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April 25, 2017

Trump Transition Team Failed to Follow Good Governance Recommendations Outlined by Public Citizen

Transition’s Secret Meetings, Sales of Access and Porous Policies on Lobbyists Validated the Need for Safeguards

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The transition team of President-elect Donald Trump failed to follow nearly all the good governance recommendations (PDF) that Public Citizen made in April 2016, according to a review (PDF) issued today.

Public Citizen recommended that the candidates announce an ethics policy for their transition teams, regularly disclose the sources of private contributions, reveal the transition teams’ meetings with outsiders and ensure that transition team documents would be archived for inclusion in a presidential library.

The Trump team did not adopt any of these recommendations, according to the retrospective, “The Unruly Transition.” On the contrary, the team engaged in activities such as conducting secret meetings and providing special access to donors.

“Transitions set the table for presidencies. As people analyze the first 100 days of the Trump administration, it is helpful to look back at the principles that guided the transition,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division and author of the retrospective. “Our review shows an ethically compromised transition team that was dismissive of good governance values.”

Presidential transitions, which refer to planning both before and after elections, are quasi-governmental functions that largely are funded by taxpayer money. But they are not covered by most government ethics and transparency laws.

Public Citizen’s recommendation that transition teams disclose their ethical principles was patterned after President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team’s disclosure of an ethics pledge placing significant restrictions on lobbyists.

The Trump transition was roiled within days of the election by news that it was teeming with lobbyists. Trump initially claimed that there were no alternatives besides lobbyists to fill jobs, but the transition team soon reversed course and issued a pair of conflicting ethics policies to reporters that purported to ban lobbyists. These policies were riddled with loopholes that rendered them largely meaningless.

Trump did fulfill one of Public Citizen’s recommendations by announcing the appointment of a leader of his transition planning effort shortly after he become his party’s presumptive nominee. But many of the beneficial effects from the early appointment of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to lead the effort were nullified by Trump’s decision to fire Christie less than a week after Election Day.

“The Trump transition team did not follow most of our recommendations,” said Brown, an expert on transitions who authored the April 2016 white paper. “Instead, its secretive conduct and penchant for restricting access to insiders showed why it should have.”
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