The last thing the Trump administration needs is another scandal, but that’s exactly what they got on Friday, thanks to a recent review of the financial disclosures filed by Steve Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist.
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI), a nonpartisan D.C.-based news organization, has discovered that Bannon failed to properly disclose more than $2 million in mortgage debt on his required financial disclosure form. This omission is made even more serious by the fact that top White House ethics officers originally confirmed that Bannon’s form was complete and in compliance with federal rules.
For the four home loans that Bannon reported on the financial disclosure form, he simply wrote “HOME LOAN” instead of disclosing the specific creditors for each loan. Out of more than 400 Trump appointees who filed disclosure forms, Bannon was the only one to do this.
It might seem like a small detail, but there is actually an important reason behind the requirement that appointees disclose the specific creditors. According to CPI, mortgages and creditors must be disclosed “to ensure that government officials and those entering government are paying market interest rates for their loans, and not receiving preferential treatment from creditors on the terms.”
Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University and a government ethics expert, told CPI that the most troubling thing about this situation is not that Bannon didn’t list his creditors, but that White House ethics officers said that it was okay for him not to when they signed off on the forms.
‘What’s most significant to me about this situation is that the chief ethics officers at the White House signed off on [Bannon’s forms].
‘Individuals make mistakes. The real story is how shoddy the ethics process is in the White House. This raises an important question about the quality of the work that’s being done, and how careful these White House ethics officers are.’
Volunteers for #CitizenSleuth, a crowdsourced investigation project launched on Friday by the Center for Public Integrity and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, were the first to notice Bannon’s omissions.
Bannon has refused to comment on the disclosure forms. White House press officials declined to discuss the issue on the record, as did Alexandra Preate, a veteran Republican public relations strategist who has previously represented Bannon and Breitbart News, the outlet for which Bannon used to be an executive chair.
Despite the lack of comments from these individuals, an unnamed White House official with knowledge of Bannon’s filings was able to identify for CPI the creditors that Bannon failed to name himself.
Bannon’s first three mortgages — which he simply listed as HOME LOAN #1, HOME LOAN #2, and HOME LOAN #3 — come from Chase Home Loans. The creditor for HOME LOAN #4 is Quicken Loans. Altogether, the total debt for these four loans is $2,012,500.
The official who provided the information about the creditors also claimed that Bannon’s disclosure forms are being amended and that there had simply been “a mistake” the first time around. Failure to disclose over $2 million is a pretty big mistake, and the fact that it was just barely discovered seriously calls into question the competence of White House ethics officials.
Featured Image via Mark Wilson/Getty Images.