DHS Secretary Nominee Nielsen May Have Violated White House Gifts Law

Nov 13, 2017
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Nielsen was guided through confirmation process by a consultant with hundreds of millions in contracts tied to the same agency she is nominated to lead

WASHINGTON – Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) called for an investigation of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary nominee Kirstjen Nielsen for potential violations of ethics laws, following news reports that she is being shepherded through the process by a consultant who represents DHS contractors.

The consultant, Thad Bingel, has reportedly been assigning government employees to prepare policy memos and coordinate Nielsen’s Senate paperwork in connection with her confirmation hearings. Government officials typically play this “sherpa” role, and it may violate government ethics laws for Nielsen, who now serves as the principal deputy White House chief of staff, or the White House to accept Bingel’s services without compensation.

“The consultant has clear financial incentive to assist in the nomination of an agency secretary who would have the power to steer government contracts in his direction,” said Larry Noble, senior director and general counsel at CLC. “Government employees aren’t permitted to receive gifts or free services – especially from people with business before their department – because it calls the integrity of government decision-making into question. This unusual arrangement should be investigated because of the clear potential conflict of interest, and the danger that Nielsen can be compromised as DHS Secretary.”

If Nielsen accepted Bingel’s professional services on behalf of the White House, Nielsen is likely violating the Antideficiency Act, which provides that a government employee “may not accept voluntary services for [the] government or employ personal services.” Alternatively, to the extent Bingel’s services were provided to Nielsen in her private capacity, Nielsen (as a current White House official) may be violating the executive branch gift ban.

Bingel’s extensive client list totals hundreds of millions worth of contracts before the agency Nielsen has been nominated to lead. One of these is a $145 million DHS deal that includes funding for a border wall. The arrangement between Bingel and Nielsen has reportedly caused “heartache” at the department.

Nielsen’s confirmation vote before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was delayed on Thursday and rescheduled for tomorrow morning.

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