KEY POINTS

  • Trump said from the 2016 campaign trail he’d clean up Washington
  • The president rescinded an executive order he issued on lobbying
  • It was one of his last acts as president

In one of his final acts in office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that rescinds a previous declaration meant to make good on his promise to “drain the swamp.”

Signed late Tuesday, his final full day in office, Trump issued an executive order rescinding one of the first orders he signed when he became president in 2017.

The declaration in question, Executive Order 13770, had barred federal appointees from lobbying the government or working for a foreign government for five years after leaving office. Such work would require them to register as a foreign agent.

“If I am elected president, we are going to drain the swamp in Washington D.C.,” Trump said from the campaign trail in October 2016. “I’ve put forward a tough new ethics reform that will put the people back in charge of our government.”

Trump made good on that pledge as one of his first acts as president in a move meant to clear out ethical concerns among the political elite in Washington D.C.

But in a brief, one-page order that provided no statement of reason, Trump simply rescinded Executive Order 13770 on his way out the White House door.  It may have been toothless anyway.

 

A violation of the pledge would’ve exposed former appointees to financial penalties or permanent bans on lobbying. An investigation by ProPublica, however, found there were enough loopholes and enough changes in the Trump administration that at least 30 former officials found their way around Executive Order 13770. A handful didn’t even sign off on the order.

The most high-profile figure to find a way around the order was former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who went on to join lobbying firm Turnberry Solutions after leaving office in 2018 following a series of ethics investigations.

Long used in politics, former President Ronald Reagan used the term "drain the swamp" when he requested the formation of the Grace Commission, an entity meant to save billions of federal dollars by addressing waste and excessive bureaucracy.

Despite Trump’s claims of pioneering the effort to reshape Washington, the executive order on ethics drew on similar orders issued by previous presidents, including past leaders Trump himself criticized for not taking ethics concerns seriously.

Days after signing the order, John Woolley, a political science professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, told National Public Radio that Trump’s order was nothing new.

"The story here is not the copying per se, it is the claim Trump has been making that he is doing something really different, new, and righteous when, apparently, in many respects he is actually copying Democrats he so thoroughly condemned as corrupt," he said.

US President Donald Trump's time in the White House was a chaotic roller coaster ride as he shattered norms, shunned allies, bullied anyone who opposed him US President Donald Trump's time in the White House was a chaotic roller coaster ride as he shattered norms, shunned allies, bullied anyone who opposed him Photo: AFP / Brendan Smialowski