Donald Trump hires three lobbyists as top White House staffers despite pledge to 'drain the swamp'

Rachael Revesz
The former Presidential candidate vowed in October to close lobbyist loopholes

Donald Trump has hired three former lobbyists to work in the highest echelons of the White House despite his campaign pledge to "drain the swamp" of Washington DC.

In January, the President issued an executive order to ban the White House appointment of lobbyists to work in the same policy area in which they specialised within the corporate world.

He has hired Shahira Knight, special assistant for tax and retirement policy, who lobbied the government on retirement and tax issues for financial services behemoth Fidelity. She also acted against a regulation for financial professionals to act in the best interests of their clients.

It is possible that Mr Trump has issued a waiver to exempt Ms Knight and other lobbyists from the executive order signed in January. There is little way of knowing that, however, as in the same order he removed Obama-era requirements to publish an annual report disclosing the waivers as well as providing a public interest justification for any such exemptions.

This means the President can circumvent his own rules and not disclose it to the public.

Laura Friedenbach, deputy communications director of pro-democracy group Every Voice, told The Independent that Mr Trump's anti-lobbying laws are weaker than that of his predecessor.

"If Trump is serious about draining Washington of big-money influence, he will drop the charade that his lobbying policies are major reforms and pursue bigger and more comprehensive campaign finance reforms to reduce the power of special interests and give everyday people a bigger voice in the process," she said.

His Ethics Pledge Waiver page on the White House website is blank, and it says the waivers "will be published as they become available".

Two other lobbyists hired by the White House recently are Michael Catanzaro and George David Banks, who have become senior staff to Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs executive turned National Economic Council Director.

Mr Catanzaro has lobbied against energy industry regulations, and is now special assistant to the President for domestic energy and environmental policy. Mr Banks recently lobbied on similar issues for a corporate client, and he has become special assistant to the President for international energy and environment.

The White House could not be reached for comment.

Mr Banks told ProPublica that he was a registered lobbyist by mistake and his former employer is seeking to correct the filing. Only registered lobbyists - those who spend more than 20 per cent of their time lobbying - are affected by the executive order.

In October, Mr Trump wrote the following campaign pledge: "I am going to expand the definition of lobbyist so we close all the loopholes that former government officials use by labelling themselves consultants and advisors when we all know they are lobbyists."

During the administration of Barack Obama, a handful of former lobbyists were appointed by the White House. Their ethics waivers were released on the White House website.

The Trump administration cancelled a scheduled ethics and leadership training course for White House appointees.

Counsellor to the President Kellyanne Conway will also not face any sanctions for advising Fox News viewers to "go buy Ivanka [Trump]’s stuff".

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