A watchdog group called for an investigation into White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s alleged “conflict of interest” in a Tuesday letter to the Office of Government Ethics and the Department of Justice.
Reports circulated in early April of the press secretary’s intention to depart her current position and host a show on MSNBC’s streaming platform, Peacock, in coming weeks. Protect the Public’s Trust, a group consisting of retired and former public servants, said her negotiations with MSNBC from the podium raise “serious conflict of interest concerns.”
“Concerns about conflicts of interest when seeking new employment are not new, and the federal government has strict laws and regulations governing how employees conduct themselves,” the letter said. “Under federal law, it is a criminal offense punishable by five years in prison 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.”
NEW: Jen Psaki’s use of her official position to disparage Fox News, the competitor of her prospective future employer MSNBC, warrants an investigation by the Office of Government Ethics and the Department of Justice, a watchdog group said Tuesday.https://t.co/JXKT25JEy1
— Andrew Kerr (@AndrewKerrNC) April 19, 2022
The group also pointed to Psaki recently stating that Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy sounds like “a stupid son of a bitch” during an appearance on “Pod Save America,” raising concerns about her criticisms of a competing network of MSNBC. (RELATED: Media’s Biggest Ethics Acolytes Are Oddly Quiet About Psaki Doing Job Interviews From The Podium)
“Ms. Psaki’s statements regarding Fox News appear to be a misuse of her official position that calls for further investigation,” the letter continued. “Fox News is a direct competitor of MSNBC and CNN, two companies with whom Ms. Psaki is or has been reportedly negotiating for future employment. Accordingly, Ms. Psaki’s statements regarding Fox News may be regarded as the use of her official positions for the private gain of Fox News’ competitors, such as MSNBC, with whom she is affiliated in her nongovernmental capacity.”
The press secretary and her agent, Jay Sures, had reportedly had private lunches with CNN and MSNBC executives, who along with NBC and CBS News, had reportedly expressed interest in potentially hiring her, sources told Puck News in March.
A government official, including Psaki, is required to notify a supervising ethics official once she begins negotiating future employment with a non-government entity, the letter said. Under law, they are also prohibited from using their current governmental position for “personal gain.”
The group also called on the agency to release records on her “recusals and negotiations” related to her potential employment.
CBS News White House correspondent Ed O’Keefe and Weekend Today co-chief White House correspondent Kristen Welker both questioned Psaki on the ethical standards of negotiating with a news network from the podium during an April 1 press briefing. She said she takes ethics “very seriously” and had been in contact with White House counsel.
“It is the policy of this White House that anyone who’s having conversations about future employment does so through consultation with the White House counsel’s office and ensuring they abide by ethics and legal requirements and those are conversations that I have taken very seriously and abided by every component of,” she said.
Ethics experts told the Washington Examiner that her negotiations as a public official raises serious concerns.
“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, former President Barack Obama’s ethics chief, said.