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Ethics Waivers Cover More Former Lobbyists

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Trump administration granted some waivers yesterday to nearly a dozen officials working across several federal agencies. The Office of Government Ethics had been demanding disclosure of the waivers from the White House. Here's NPR's Jackie Northam.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: The waivers shed light on why and how some administration officials can continue to work on issues they covered before joining government. Many of those granted waivers are lobbyists and corporate executives. Take Lance Leggitt. He was the head of health policy at a law firm in Washington, D.C. and lobbied the Department of Health and Human Services.

Now he's chief of staff at the Department of Health and Human Services. The Trump administration gave Leggitt a waiver because it said he brought, quote, "a unique blend of substantive health care expertise." Mr. Leggitt did not immediately respond to an email asking for comment.

Robert Weissman, the president of the government watchdog group Public Citizen, says Leggitt's details stood out amongst the other waivers released.

ROBERT WEISSMAN: Most of the waivers are not especially troublesome. They seem fairly perfunctory and don't really speak to their pervasive conflict of interest problems in the administration. It may be in part because the administration has been so slow to fill positions, and many of the people who are going to bring conflicts inside have not yet been confirmed.

NORTHAM: Weissman says Wednesday's documents are in stark contrast to the ethics waivers of White House staff released a week ago. They showed presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway was allowed to communicate about broad policy matters with clients from her former consulting firm. And Chief Strategist Steve Bannon may meet privately with Breitbart News - the media company he formerly headed. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE POLISH AMBASSADOR SONG, "TAKE WING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.
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