Starting Friday evening, the White House will begin to release financial disclosure forms filed by about 180 members of the Trump administration who are either commissioned officers or paid more than $161,755.
Already, the administration is bragging that its members are way wealthier than those who worked for former president Barack Obama — a point of pride that doesn't quite match the president's campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” of wealthy GOP donors, lifelong political operatives and those who are simply out-of-touch with everyday Americans.
To back up this point, the White House held a briefing with reporters on Friday afternoon and presented them with a handout that featured two pie charts comparing the complexity of the financial disclosure reports filed in the early days of the Obama and Trump administrations. The categories included: “simple,” “moderate,” “complex” and “extremely complex.” The Obama chart shows that most reports were either “simple” or “moderate,” with a teeny sliver being “extremely complex.” In the Trump chart, “simple” is the smallest slice and a sizable chunk was “extremely complex.” There are no numbers on these graphics or any explanation of how these designations were decided.
It's no secret that Trump, who brags about his immense wealth, has filled his administration with fellow uber-wealthy people. The billionaires include Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, whose family started a marketing company; Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a venture capitalist who has focused on buying businesses in distress; and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive, hedge fund executive and Hollywood financier.
“The president has brought a lot of people into this administration, into this White House, in particular, who have been very blessed and very successful by this country and have given up a lot to come into the government by setting aside a lot of assets,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at a briefing earlier in the day. “And I think it speaks volumes to the desire for a lot of these people to fulfill the president's vision and move the agenda forward, that they are willing to list all of their assets, undergo this public scrutiny, but also set aside a lot, because you'll see that people are often told they have to sell an asset or get rid of something to come serve in the government.”
High-level members of the administration are required by federal law to file financial disclosure reports within 30 days of starting their jobs, and Spicer claimed that the Trump administration is “going above and beyond what has been done in the past” by making the forms “more accessible and more available than in history.”
After the formal White House briefing, two senior compliance and ethics officers briefed reporters on how this release would work — outlining a process that one senior administration official admitted was “exactly the same” as the one used by the Obama administration. Even though the briefing was focused on transparency, the White House asked that the two officers not be identified by name.
At some point, members of the public will be allowed to access these reports via a portal on the White House website by providing their name, email address and other information. Requests will have to be made one-by-one, and the White House declined to provide reporters with a list of roughly 180 members of the administration who filed the forms. Once a request is made, the White House will email the requested report, a process that aides warn could take a few hours or several days.
The senior compliance and ethics officers made clear that these disclosure forms provide a snapshot of a person's financial standing as he or she came into office — and that many members of the administration have already divested some of their assets or resigned from positions that might be a conflict.
Those running the briefing did make clear that they are beating the Obama administration on one measure of transparency: The Obama administration first released its reports on April 3, 2009, and the Trump administration is getting it done on March 31.
Both dates fell on the Friday of the 10th full week of each administration.