his attitude, according to Delaney Marsco, ethics counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, “shows a lack of reverence towards the ethics program and a disregard for the rules.”

In Trump’s Cabinet, the culture of corruption is just par for the course.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

IMAGE: Donald Trump looks on as Wilbur Ross departs after their meeting at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, November 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Whoops! Jared Kushner Made More Mistakes On His Ethics Disclosure

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Jared Kushner’s ethics disclosure filing misstated the financials on two Brooklyn loans, the latest in a long series of errors and omissions on the form.

A Kushner representative confirmed the errors, attributing them to data entry and accounting mistakes. The representative said the figures will be revised in the next annual filing, which is due soon.

The form has been updated at least 40 times since Kushner first submitted it in March 2017. Each update can contain multiple revisions.

The newly revealed errors center on a pair of loans that Kushner Companies made to projects at 215 Moore Street in Bushwick and 9 DeKalb Avenue in downtown Brooklyn.

Kushner’s disclosure suggests that these loans could have generated more income from interest in a roughly yearlong period than the entire value of the loans themselves.

Jared Kushner’s ethics disclosure lists incorrect income ranges for loans made to real estate projects at 9 DeKalb Avenue and 215 Moore Street in Brooklyn, New York.

A Kushner representative said the correct income ranges are $50,001–$100,000 on the 9 DeKalb loan and $15,001–$50,000 on the 215 Moore loan.

The loans were part of a push by Kushner Companies, announced in 2016, to get into the business of lending money to other developers. The company has now exited from both of those loans. The lender on the 215 Moore project in Bushwick is now Bank of Internet, as we previously reported.

It’s still not clear whether Kushner Companies had undisclosed partners in its lending program. The loan to 215 Moore was for more than $30 million. But Kushner’s disclosure on the loan gives a value of just $100,000 to $250,000. Kushner’s representative told ProPublica that the value represents Kushner’s share.

A separate form that Kushner filed to get security clearance has also been marked by numerous omissions and revisions, most famously involving his meetings with foreign contacts, including Russian officials.

Update: Kushner’s representative sent an additional statement explaining the updates to Kushner’s disclosure form.

Mr. Kushner has not filed 40 revisions of his disclosure report. He filed his report twice with the Office of Government and Ethics. The initial report was made on March 31, 2017 and, following the OGE review process, a second report was filed and then certified by OGE on July 20, 2017. An addendum to the report was later filed on January 3, 2018. Revising a report during the OGE review process is not uncommon, and the Integrity database will note a “revision” for each day in which a change has been made to the draft. The other 30-something revisions referred to in the ProPublica article merely refer to revisions to the draft working document that were being made in consultation with OGE so that the second submission could be certified.