In perusing the Office of Government Ethics report on Executive Order 13490 (the “Ethics Pledge”), I was struck by one waiver that the administration has granted. Under Section 2 of the E.O., all covered appointees are prohibited from participating in certain matters related to their former employers or clients. In the case of Stephen J. Rapp, appointed by President Obama as Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues, this turns out to be a problem. Ambassador Rapp’s previous employment was with the United Nations, where he had been appointed by the Secretary General to serve as independent prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a tribunal set up to address war crimes in that country.
As explained in a September 8, 2009 memorandum from the State Department’s designated ethics official, Rapp’s ambassadorial duties would involve participation in many matters prohibited by Section 2. He is expected to be in “constant contact with United Nations and Sierra Leone Court officials at all levels regarding particular matters [such as] communications with respect to operations of the Sierra Leone Court and other United Nations-affiliated courts; oversight of those institutions on behalf of the United States Government on such matters as appointment of judges, prosecutors, and other senior officials and on personnel and budgetary matters; information sharing; cooperation of member-states; arrests of fugitives; ongoing cases for violation of International Humanitarian Law; disposition of prisoners; U.S. diplomatic efforts on behalf of the tribunals; and other issues related to U.S. support for the courts.” Accordingly, application of Section 2 would prevent Rapp from adequately performing his duties as Ambassador at Large.
To solve this problem, the State Department granted Rapp a waiver from the strictures of Section 2, allowing him to participate in matters related to the United Nations and the Sierra Leone Court. The designated agency official explained:
It is my determination that the literal application of the restriction in this situation would be inconsistent with the purposes of the restriction. Because the United Nations is an international organization consisting of many countries, including the
There are at least two fundamental problems with this reasoning. First, if one accepts the asserted premise, namely that the interests of the
Second, the notion that the interests of the
During his 1953 confirmation hearing for Secretary of Defense, the then-President of General Motors was quoted (not quite accurately) as saying “what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” Surely the statement that “what’s good for the United Nations is good for the country” is no more defensible.