Just over a week after this blog was posted–OGE posted the White House travel logs for April 1 through September 30, 2018 on their website. The logs include outside travel funding from the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.
CREW has uncovered that the Trump administration has failed to release a travel report, due more than 10 weeks ago. As a result, we remain in the dark about the extent to which outside groups have been funding the travel of top White House staff between April 1 and September 30, 2018. Other reports covering the same period, including from the Vice President’s office, are posted on the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) website. The White House needed to file its report with OGE no later than November 30th, but the report is still missing.
The law requires the White House and other agencies to provide OGE’s Director with semiannual reports of payments from nonfederal sources that cover the transportation, lodging and related expenses of government officials. These disclosures promote transparency about the flow of money that may buy access for outside groups to high-level government officials, so this information is of great public interest.
Thanks to these travel reports, for example, we know that the National Rifle Association paid more than $2,500 in travel expenses for White House staffers, including Omarosa Manigault Newman and Kellyanne Conway, to attend its Women’s Leadership forum in 2017. We also know that, during the Trump administration, the Federalist Society has paid $6,791.33 and the Heritage Foundation has paid $3,291.53 for White House officials to attend their meetings. But because the White House’s travel report for April through September 2018 is missing, we have no way of knowing whether such payments increased at a time when the White House was considering and defending the Supreme Court nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. President Trump gave credit to exactly these groups for helping him compile a list of potential nominees.
Accepting outside travel payments is not unique to this administration, but failure to follow reporting requirements is both a legal and an ethical problem. Even if the White House accepted no outside travel payments between April and September 2018, which seems unlikely given previous acceptance of such payments, the White House needed to file a negative report indicating the absence of payments during that period.
Unfortunately, failure to satisfy disclosure requirements appears to have become a pattern with this administration. By now, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s the annual financial disclosure reports (which were due on May 15, 2018) should have been made available on OGE’s website. The same is true of the termination financial disclosure reports of Assistants to the President Omarosa Manigault Newman and Gary Cohn. As of today, however, there’s still no sign of any of these reports.
As a result of these disclosure failures, there is far too much that we don’t know about White House staffers’ finances and travel payments. We don’t know whether the reason for this deficiency is that this administration has something to hide, doesn’t care about transparency, or both.