In a tense exchange that appeared to blur partisan lines, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) fired on Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm about staff at her agency who trade shares in companies flagged by officials ethics, including oil giants.
It was a brief moment of political theater near the end of a two-hour hearing on the Department of Energy’s annual budget, an attempt by the right-wing lawmaker to restore his populist bona fides and expose apparent Democratic hypocrisy. about fossil fuels.
But the back-and-forth has exposed another gap in federal ethics rules at a time when Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ relationship with a billionaire donor is fueling a new debate about how to control corruption, and it showed how Republicans turn the tactics of progressives against Democrats.
From 2017 to 2021, more than 130 staff collectively reported stock, bond and option transactions at companies that Department of Energy ethics officers reported as related to their work agency, a Wall Street Journal survey published in February found.
Restricted to officials who file annual returns, the analysis represents only a partial picture of a period when the Trump administration was in power, but found that a third of senior departmental officials had received such warnings about personal stock transactions.
“I think it’s easier if you don’t own individual stocks,” said Granholm, who said she misunderstood the frequency of filing requirements and missed a few deadlines herself. before selling all his shares a few months after taking office.
But she said the department’s “very rigorous” internal ethics team allows, for example, staffers working at the National Nuclear Security Administration, which manages atomic weapons, to own shares of companies involved in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
“If someone owns an individual stock and they work in the NNSA and that stock relates to something in the EERE and they’re not involved in it at all, that’s not considered a violation of ethics,” Granholm said, using the units. ‘ acronyms.
It sounds like an easy call, but the Journal reports detailed trades by high-ranking lab officials whose work ethics officers were specifically flagged as company-related stock trades.
“All of this has been verified,” Granholm said.
“And how are you?” Hawkley said.
“Because they don’t trade in areas where they have influence or touch,” Granholm continued.
Hawley said it “looks bad” that 28 agency executives hold shares of Exxon Mobil Corp., while 17 hold shares of Chevron Corp. and 15 held shares in both.
“It does not imply or influence our actions in any way,” Granholm said.
Hawley balked. “It doesn’t influence their actions?” Owning the individual stock doesn’t? »
“Absolutely not,” replied Granholm.
“So why did you sell yours?” Hawley asked.
“Because I had an ethical agreement with the President of the United States that I would give in,” she said.
“Well,” Hawley replied, “probably because he was rightly worried that owning those individual stocks would affect your decisions, don’t you think?”
“It’s different when you’re the head of the department and you have a whole agency versus when you’re part of an agency and you’re negotiating an action that deals with a completely different party,” Granholm said. .
“We have 100,000 people in the department, a very large agency, and they’re spread all over the country,” she added, before going back to her previous example: “If someone from NNSA buys stock of Exxon, it doesn’t involve their particular area of influence. It’s the part of influence that you oppose.
Hawley returned to the optics: “I guess I don’t understand your position. Your position is that you’re not concerned about 130 Energy Department officials trading 2,700 stocks, including Chevron, Exxon and others? »
Granholm said she would only be concerned “if our ethics office is involved.”
“I have a solution: Let’s just ban it,” said Hawley, who previously drafted legislation banning federal lawmakers from trading stocks and embarrass former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for doing so. “Let’s ban it for all officials in the executive department.” Let’s ban it to all members of Congress. What about that? »
Concluding a hearing that covered everything from funding nuclear waste storage to hydrogen subsidies to how Republicans’ drive to bankrupt the federal government could hurt America’s atomic arsenal, Granholm said. replied, “I wouldn’t object to that.”
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