In one of his last acts as president, Donald Trump on Wednesday signed a directive allowing his staff to immediately begin lobbying, reversing his own 2017 executive order aimed at stopping his aides from using their influence for personal gain.
The earlier restrictions, aimed at fulfilling a campaign promise to "drain the swamp," had targeted the kind of insider culture the Republican Trump had campaigned against and blocked the kind of lucrative gigs that he had said makes politicians beholden to business interests instead of everyday Americans.
In an executive order released overnight, hours before he was due to leave office, Trump withdrew the ethics order that had said his appointees would not lobby their own agency for five years after leaving, and would not lobby any government appointee for two years. It also had called for a lifetime ban on working on behalf of foreign governments or foreign political parties.
"The man who pledged to drain the swamp took a giant step to fill it," Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, said in a statement. "You don't do things you're proud of last-minute in the middle of the night when you hope no one is watching."
Trump, who lost his re-election bid, officially departed office at noon (1700 GMT) when Democrat Joe Biden takes the oath of office following a turbulent election season that culminated in Trump loyalists storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in a failed attempt to stop Congress from certifying the results.
Biden will order his appointees to sign an ethics pledge and impose related ethics rules "to ensure that executive branch employees act in the interest of the American people and not for personal gain," his transition team said in a statement.
Trump, a real estate developer and former reality television star, never formally separated himself from his business interests while in office, although he said he had handed day-to-day control over his two eldest sons. The arrangement, which ethicists said did not prevent conflicts of interest, prompted legal challenges.
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Former Democratic President Bill Clinton rescinded his own ban barring senior White House officials from lobbying when he exited the White House in 2001.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Howard Goller, Chris Sanders and Jonathan Oatis)