The top ethics office at the White House was kept vacant for a crucial six months of the Trump administration, and the president's lawyers sought to keep the situation under wraps, a watchdog group reported Tuesday.
The position was filled last month by Scott Gast, who has been an attorney in the White House counsel's office since the start of Trump' tenure. Stefan Passantino left the job in August and is now working for the Trump Organization, handling demands for materials and testimony in congressional investigations.
The half year when the job was vacant coincided with a particularly turbulent time in the West Wing – with a high degree of staff turnover, the climax of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and a midterm election that created new oversight worries once the Democrats took control of the House. The top ethics officer's duties include setting and enforcing government ethics guidelines at the White House that prevent conflicts of interest, and the completion of officials' financial disclosure reports.
President Trump's failure to promptly fill the job "is consistent with his preference to leave important government positions vacant," according to CREW, or Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which reported the delay based on results of a Freedom of Information Act request. "Indeed, the president has allowed several agency Inspector General positions to remain vacant for the entire duration of his presidency. Vacancies, however, undermine the authority of acting officials and weaken morale in government offices."
CREW said the record it obtained suggested that the White House was not cooperative with either the Office of Government Ethics or the Government Accountability Office when they sought details of Passantino's decision-making or the delay in replacing him.