The White House has nixed a potential conflict of interest for chief strategist Stephen Bannon, giving him an exemption for contacts with Breitbart News that would have otherwise been barred by ethics rules. Bannon was included in a blanket exemption issued to all White House appointees that allows them to interact with the press, according to a list of ethics waivers released by the administration late Wednesday. The exemption applies retroactively to Jan. 20. The former executive at Breitbart News had been under heavy scrutiny for his potential conflict of interest with the right-wing outlet, with many questioning the extent of his involvement there after he resigned to join President Trump’s staff. But Bannon will now be free to “participate in communications and meetings with news organizations on matters of broad policy” even if “a former employer or former client,” according to the White House. While the White House has lauded the list’s release as proof of “the president’s commitment to the American people to be transparent,” critics say the very existence of the waivers misses the point of having ethics rules in the first place. “They are circumventing what they touted as their signature ethics achievement,” Robert Weissman, president of the liberal nonprofit group Public Citizen, told The New York Times. “It’s utterly at odds with candidate Trump’s ‘drain the swamp’ rhetoric and it suggests that the Trump executive order is not worth the paper it is written on,” he said.
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