A leading government ethics group today requested that the White House, Department of Justice and Office of Government Ethics investigate presidential strategist Steve Bannon for using a private public relations executive to conduct official White House business.
The complaint was prompted by a Center for Public Integrity investigation that detailed Bannon’s unorthodox arrangement with veteran Republican strategist Alexandra Preate – one that might violate federal laws.
It also comes less than a month after the Center for Public Integrity and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting launched #CitizenSleuth, a crowd-sourced investigation examining detailed financial disclosures from more than 400 Trump administration officials, including Bannon.
“Veteran Republican media strategist Alexandra Preate is providing professional services to the White House and White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, yet is not employed by President Donald Trump’s administration or paid by the federal government,” wrote Lawrence Noble and Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit based in Washington.
The letter, sent today and addressed to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Office of Government Ethics Acting Director David Apol and newly hired White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, asks the officials to “exercise the appropriate authority to investigate, prosecute, or make recommendations regarding potential violations of federal laws and regulations.”
Representatives for Kelly, Sessions and Apol were not immediately available for comment.
In its complaint, the Campaign Legal Center cites “several potential violations of federal law and regulations.”
“If Bannon has accepted Preate’s provision of professional services to the government without any compensation, then Bannon is likely in violation of the Antideficiency Act,” wrote Noble and Fischer, referring to a law that provides that government employees “may not accept voluntary services for (the) government.”
“Second, Preate appears to be providing services to the White House, but at other times, she also appears to be providing services to Bannon – indeed, Preate had been serving as spokeswoman for Bannon as far back as August 2016,” Noble and Fischer continued. “Those duties may be intertwined.”
They added: “To the extent that Preate is providing services to Bannon (or other White House staffers) in his personal capacity, Bannon may be in violation of the executive branch gift rules.” These laws prohibit employees from soliciting or accepting a gift “because of the employee’s official position.”
Citing reporting from the Center for Public Integrity, Noble and Fischer noted that Preate’s “top client and a major source of her firm’s income is Breitbart News, which Bannon led until recently.”
It is unclear who, if anyone, is paying Preate for the public relations consulting services she provides to Bannon.
In July, as the Center for Public Integrity was reporting a story about Bannon’s financial debts, Preate made 18 phone calls during three days on Bannon’s behalf.
The White House, Bannon and Preate all refused to answer questions about Preate.
Preate has represented Rebekah Mercer, whose family is part-owner of Breitbart. She also has a long working relationship with Bannon, the former Breitbart CEO. Members of the Mercer family continue to co-own with Bannon at least two companies, according to Bannon’s most recent financial disclosure form: the production company Glittering Steel and the data firm Cambridge Analytica.
“If Breitbart is subsidizing Preate’s work for its former CEO, or if the Mercer family is paying her to provide services to their longtime business associate, then Breitbart or the Mercers may be providing prohibited gifts to Bannon,” Noble and Fischer wrote.
Here’s how you can help us investigate the Trump administration’s financial disclosures.
The Center for Public Integrity is a nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based news organization dedicated to producing original investigative journalism on issues of public concern.