James S. Brady Briefing Room
2:50 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Ladies and gentlemen, we’re just going to continue kind of moving on a quick pace, because we do have — we’ve got multiple events happening today, and we got a hard stop today at 3:15 for this. So I’m going to be very brief. Just a couple of ground rules for this. This is going to be a background briefing on the release of the financial disclosure forms. That will happen later today. The embargo for this briefing is 5:00 p.m.
I would like to introduce two individuals, and they can give you their full titles when they come up here. But [senior administration officials] are with the White House Counsel’s Office. What they’re going to do is walk you through the process, exactly what these individuals had to go through, and give you kind of a broad brush of what you will see once these records are released later on this evening. And, hopefully, if you can keep your questions to the process, I think we’ll be able to get through this more quickly and with more useful information.
But with that, let me introduce [senior administration officials]. If you’d like to take the podium.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks very much. We’ve both been working pretty hard for a while on putting together the financial disclosures that are going to be made available online this afternoon and this evening. And so we thought what we’d do now is take an opportunity to walk through both what it is that you’re going to be seeing, what it represents, and also how it fits into the process so that as you’re analyzing the financial disclosures, you have a sense of what it is that you’re looking at, where we have gone from the time when we’ve received the information that we’re releasing, how this process continues going forward and gives you the opportunity to ask the kind of questions, and doing it in a way that is based on the facts and what it is that we have.
So what I want to make sure that we’re talking about is that everyone understands how the information that you have, that we’re going to be releasing this afternoon is developed. And just a process point at the outset: We’re going to be putting live, later this afternoon, on our website the ability the enter a form — it’s called a 201 form, which is a legally required form that, if you’re requesting financial information, you say what your name is, you identify a little bit of information and your email address, who it is that you’re seeking financial information on, you enter that. And then later this afternoon or this evening, we’re going to be sending out to everybody who went online this afternoon and asked for a specific person, we’re going to actually send you the PDF of the full 278 form as we have it in the current form, which is going to then give you the opportunity to follow up with the press office as to any additional questions. But we want to make sure that you understand what it is that you’re seeing.
And the other piece that I want to make sure that we’re talking about is to understand that the documents that you’re going to be seeing, which are comprehensive financial disclosure documents that talk through salaries, assets, commonly held assets with spouses — it’s a very comprehensive set of documentation. Understand that the documents, though, that you’re going to be seeing, which are going to be listing lots of assets and lots of holdings, are going to be the starting point, the documents that we receive — as people come into government, they would fill out this form, and they would identify all of their assets and all of their information.
This is then the information that we — and my colleague is going to talk through it, because he’s really been taking the laboring more on meeting with every single one of our commissioned officers, talking through how we handle the issues, talking about what potential conflict of interest there might be, and then helping everyone work through what the ethics agreements are going to be as folks have been migrating through the process.
But understand that when you see lots of assets on these forms, these are not the current holdings that everyone has today. These are the holdings that everybody had at the time when they came into office. So you’re going to see a lot of people that are holding a lot of assets that one would say, well, gee, isn’t a conflict of interest if this person has this asset today, what are we supposed to make of that? And we want to make sure that everyone is cautioned here against simply writing a story that says, “This person holds this today, there must be a conflict of interest.”
This, as I said, the starting process is we looked at this information as it came into us. It’s the basis that we used, then, to have a sit-down meeting with every single one of the public filers. The public filers is every single commissioned officer and every single civilian White House employee who is making over $161,755. So every commissioned officer and everyone who is making above that is a public filing disclosure, and is going to be subject to your inquiry.
And so what we did is, once we identified this information, sat down with them, said, look, we have identified these assets, there’s a process now to how you’re going to be divesting yourself; you can’t hold this asset and do the job that you’re tasked with doing here, how are we going to go through the process of selling it? And there’s a very sort of complex process of getting what’s called a certificate of divestiture — and my colleague can talk through a little bit about that.
Also, there’s a lot of information that the Office of Government Ethics puts out. They actually put out a very hand document that we have some copies of, of what the certificate of divestiture process works with. We hand this out to our folks to say, before you can sell the asset that might be a conflict, you have to work with us and the Office of Government Ethics to make sure that we’ve gotten the proper certificates before you unwind the assets.
And so that entire process is what we’re going to turn over, and I’m going to let my colleague speak to. But there’s one or two other just points that I wanted to speak to, the first of which is I want to highlight the incredible complexity and the sophistication of the assets and the financial structures that this White House is going to present.
These are incredibly successful individuals, very high net worth, very sophisticated, complex asset structures, numerous sub-LLCs, trusts and other items, all of which have to be worked through. Very helpfully, the Office of Government Ethics prepared a report analyzing the sophistication of this incoming White House versus the preceding administration, and they created a fairly helpful document. We’ve got some copies of it for you that’s, again, created by the Office of Government Ethics that talks through — under the Obama administration these were simple ones, moderately difficult, complex. And for those who are fans of “Spinal Tap,” these were the “elevens” out of ten on the scale. And you can see how the complexity relates from the folks that were in the previous administration to the complexity that we’ve been dealing with here.
And I would invite anyone to go from this to make sure you’re also talking to the Office of Government Ethics if you want full sort of feedback on what the nature is of how this process works. They’re going to talk to the sophistication and the complexity of what we’re doing.
They’re also going to tell you that this is a process that it is very common, extraordinarily common, for there to be changes even from here going forward as we work through with people making sure we’re characterizing the documents properly, and that it’s not at all unusual if you see something that you download today, and that, 20 days from now, there might be a minor change to it — you’re going to get to see those things, but that that’s not going to be an indicator that maybe something was amiss or that someone was hiding something.
And I’d refer you to the Office of Government Ethics. I think they’re going to be pretty happy to share that with you.
Before I turn it over to my colleague, I wanted to do one other thing, just to talk about how the timeline here all works. As somebody comes into the administration, they have 30 days to fill out this form. So the documents that you’re going to be seeing are the documents that were filled out by people within 30 days. They’re entitled to two 45-day extensions. We had very few of those. Everybody who was there on the first day has the 278s originally filed and into us.
From the time that the person files, we in the Office of the White House Counsel have another 30 days to really look through and review all of these documents before the public has the opportunity to request these documents. That’s pretty much where we are now for folks who started at the beginning.
I did a little bit of research to see when the preceding administration did their sort of release of everyone. I think I found some Washington Post articles from April 3rd, 2009, saying last night on a Friday the White House released all this information. So we’d point out today is the 31st, a little earlier than the April the 3rd.
And what happens then with respect to our most senior filers — the assistants to the President, deputy assistants to the President — is there’s actually an additional review process that happens with the Office of Government Ethics. That is going to be an ongoing process. We are going to continue working with them as they will then review and then provide feedback to us, and they can talk about how that works.
So again, this is an ongoing process. The documents you’re going to be seeing are a snapshot in time — an entry snapshot in time. And we want to make sure that everyone understood what it is that you’re looking at.
And with that, I’m going to turn it over to my colleague, who can talk through sort of the process that he went through.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. So this all started prior to day one for most folks in the administration that had been appointed to the White House, where, day one, they begin filling out these forms. And a lot of folks started working directly with OGE, the incoming White House Counsel staff. And then post-day one, we assisted all of the commissioned officers with preparing the reports. And that takes some time.
As the reports get complete, we have to make sure they’re accurate, they have to be submitted by each individual filer. They have to certify that they’re accurate to the best of their knowledge. We assist them through the process to make sure that it’s clearly — the assets are clearly delineated in the particular forms.
And at that time, we start counseling immediately, because the ethics laws apply day one. And we begin counseling immediately as to potential conflicts, what they should be recusing themselves from, what they should consider divesting from, and what they need to resign from. And those are kind of the three components. It’s resign, divest, and then recuse, in that order.
So folks who were in other jobs or other positions, so to speak — and it doesn’t even mean paid positions — have to resign from those positions prior to beginning government service, and everyone did. In the case of, I think, two very good examples that I’m going to use today — Gary Cohn and Jared Kushner — for instance, Jared Kushner had 266 positions that he had to resign from. He began early on in January, maybe even prior to January, in starting to prepare to get into this process. Gary Cohn did the same thing. He resigned from all his positions immediately and worked through it.
The divestiture part pertains to assets. So that relates to assets that they may be involved in. Obviously Kushner had a number of different assets with a number of different companies; he’s in the process or has divested and has divested from most of those that may have created a conflict of interest coming into this job.
Now, both of those individuals had very broad responsibilities, so it’s very important that we’re in tune to the fact that these broad responsibilities — and we are recusing from the issues that they need to recuse from — but divestiture is the most important thing. And Gary Cohn, within 90 days, for his liquidated stocks, interests, and within 120 days for his Goldman Sachs interest will be fully divested. And he’s far ahead of that process now.
As that process goes on, we move to the ethics agreement portion of it. Every single commissioned officer in this administration will have an ethics agreement. That means it’s an agreement that the White House Counsel’s Office and the individual has agreed upon what they’re going to divest, what they’re going to recuse from, and that will all be delineated in writing, so it’s very clear as to what they need to do going forward to be both in compliance with the ethics laws and the pledge — the ethics pledge.
So that’s kind of the process that we go through. At this stage, everyone has filed — that started day one, January 20th — everyone has filed. We are in the process — some have ethics agreements that’s are prepared, some don’t. We’ve counseled everyone. I’ve sat with every assistant to the President and given them personal counseling. I’ve been managing a team of lawyers — because I think it’s roughly 180 folks that have come through the process — a team of lawyers who have been meeting both on phone calls and in person with each one of the commissioned officers in this administration.
So that’s kind of a flavor for it. In terms of divestiture, I talked a little bit about Gary and Jared. And another person — another good example is Reince. He was a lawyer and worked at the RNC; he resigned from the RNC, resigned from his law firm. But not only that, he divested from his interest in his law firm. And that is a story that’s told all the way across the board with this administration, because it’s so important that we’re able to — that they’re able to do their jobs conflict-free.
Q What happened in the very few instances where a person may have started the process but is no longer with the White House? Are those documents —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, so we have a number of individuals who started. Some of them filed; some of them didn’t. The ones who have filed, some of them are going to be certified and some of them aren’t because it depends how much activity that we had throughout the process and when they resigned or when they left the administration. So there are a few that will be uncertified but will be publicly available.
Q Can you talk about whether you’ve issued any ethics waivers? Is everybody who had a prior relationship with some company or entity recusing themselves? Or are there some instances where you’ve gone ahead and accepted that there’s going to be some conflict?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Waivers are only issued in very limited instances. And I’m going to talk about process right now.
So, for instance, if we have folks who — and I want to step back and talk a little bit about divestiture. So part of the process — and it’s important that we get started with that process early in divestiture — is to work with OGE to get what’s called — my colleague talked about it — a certificate of divestiture.
The certificate of divestiture allows for deferred tax treatment because you’re selling off assets and it defers to the capital gains if you reinvest the money back into exempted funds, which a ’40 Act regulated mutual fund is a good example of that. So that takes some time.
So there are — the first thing that happens is the filer makes a request to the White House Counsel’s Office, or the ethics official that will then make a request to OGE for a certificate of divestiture for all of the stocks they’re divesting from.
If there’s a conflict that you can’t recuse from — in limited instances it may make sense to issue waivers where the conflict is so remote, where there’s a de minimis issue. There’s a number of different circumstances where you have trusts that don’t necessarily involve the particular individual. And those instances it makes sense — and it’s done in consult with OGE — waivers will be issued.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right, and I just want to add one other point that goes along with that. Because it’s a very particularized process of selling these assets, and you don’t get the divestiture — the tax benefit for doing it if you do it incorrectly — there are a lot of individuals who might have been ready to sell their assets, but because we had to make sure we’re walking them through, get these signed off and these actually issued by the Office of Government Ethics, there are some people who are in the process of still unwinding their assets. And we’ve had a lot of sort of questions about that.
Q But if I could just follow up on that, what about if you’re not talking about assets, you’re talking about a prior affiliation with a large entity like Goldman Sachs or Breitbart, hypothetically? Do you have to take some action to waive any potential impact they may have in their decisions on that entity, even if they’re completely divested from assets related?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So we’ll talk about Gary Cohn, because I started talking about him earlier, and you mentioned Goldman Sachs.
In that instance where Goldman Sachs is implicated — he worked for Goldman Sachs — it’s a two-year ban on dealing with specific matters — particular matters with specific parties. And for general matters relative to general applicability, he would be able to impact matters — like, Gary is on the Economic Council, for instance, so he’s not going to be recused from handling anything that may impact Goldman Sachs from a policy perspective. That’s what he’s here to do is impact the economic policy.
In this instance, he would not be meeting with Goldman Sachs as part of his ethics agreement, relative to specific matters.
Q Can I just ask a couple logistical questions about today? Anita Kumar, from McClatchy. You mentioned 180. Is that what’s available today, 180 people — reports?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just about. There are some that — because there was this process that some of the folks were able to sort of file a little bit late, I believe, though, that virtually everyone — and I think almost all of the senior folks are all sufficiently through that process. There might be some people who we haven’t certified yet but who we are making available.
Q So just a handful? That won’t be another day of another thing like this? It will just be —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, no, this is going to be the vast majority.
Q You mentioned this afternoon and you mentioned this evening. Can you tell us the times? And what does that mean exactly?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. And I’m not positive exactly when the time was, but sometime this afternoon, later this afternoon, 3:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 5:00 p.m. — something like that — up on our website is going to go live the link that allows you to fill out the request form. It’s a five —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Five-part.
Q And so we should just look for it? Or we’ll get an email?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Probably look for it, I guess.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Check on the White House webpage.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, yes, it will be — it won’t be hidden.
Q Okay, we request whatever?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay, so you fill out this form and you say, I would like to see the financial disclosure forms for — and then pick whoever it is. Anyone who has filled that thing out, we’re going to be sending out tonight the —
Q What time tonight?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We’ll probably collect them — because we’re not going to do them piecemeal. So tonight probably around 7:00, we’ll have a team of folks kind of emailing out to — for instance, if 25 people in this room asked for Gary Cohn’s — which I’m sure everyone in this room is going to ask for — Gary Cohn’s financial disclosure, we will have someone that’s charged with putting that into an email and sending to everyone who requested it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But we’re going to be sending mass —
Q One last thing, for those of us who don’t have the 180 names just on our computers here ready to ask you for all 180, is there a list of the 180 that would be available roughly?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t know that there is a list of White House staff available.
Q So you have to make 180 requests?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, and that’s required by the form in terms of —
Q But do you have to make 180 requests for 180 names, but you’re not going to give us the names? We could sit here and go look them up, but can you not provide that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t know that I can. Certainly I don’t know that I have that list.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, we’re not — we’re following the instructions and the guidelines, and following along the way the Obama administration —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No different than what they did.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: — what the Obama administration did. We’re doing it exactly the same way, exactly the same manner.
Q Okay, that’s not — you do lots of things differently than the Obama administration (inaudible) about every day. So don’t rely on the Obama administration.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Actually, no, no, you’re absolutely right. You know what we did differently? We’re actually ahead of schedule. So the Obama administration released these items on April 3rd, and we’re now March 31st. So we are different.
Q Two questions for you. One is, now that you’ve finished up doing this round, can you tell us how many billionaires work in this administration? (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are lot of different ways to look at assets. We’re going to make — it’s all going to be clear. It’s going to be assets, it’s going to be —
Q (Inaudible) personal net worth over $1 billion?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t know the statistic number on that. You’re going to have that available to you tonight.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It’s all going to be available, yes.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And I’m sure you know the names to have request.
Q Are we going to see a financial disclosure separately from Ivanka Trump, who I guess has just taken a staff job just this week?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, not today. She literally two days ago started the process. She has 30 days to even fill in the form. Jared will be there.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The good news about that is, is that for purposes of Jared Kushner, all of her assets are imputed to him, so there’s not going to be any surprises.
Q — forms from the President and Vice President?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, it’s a separate form. I believe it’s May 15th, but I don’t know that for sure. It’s legally required. I know I’ve seen some press reporting. I don’t know the decision has been made whether on May 15th — because it’s not required if he’s going to do it. But that’s a different —
Q How many ethics letters have you sent out? And when will they be available for us to review?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Ethics agreements you mean? Is that what you’re speaking of? Ethics agreements are presidential records. They’re internal documents; always have been.
Q So we won’t see those?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right, correct.
Q Post the waivers like the administration did?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, the document he’s talking about, the ethics agreement, every single employee has an agreement that we enter — here’s what you’re going to be doing to run through it. I think we’re good.
Q A separate question actually. You said there are going to be assets listed that they may not have divested from, correct? So how will we know if we look at a form if there’s a series of assets listed what they have divested from? And is there some kind of update form that they then have to file?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You’re going to have ask the questions.
Q So we have to then go through it and say, okay, Jared has X, Y, Z — or whoever?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But also, it’s a continuing process, too. People continue to file. Like every year there are going to be some — this isn’t the only time that people file this.
Q No, no, I get that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: To the extent assets are sold off after folks are employees of the government, a 278-T will be filed at that point within a certain amount of time that says — that’s a separate form. But some of these folks, like I said, divested before they came in.
Q With the waiver — let me ask the question on waivers. Are you guys going to make available the waivers so we can see those?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: 208 waivers relative to the ethics — relative to the Ethics Act are, by law, required to be available publicly.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right, and we will do that.
Q We get those through the same request process? Or you’re just going to post them like the previous ethics waivers?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don’t know the answer.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We’re going to have to discuss that. I think that’s a great question that we actually, when we were talking about this earlier — we’ll come up with a policy on that.
So to be clear —
Q Wait — (inaudible) —
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: no, no, no, I’m — we’re good.
Q (Inaudible.) I understand. But we do have a hard stop here.
Q These are really good questions. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Actually, all of you had really good questions. But the most important part is, when you do have questions — further questions on this — please direct those questions to the press office. We will work with either — with the lawyers, and find who has the exact answer for you.
But the best way for you to do this is to go through the press office rather than —
Q Who’s on point in the press office?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It’s who wasn’t nice to me today. Yes. And so please go through the press office. Because if you go to the individuals directly, all they’re going to do is come back to us.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was a question about Ivanka — so Ivanka Trump is a commissioned officer who does have to file — even without the salary, will be filing a 278 form. But as my colleague has said, as part of the 278 that you’re going to see on Jared Kushner, it lists all of the assets, including all of her assets. You’re going to see a massive portion of already what’s in there. The only thing that’s not is a unique small piece relating to her, which she will do. She is a commissioned officer, so she will be a public filer. You will get hers. She just hasn’t even filed it. She’s an employee as of two days ago.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right, thank you very much, guys.
3:16 P.M. EDT