February 9, 2018 •

President Nominates New Head of the OGE

On February 8, President Donald J. Trump announced his nomination of Emory A. Rounds III to be Director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). The position has been vacant since July 2017 when then Director Walter Shaub resigned after […]

On February 8, President Donald J. Trump announced his nomination of Emory A. Rounds III to be Director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). The position has been vacant since July 2017 when then Director Walter Shaub resigned after repeatedly questioning various possible conflicts of interests of President Trump and of members of the president’s White House staff.

Rounds is currently an associate counsel with the OGE and has been with the agency since 2009. Rounds was previously an ethics counsel on the White House Counsel’s staff for George W. Bush’s administration, served in the ethics office at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and served in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, according to the White House press release.

Rounds earned his J.D. at the University of Akron School of Law. The term of the appointment is five years.

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September 28, 2017 •

Today, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) issued a Legal Advisory memo explicitly stating the OGE’s view anonymous contributions to legal defense funds of federal employees are prohibited. Legal Advisory LA-17-10 specifically refers to OGE Informal Advisory Opinion 93×21 (1993), […]

Today, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) issued a Legal Advisory memo explicitly stating the OGE’s view anonymous contributions to legal defense funds of federal employees are prohibited.

Legal Advisory LA-17-10 specifically refers to OGE Informal Advisory Opinion 93×21 (1993), which found employees who received anonymous donations would “be unable to favor the anonymous donors.” The new Legal Advisory memo acknowledges that shortly after the Informal Advisory Opinion was issued, the agency began “advising, and is continuing to advise, that the instruments establishing legal defense funds include a clause stating that ‘contributions shall not be accepted from anonymous sources.’”

The new memo reiterates the OGE’s position given in an interview by the head of the OGE with Politico earlier this month. The interview was made in reaction to an OGE note on the 1993 opinion that had been changed earlier this year to say the opinion’s original applicability had not changed.

Critics of the note change had said it opened the door up to lobbyists and other prohibited sources funding legal defenses for employees currently working in the White House.

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September 18, 2017 •

On September 15, the head of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) said in an interview with Politico anonymous contributions to legal defense funds of federal employees are prohibited. David Apol, the acting director of the OGE, told Politico the […]

On September 15, the head of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) said in an interview with Politico anonymous contributions to legal defense funds of federal employees are prohibited. David Apol, the acting director of the OGE, told Politico the policy had not changed, even though the note on a guidance document had been changed earlier this year.

In 1993, the OGE issued an opinion letter holding a fund established for the benefit of a government employee to pay the employee’s legal expenses, while administered by a person having no connection with the employee’s official duties, could accept anonymous contributions. The OGE guidance letter is not legally binding.

Walter Shaub, then director of the OGE, instructed his staff in May of this year to add a one-sentence note to the top of the document signaling the OGE’s long standing internal practice had diverged from the formal guidance, according to Politico. The note read in all caps and a red font, “NOTE: SOME STATEMENTS IN THIS OPINION ARE NOT CONSISTENT WITH CURRENT OGE INTERPRETATION AND PRACTICE.”

Subsequently, after Shaub left the OGE, the document’s note was changed to read, again in all caps and a red font, “NOTE: THE PRIMARY FINDING ABOUT THE LIMITED APPLICABILITY OF 18 U.S.C. §209 TO PAYMENTS MADE FOR AN EMPLOYEE’S LEGAL EXPENSES HAS NOT CHANGED. HOWEVER, BECAUSE EACH ANALYSIS IS VERY FACT-SPECIFIC, AGENCY ETHICS OFFICIALS SHOULD CONSULT WITH THEIR OGE DESK OFFICER BEFORE ADVISING EMPLOYEES ON THIS TOPIC.”

Critics of the note change had said this opens the door up to lobbyists and other prohibited sources funding legal defenses for employees currently working in the White House.

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September 14, 2017 •

A change of a note regarding an Office of Government Ethics (OGE) guidance document from 1993 may open the door to allowing anonymous contributions, including from prohibited sources such as lobbyists, to government employees’ legal defense funds. In 1993, the […]

A change of a note regarding an Office of Government Ethics (OGE) guidance document from 1993 may open the door to allowing anonymous contributions, including from prohibited sources such as lobbyists, to government employees’ legal defense funds. In 1993, the OGE issued an opinion letter holding a fund established for the benefit of a government employee to pay the employee’s legal expenses, while administered by a person having no connection with the employee’s official duties, could accept anonymous contributions. The OGE guidance letter is not legally binding.

Walter Shaub, then director of the OGE, instructed his staff in May of this year to add a one-sentence note to the top of the document signaling the OGE’s long standing internal practice had diverged from the formal guidance, according to Politico. The note read in all caps and a red font, “NOTE: SOME STATEMENTS IN THIS OPINION ARE NOT CONSISTENT WITH CURRENT OGE INTERPRETATION AND PRACTICE.”

Subsequently, after Shaub left the OGE, the document’s note was changed to read, again in all caps and a red font, “NOTE: THE PRIMARY FINDING ABOUT THE LIMITED APPLICABILITY OF 18 U.S.C. §209 TO PAYMENTS MADE FOR AN EMPLOYEE’S LEGAL EXPENSES HAS NOT CHANGED. HOWEVER, BECAUSE EACH ANALYSIS IS VERY FACT-SPECIFIC, AGENCY ETHICS OFFICIALS SHOULD CONSULT WITH THEIR OGE DESK OFFICER BEFORE ADVISING EMPLOYEES ON THIS TOPIC.”

Critics of the note change say this opens the door up to lobbyists and other prohibited sources funding legal defenses for employees currently working in the White House. Richard Lucas, once counsel for a Clinton legal defense fund, told Politico, “Not knowing the source is a recipe for disaster.”

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