Vice President Pence’s Chief of Staff Marc Short appears to have violated criminal conflict of interest law by holding stock in companies that are directly affected by the government’s pandemic response and participating in meetings with those companies, according to complaints sent to the FBI by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). 

A prominent member of the Trump administration’s COVID-19 pandemic response efforts, Short plays a critical role in addressing the economic and health impact of the pandemic, determining the agenda for meetings of the coronavirus task force and communicating the administration’s coronavirus response to the public. CREW first noted Short’s possible conflicts of interest in April after discovering he had not filed periodic transaction reports disclosing sales of his stocks. In May, NPR reported Short had not divested any of his stock interests, and Short claims to manage his conflicts of interest by recusing himself from matters that may affect his holdings. 

Short’s work on the pandemic, however, reportedly included attending meetings with executives of the companies in which he holds stock. The White House press office said Short was expected to attend several meetings in March and April related to the pandemic response with representatives from companies such as United Health Group, CVS, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Wal-Mart and Disney, whose stock he holds, and photos show him at those meetings.

“While Marc Short helps craft and guide the government’s coronavirus response efforts, he appears to have maintained financial interests that could be affected by those efforts — and could influence his decision-making on important issues,” said CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder. “His actions run the risk of violating the conflicts of interest laws we rely on to keep government employees transparent, honest and accountable for their actions.”

Without divesting, Short is subject to OGE’s regulations and conflict of interest law, which explains that “an employee is prohibited . . . from participating personally and substantially in an official capacity in any particular matter in which, to his knowledge, he or any other person specified in the statute has a financial interest, if the particular matter will have a direct and predictable effect on that interest.” A “particular matter” is defined as a matter that involves “deliberation, decision, or action that is focused upon the interests of specific persons, or a discrete and identifiable class of persons.” While in some limited instances OGE may issue a waiver exempting an employee from this law, the White House must publish all such waivers online and has not yet produced a waiver for Short.

The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) is responsible for issuing Executive Branch employees Certificates of Divestiture (CD). In order for Short to have received a CD, the ethics officer overseeing his request would have needed to concede that Short’s divestiture was necessary to resolve a conflict of interest, and that he pledged to divest. Under OGE regulations, by applying for the CD, Pence’s office conceded that divestiture was necessary to resolve a conflict of interest, and Short pledged to divest.

“Marc Short should have divested his stock holdings immediately and rid himself of any real or apparent conflict of interest. Since he has not done so, and continues to act in a way that could erode public trust, the FBI should investigate,” said Bookbinder.

March Short needs to be investigated for his continued failure to divest from his apparent financial conflicts of interest that could cause him to favor companies that he has a personal stake in rather than groups that best address public needs during this crisis.

Timeline of CREW investigation into Marc Short

Apr 23, 2020

CREW analyzes Short’s Public Financial Disclosures (PFD) which revealed that there is reason to be concerned that Short may be participating in the government’s coronavirus pandemic response while holding significant conflicting financial interests.

Jun 03, 2020

CREW files FBI criminal complaint against Short for attending meetings with companies whose stock he also holds. These companies include UnitedHealth Group, CVS, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Wal-Mart and Disney. 

Jul 02, 2020

CREW submits a supplemental letter to our complaint against Short after new evidence emerges that suggests Short appears to have participated in three additional meetings with companies whose stock he held, which could violate criminal conflict of interest law.

Nov 09, 2020

CREW submits a second supplemental letter after reviewing his latest PFD which confirmed that as of the end of 2019, he maintained financial interests in the companies discussed in previous letters. The new PFD also disclosed additional interests in companies that he met with in 2020 that were not included in earlier disclosures, indicating he may have met with even more companies that he was invested in than previously realized.

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