White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki represents the president of the United States to the American people.
As such, she speaks regularly to members of the news media.
She’s been doing so while negotiating for a job with at least two of those media outlets. And she’s publicly berated one of their competitors.
See the problem? The ethics watchdog group Protect the People’s Trust sure does.
“Ms. Psaki has continued to brief reporters from the White House podium, including reporters from networks she has reportedly been negotiating with, without any apparent restrictions, creating a potential conflict of interest,” wrote Michael Chamberlain, PPT director.
His comments are in a letter dated Tuesday to officials at the Justice Department, the U.S. Office of Government Ethics and the White House.
Psaki and the Biden administration should live up to its own promise, personally stated by Psaki, to provide “an example of engagement and transparency,” Chamberlain said.
“Ms. Psaki engaged in an apparent misuse of her official position when she publicly disparaged Fox News, a competitor of her reported future employer,” Chamberlain wrote.
Psaki will soon be leaving the White House to become a commentator for MSNBC. That network outbid an offer from CNN, The Washington Examiner reported.
“The appearance of a conflict of interest risks further damaging the already low level of public trust in government,” according to Chamberlain, as he called for an investigation to see “whether Ms.Psaki violated her ethical duties, either in her remarks regarding Fox News or in her conduct while negotiating non-federal employment.”
Access to the White House briefing room and related officials are valuable commodities, Chamberlain said, which points to a conflict of interest on the part of Psaki.
Introduced last week on the podcast series “Pod Save America,” by her title as the White House press secretary,” Psaki disparaged Fox White House correspondent Peter Doocy.
“He works for a network that provides people with questions that, nothing personal to any individual including Peter Doocy, but might make anyone sound like a stupid son of a b***h,” Psaki said.
Jen Psaki’s comments show she doesn’t understand the role of While House press secretary. Or maybe this is how things are supposed to be done in the Biden White House. Or maybe she’s already thinking of herself as an MSNBC commentator.
Either way, she plays right into the criticism by Chamberlain and the PPT, which he describes as “a group of retired and former public servants dedicated to the idea that public service is a public trust.”
PPT’s letter is written to Corey Amundson, chief of the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice; Emery Rounds, director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics and Dana Remus, counsel to the president.
Chamberlain cites federal law making it a crime for a federal employee to “willfully participate in any ‘particular matter’ in which an organization an employee is negotiating or has an arrangement regarding future employment has a financial interest.”
The term “negotiating” is broadly defined, Chamberlain said. He pointed out that Psaki previously was required to file a form noting there is a duty to “notify their supervising ethics official once they begin negotiating for future employment.”
On April 1, Psaki told a White House news briefing that she had received “rigorous ethics counseling,” according to the Washington Examiner. Regarding negotiations for future employment, she said she has made recusals, but declined to be specific.
Former President Barack Obama’s ethics chief echoed concerns about Psaki’s actions. “It bothered me when this sort of thing happened in the last administration and bothers me to see it happen in this administration,” Walter Shaub told the Examiner.
Shaub speculated that Psaki might be required to recuse herself from White House decisions regarding media credentialing.
According to Chamberlain of the PPT, too often top government officials “play fast and loose with the rules that other government officials have to live with, creating the perception of a two-tiered system and resulting in an unprecedented dip in trust in our elected officials.”
It’s unlikely Psaki is too worried about allegations like Chamberlain’s, or even that violation of federal conflict-of-interest law carries a five-year prison sentence.
The White House probably doesn’t care, the Office of Government Ethics doesn’t seem to have much authority and the Justice Department is too focused on going after parents attending school board meetings to be concerned about missteps by Psaki.
And she’s probably been counting on that all along.
Want to see a perspective of the revolving door between media and government? Watch this short Los Angeles Times video as they celebrate — and that’s the correct word, “celebrate” — Psaki’s move to MSNBC.
Who knows? Maybe someone will get an attack of integrity and pursue the apparent ethics violations of Psaki.
In the meantime, it’s noteworthy that some lament that Washington is occupied by a creature called the Uniparty; that essentially there is no difference between the two major parties.
I’d suggest another perspective: There are the Republicans and there are the Banana Republicans.
Guess which party Psaki, her boss and so many others flying the flag of Democrat belong to?
And, as it gets worse each day, one has to remind oneself to be shocked.