WASHINGTON - Many of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet choices are scheduled to appear at Senate confirmation hearings in the coming week, even though some have not yet completed a required ethics review intended to ensure they will face no conflicts of interest after becoming part of the government.
Walter Shaub, director of the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics, has written to Senate leaders complaining that several of the very wealthy nominees have not filed documents, including financial disclosure reports, that are required for anyone being considered for a Cabinet post.
The Senate must vote to confirm a president’s nominees for Cabinet-level jobs, and a key task is identifying whether a conflict of interest may arise if a candidate must choose between the requirements of government service and personal activities and business.
How will nominees avoid conflicts?
Prospective Cabinet secretaries are expected to explain how they would avoid such conflicts, often by selling off personal assets or stepping down from executive duties in a business.
In normal practice, the Senate committees that review an incoming president’s Cabinet nomination would delay voting on a candidate’s fitness for office until the ethics documentation and review is complete.
Shaub did not indicate which of Trump’s nominees have unfinished paperwork, but said the lack of disclosure on those matters has left some nominees “with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues” in the days leading up to their hearings.
Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and his pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, are among six proposed Cabinet secretaries whose qualifications will be reviewed Wednesday. Sessions’ hearing begins Tuesday, but will continue into Wednesday.
Also appearing before Senate committees on the same day are Trump’s choices to serve as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, secretary of transportation, secretary of homeland security and secretary of defense.
Trump announced early
Shaub’s letter to Senate leaders, obtained by news agencies Saturday, noted that Trump announced his nominees before their conflict-of-interest status was reviewed by his office, breaking a tradition in which a newly elected president waits for approval by the ethics office before identifying his nominees.
Trump’s haste in announcing his candidates put pressure on the schedule for confirmation hearings and complicated the effort to evaluate the nominees, Shaub said.
Apart from the confirmation hearings, Trump has said he will meet with reporters Wednesday in his first news conference since July, which could draw attention away from the Senate proceedings.
A simple majority vote of 51 senators is needed to confirm a Cabinet nominee. Because Republicans hold 52 seats in the Senate, any disagreement in their ranks could result in the new administration having to depend on support from Democrats to gain approval of one or more of Trump’s choices.