After a quick tour through government service, a former appointee in President Trump's State Department has registered to work as a lobbyist for the telecom and pharmaceutical industries, raising questions about the reach of an ethics pledge required by Trump.
Robert Wasinger, a former Trump campaign official and transition team member, served briefly as White House liaison to the State Department before joining McGuireWoods Consulting as senior vice president of its federal public affairs group last month. Last week, he registered as a lobbyist for Verizon and Inovio Pharmaceuticals, according to filings. His State Department tenure was first flagged by the liberal opposition research group American Bridge.
He is the second known Trump appointee who left the administration without signing a pledge to limit his lobbying activities.
Wasinger told The Washington Post in an email that he worked at the State Department for about 2½ weeks as an adviser during the early days of the administration and decided to take another job because of family obligations.
It was during one of his last days in office, he said, that Trump issued the ethics order requiring all executive branch appointees to sign a pledge that they will not lobby their agencies for five years after leaving office or lobby anyone in the executive branch for the duration of the administration. The order also banned appointees from ever working as lobbyists for a foreign government.
Wasinger, who served as director of Senate and gubernatorial outreach for Trump's campaign, told The Post that he did not sign the pledge. He said he joined the State Department in a temporary capacity, which could mean that he was not considered a full-time appointee who had to comply with the ethics rule.
Wasinger did not respond to follow-up questions about why he did not sign the pledge or whether he nonetheless plans to abide by its terms.
Trump's Jan. 28 executive order said the ethics rules apply to “every appointee in every executive agency appointed on or after January 20, 2017.” On Feb. 6, the Office of Government Ethics issued a legal advisory to federal agency ethics officials noting that the order requires all executive appointees to sign the pledge, including political appointees who work on policy or confidential matters.
“While he did not sign the administration's ethics pledge, and it is not clear he was ever asked to sign it, General Flynn nonetheless intends to abide by the terms of the pledge,” said Washington attorney Robert Kelner, who is representing Flynn.
Ethics experts said that it is troubling that there are now two examples of early Trump appointees who left without committing to the lobbying ban.
“An ethics executive order is only as good as the desire to enforce it,” said Norman Eisen, who served as the chief White House ethics lawyer for President Barack Obama. “If the president is serious about draining the swamp, he will do something about his appointees who are flouting his order. To have people ride the revolving door so quickly is not draining the swamp.”
Eisen said that even if the pledge did not apply to Wasinger because he was a temporary employee, the administration should have put in place a policy to prevent people from quickly cycling through government and into the lobbying industry.
White House officials did not respond to requests for comment.
During last year's campaign, Trump pledged to clean up Washington by banning former government officials from lobbying for five years.
“The key thing for this administration is going to be that people going out of government won’t be able to use that service to enrich themselves for a five-year period,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said in announcing the ban after the election.
Some aspects of the executive order that Trump issued were more restrictive than a similar ethics rule issued by Obama in 2009. For example, the Trump order expands the definition of restricted “lobbying activities” to include efforts in support of lobbying strategies, which could benefit those looking to become strategic advisers, so-called shadow lobbyists.
However, Trump's ethics order still allows former administration appointees to lobby Congress, a major focus of the influence industry. And it makes it easier for former lobbyists to join the administration by doing away with an Obama-era prohibition on joining an agency that one had lobbied in the previous two years.
Trump's order also stripped out a provision that required public disclosure of the administration's compliance, which makes it difficult to ascertain how many administration appointees have been granted waivers that allow them to skirt aspects of the rules.
Don Fox, a former OGE general counsel and acting director, said that the lack of disclosure was troubling, noting that the early waivers handed out during the Obama administration drew substantial scrutiny.
“The fact that they were public and completely transparent necessarily made them the last resort,” he said. “But if people in the general public and the press are not aware who may be getting a waiver and why, it does seem they could be given out freely.”
This posted has been updated.