Ethics Clearances For Trump's Nominees Won't Be Completed Before Hearings, Most Sunday Shows Don't Care

››› ››› DINA RADTKE

Most Sunday news shows gave little attention to reports detailing the Office of Government Ethics’ (OGE) concerns that it will not be able to complete background checks on all of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees in time for their confirmation hearings. Despite the confirmation hearings beginning this week, CBS’ Face the Nation was the only show to devote significant time to the story.  

Concerned About Confirmation Schedule, Top Ethics Official Warns That Some Cabinet Nominees Will Be Left With “Potentially Unknown Or Unresolved Ethics Issues”

NY Times: Senate Confirmation Hearings For Trump’s Cabinet Picks Will “Begin Without All Background Checks.” The New York Times reported on January 7 that “several of Donald J. Trump’s appointees have yet to complete the background checks and ethics clearances customarily required before the Senate begins to consider cabinet-level nominees.” The hearings are scheduled to begin on Tuesday, January 10. [The New York Times, 1/7/16]

Wash. Post: Ethics Official Warns That Plans To Begin Confirmation Hearings For Trump’s Cabinet Nominees Before Ethics Reviews Are Complete Are “Of Great Concern.” The Washington Post reported that the director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter M. Shaub Jr., warned representatives that “the current confirmation calendar is ‘of great concern to me’ because nominees have not completed a required ethics review before their hearings.” From the January 7 report:

A top ethics official has warned that plans to confirm Donald Trump’s top Cabinet choices before background examinations are complete are unprecedented and have overwhelmed government investigators responsible for the reviews.

[...]

Whether the schedule holds in the coming days is unclear. McConnell’s office declined to respond to warnings by Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, who said in a letter released Friday the current confirmation calendar is “of great concern to me” because nominees have not completed a required ethics review before their hearings.

The schedule “has created undue pressure on OGE’s staff and agency ethics officials to rush through these important reviews,” Shaub wrote in response to an inquiry by Democratic senators. “More significantly, it has left some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues shortly before their scheduled hearings.”

Shaub added: “I am not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process.”

[...]

The OGE enforces federal ethics rules and reviews potential conflicts of interest for nominees to government posts. Shaub, a lawyer and political appointee of President Obama, took over the office in 2013. He donated a total of $500 to Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, federal elections records show.

Ethics experts from both political parties expressed dismay at the possibility that confirmation hearings would proceed before the OGE reviews are completed. [The Washington Post, 1/7/16]

CBS’ Face The Nation Was The Only Major Sunday News Show To Discuss The OGE’s Concerns In Detail

CBS’ Face The Nation Discussed Ethics Concerns Around Cabinet Confirmation Hearings Various Times Throughout The Show. On the January 8 edition of Face the Nation, CBS host John Dickerson raised questions about the OGE’s concerns about Republicans’ rushed confirmation schedule when speaking to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), and a panel of guests. Dickerson pressed McConnell on whether he’d “slow down the process,” given the concerns to which McConnell responded, “we’re still in the process of getting the papers in,” and dismissed concerns, claiming “what this is about, John, the Democrats are really frustrated they lost the election.” [CBS, Face the Nation, 1/8/16; 1/8/16; 1/8/16]

ABC's This Week Aired A Pre-Recorded Interview With The Outgoing President

ABC’s This Week’s Entire Episode Was Devoted To An Interview With President Barack Obama. The January 8 edition of ABC’s This Week was an hour long special featuring an interview with President Obama.

The Sunday News Shows On Fox, NBC, And CNN Glossed Over OGE’s Warning About Trump Nominee Hearings

Fox News Sunday Dedicated One Question To The OGE’s Concerns. With one minute left in his interview with President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus, Fox host Chris Wallace noted the OGE’s announcement that “it has been unable to complete background ethics checks on a number of Trump’s nominees, and said that it’s of great concern that these confirmation hearings are going to go forward before those background checks are complete.” Wallace went on to ask Priebus if there was “any thought of delaying the confirmation hearings for any of these nominees until the [ethics] background checks are complete?” Priebus responded, saying “no,” and claiming the OGE “has to get moving, they have to move faster.” The total amount of time spent discussing the story was one minute and 3 seconds. [Fox Broadcasting Co., Fox News Sunday, 1/8/16]

NBC’s Meet The Press: In Final Moments Of The Show Andrea Mitchell Noted “We Haven’t Talked About … The Ethics Issues That Have Not Been Addressed.” NBC’s Meet the Press entirely overlooked OGE’s warning until correspondent Andrea Mitchell pointed out that “the other piece that we haven’t talked about is the ethics issues that have not been addressed, and we’re going into these hearings.” Meet the Press host Chuck Todd responded, “We’re going to see a lot of them this week, but that’s all I have for today.” Todd dedicated more time to rumors about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s future career plans and Trump’s Twitter feud with Arnold Schwarzenegger about NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice than the OGE’s warning about rushing into confirmation hearings for Trump’s nominees before ethics and background checks have been completed. [NBC, Meet the Press, 1/8/16]

CNN’s State Of The Union Devoted One Sentence To OGE Announcement About Incomplete Ethics Reviews. CNN’s State of the Union host Jake Tapper failed to substantially discuss or highlight the OGE’s concerns, only mentioning briefly that “a slew of Trump cabinet picks will appear in front of Congress as wall-to-wall confirmation hearings get underway despite objections from Democrats that key ethics reviews have not been completed.” The story was not mentioned at any other point during the show. [CNN, State of the Union, 1/8/17]

Methodology

Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of “ethics,” “hearing,” or “confirmation” on the January 8 editions of CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday,NBC’s Meet the Press, and ABC’s This Week, and reviewed whether the shows discussed the OGE warning about premature confirmation hearings for Trump’s cabinet nominees.

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