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White House: It’s in ‘Public Interest’ for Staff to Skirt Ethics Rules to Meet With Fox News

White House counsel Don McGahn exempted Bill Shine from ethics rules so he can have meetings with their former colleagues at Fox News.

Lachlan Markay8.13.18 11:17 AM ET

It is “in the public interest” for the White House's top communicator to be excused from federal ethics laws so he can meet with Fox News, according to President Donald Trump’s top lawyer.

Bill Shine, Trump’s newly minted communications director, and Larry Kudlow, the White House’s top economist, who worked at CNBC before his White House post, have both been excused from provisions of the law, which seeks to prevent administration officials from advancing the financial interests of relatives or former employers.

“The Administration has an interest in you interacting with Covered Organizations such as Fox News,” wrote White House counsel Don McGahn in a July 13 memo granting an ethics waivers to Shine, a former Fox executive. “[T]he need for your services outweighs the concern that a reasonable person may question the integrity of the White House Office’s programs and operations.”

Kudlow, a former CNBC host, received a similar waiver allowing him to communicate with former colleagues.

Including Shine and Kudlow, the White House has granted a total of 20 waivers to provisions of various federal ethics laws and the ethics pledge that President Trump instituted by executive order the week he took office. Federal agencies have granted many more such waivers.

The news media has been a particular object of those waivers. Early in the administration, after The Daily Beast questioned the propriety of then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s communications with employees of Breitbart News, the pro-Trump outlet he led before and after his White House tenure, the White House issued a blanket ethics waiver allowing all senior West Wing appointees to freely communicate with the press.

That move was widely seen as an effort to retroactively cover Bannon for previous meetings that would’ve otherwise run afoul of ethics rules—a move that may itself have constituted a violation of those rules.

That blanket waiver, and the ones last month for Shine and Kudlow, underscore the perceived importance for the White House in working with—and drawing senior staff from—news outlets seen as friendly to the president and his agenda.

As McGahn put it in permitting high-level White House meetings with Fox, “I have determined that it is appropriate and in the public interest.”

A previous version of this story stated that Kudlow worked for Fox News. He worked for CNBC. The Daily Beast regrets the error.

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