May 15, 2019
The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) declined to certify former Deputy Assistant to the President and Strategist Ira Greenstein’s new entrant and termination financial disclosure reports, according to documents obtained by CREW. OGE only explained that it was declining to certify the reports “due to unresolved potential conflicts,” which raises questions about why Greenstein was apparently allowed to serve in the White House for over a year with those conflicts.
Greenstein’s disclosures are part of a troubling pattern in the Trump administration. He is now the fourth-known administration official whose financial disclosure reports OGE has declined to certify due to ethics issues.
OGE General Counsel David Apol declined to certify Greenstein’s new entrant and termination reports on April 4, 2019, more than two years after Greenstein filed his new entrant report on March 9, 2017 and more than one year after Greenstein left his White House job on March 30, 2018. Interestingly, White House ethics officials do not appear to have been as concerned about Greenstein’s potential conflicts. They reviewed and certified Greenstein’s new entrant report in December 2017, indicating that they may not have been aware of or concerned about the potential unresolved conflicts OGE identified. White House officials, however, never completed a review of Greenstein’s termination report.
OGE officials also declined to certify the 2018 annual reports filed by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. In notes on those reports, OGE officials detailed the specific reasons why they declined to certify the reports. Apol’s vague reference to “unresolved potential conflicts” on Greenstein’s reports suggests that Greenstein had serious substantive financial conflicts throughout his time in government but leaves the public to wonder exactly what prevented OGE from certifying the reports.
While many incoming administration officials have potential conflicts of interest, they typically resolve those conflicts by divesting from the problematic assets or recusing themselves from work relevant to their interests. It is possible that OGE’s decision to decline to certify Greenstein’s reports stemmed from an unwillingness or inability on the part of Greenstein to take the steps necessary to resolve his conflicts. Greenstein’s reported assets may provide clues into what unresolved potential conflicts may have led OGE to take that extraordinary step.
While little is known about what specific projects or issues Greenstein worked on during his year in government, he reportedly worked on family friend Jared Kushner’s team under White House aides Chris Liddell and Reed Cordish. Kushner, Liddell, and Cordish worked in the White House Office of American Innovation on issues related to technology and the private sector. If Greenstein worked on similar issues, his interests in several technology and other companies may have posed conflict concerns.
For example, Greenstein held between $100,001 and $250,000 in Apple stock, between $50,001 and $100,000 in Microsoft stock, between $50,001 and $100,00 in Ohr Pharmaceutical stock, and between $50,001 and $100,000 in Bank of America stock while working for the government.
Greenstein also maintained at least $250,001 – $500,000 in Genie Energy stock throughout his government service. Though Greenstein represented that he left his role as Genie Energy’s president before he joined the Trump administration, he did not sign a separation agreement with the company until May 2017, roughly three months after Greenstein started working at the White House. This fact raises concerns about Greenstein’s potential involvement with and interest in the company while he was working in government.
While we do not know what unresolved potential conflicts prevented OGE from certifying Greenstein’s disclosures, it appears that he held them throughout his government service. Given the severity of his unresolved potential conflicts, it is important to know whether OGE took action after they declined to certify Greenstein’s disclosures. In order to find out, CREW has sent a FOIA request to OGE to determine whether OGE referred this information to the Department of Justice.
Greenstein is part of a growing list of Trump administration officials whose ethics issues have prevented OGE from certifying their financial disclosure reports. Considering that he apparently worked in the White House for more than a year with such serious unresolved potential conflicts, the public has a need to know why specifically OGE declined to certify both of his disclosures.