Add the Government Accountability Office to the long list of federal agencies investigating the people and groups that surrounded President Trump in the months before he took office in January. The Capitol Hill spending watchdog has agreed to a request from Democratic lawmakers to look into the way the president’s transition team spent federal funds appropriated to ensure a smooth handover between the Obama and Trump administrations.
The decision to have the transition team rent office and event space from businesses owned by the Trump Organization caused many ethics experts to express concern about potential ethical violations. At the time, a Trump spokesman said that none of the money appropriated by Congress would go to Trump organizations. (The transition team was also allowed to accept private donations.)
The team also raised eyebrows with the unorthodox way that it facilitated contact between Trump and foreign officials.
The review was launched at the request of Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) back in November. In their request, they said, “We are writing today to request that the GAO conduct a review of President-Elect Trump's taxpayer-funded transition. We are concerned about reports of ‘disarray’ within a ‘chaotic’ transition, and ask that your review address several concerns, including conflicts of interest related to business holdings of Mr. Trump and his family; potential violations of protocol and security precautions related to Mr. Trump's communications with foreign leaders; and transparency related to the use of taxpayer funds in the transition.”
The GAO, last week, responded with a letter confirming that it had accepted the request and would work toward producing a preliminary report on its findings by June.
Among the areas that the agency proposes to explore:
- What laws guide the transition process, who enforces them and what “ethics-related provisions” apply to members of a presidential transition team?
- How are the funds appropriated by Congress for the transition accounted for, and how was the money spent? How much private money did the transition accept?
- Did the transition team consult with the Office of Government Ethics or otherwise take advantage of its services in relation to identifying conflicts of interest and facilitating financial disclosures? How did that compare to previous transitions?
- Finally, GAO will ask, “What information and services related to communication with heads of foreign governments were made available to the President- and Vice President-Elect and transition team? What is known about the transition teams use of services and how do the information and services provided for the 2017 transition compare to the 2009 and 2001 transitions?”
The White House has not yet commented on the new probe, which comes at the same time that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and at least two separate Congressional committees are investigating the activities of Trump and his associates during the 2016 election and afterward.