Under the Trump administration, the revolving door between the U.S. government and law firms that represent big, powerful corporations is spinning like never before.
Dozens of Trump administration lawyers working in agencies including the White House, Department of Justice, Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency — are now overseeing the government’s interactions with the same kinds of clients they recently represented, a Public Citizen analysis finds. A list of revolving-door lawyers is below, and the full spreadsheet with sources is available here.
Public Citizen studied the backgrounds of 127 senior Trump administration lawyers, examining their prior employers and clients. Of those officials, 76 present revolving-door concerns in Public Citizen’s judgment, meaning they previously represented companies with business before the government, or worked in the same field they now oversee. They have moved to the Trump administration from doing legal work and lobbying for BP, Ford Motor Co., Verizon, Koch Industries and many others.
Corporate lawyers are in charge of almost every major division at the Justice Department, charged with enforcing laws they recently sought to defend against or undermine:
- The department’s solicitor general represented the tobacco industry.
- The antitrust division is headed by a former lobbyist for big corporations.
- The nominee to run the civil rights division has defended corporations against employment discrimination charges.
- The nominee to run the criminal division defends white-collar, corporate crime cases and helped a Russian bank investigate whether its computer servers communicated directly with Donald Trump’s company.
- The national security division is led by Boeing’s former assistant general counsel.
- The nominee to run the environment and natural resources division represented BP in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The official temporarily holding that spot is a former lobbyist who represented a major electric utility, authored a paper that was critical of endangered species protection and recused himself from a long list of cases and topics.
The problem is pervasive in the Trump administration, as evidenced by examples in other agencies:
- At the Environmental Protection Agency, the Trump administration has hired or nominated at least 10 lawyers who have represented or worked for polluters including coal miners, oil refiners, the Koch brothers, paper companies and agricultural giants.
- At the Interior Department, the second-ranking official is a lawyer and former lobbyist who represented a controversial copper mine and a major agricultural water district. The Trump administration has hired lawyers with close ties to the Koch Brothers, who own major oil refineries and have been funding efforts to open up public lands to energy exploration.
- One of the Koch-tied lawyers in the Trump administration recently renewed mining leases in Minnesota for a Chilean company. That company is controlled by a Chilean billionaire who the U.S. government after the Obama administration blocked renewal of the copper-mining leases and also rents out a Washington, D.C. mansion to Ivanka Trump and her family.
- At the Education Department, a lawyer who worked at a for-profit college that got into trouble with the government is playing a key role in developing government policy on higher education issues.
Public Citizen’s analysis excludes independent regulators such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, but those agencies have their own fair share of revolving-door issues. Others who worked in relatively junior roles at corporate law firms and lacked a long legal track record did not show enough evidence of revolving-door issues in Public Citizen’s analysis Some Trump lawyers previously worked in government and military jobs and thus do not present a revolving door issue. Others have extreme right-wing views on such issues as abortion and civil rights, but don’t have a track record of working for corporate interests.
The analysis highlights how Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” when he got to Washington, D.C. has turned out to be a typical substance-free boast. Trump’s appointments have included dozens of lobbyists whose governmental responsibilities fall into the same specific issue areas on which they lobbied within the past two years. Public Citizen previously identified 36 such appointees.
While the names of government lawyers are rarely in the headlines, they are crucial to the functions of government. They make decision after decision that impacts Americans’ lives. They decide whether the government will give polluters, scam artists, predatory lenders and other wrongdoers a harsh penalty or an easy pass. They determine whether the federal government for will go soft on corporate wrongdoers or allow them to prosper.
Certainly, many Trump lawyers have recused themselves from specific cases that involve their former clients. But doing so does not solve the problem. Having spent years defending corporate clients and absorbing their worldview it defies commonsense that such lawyers would pivot from representing BP to cracking down on Shell or ExxonMobil.
Public Citizen’s analysis also highlights the disproportionate influence of a few high-powered corporate law firms. Jones Day has 12 alumni in the Trump administration, while Kirkland & Ellis has 11 alumni.
|Employer||Trump Lawyer Alumni|
|Kirkland & Ellis LLP||11|
|Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher||4|
|King & Spalding LLP||4|
|Squire Patton Boggs/Patton Boggs||4|
|Sullivan & Cromwell||4|
|White House (George W. Bush)||3|
|Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP||2|
Close connections between the government and a handful of corporate law firms are by no means exclusive to the Trump administration. They are a longstanding problem that has often eluded attempts at reform.
For the sake of comparison, Public Citizen identified 23 key legal jobs and compared Trump legal hires to the Obama administration officials who held the same positions. In the Obama administration, nine presented revolving-door concerns, compared with 17 in the Trump administration.
Under the Obama administration, former lobbyists could not be appointed to any agency they had lobbied in the last two years. If appointed to an agency they had not lobbied, they could not oversee the same “specific issue areas” they had lobbied in the last two years.
This restriction applied only to former lobbyists, many of whom were lawyers. All Obama administration officials had to recuse themselves from official actions impacting their former employers or clients within the last two years. Waivers could be granted but were rare. By contrast, the Trump administration has granted a slew of waivers for White House and federal agency officials, vastly exceeding the number issued in the early months of the Obama administration and authorizing conflicts that were not permitted in the Obama administration.
These officials bring to the job a deep appreciation of the views of the corporations they will now help regulate. It would be folly to expect anything else of the Trump administration, which is destined to be remembered as the most corrupt in American history.