Senate Democrats want the White House to produce evidence proving that communications director and former Fox News executive Bill Shine is not violating federal ethics laws by receiving millions of dollars in bonuses and severance pay from Fox News while working for the White House.
Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal, Edward Markey, and Sheldon Whitehouse sent a letter to Acting White House Counsel Emmet Flood on Monday, requesting that the interim chief attorney provide documents and answer questions regarding their concerns that Shine could be violating ethics and conflict of interest laws.
Shine resigned as co-president of Fox News in May 2017, a company he'd been at for more than 20 years, amid his handling of sexual harassment and misconduct scandals at the network. Although mentioned in lawsuits about whether Shine could have done more to better properly handle sexual harassment allegations against former CEO Roger Ailes, Shine himself was never accused of any wrongdoing.
Shine came to the White House in July 2018. Financial disclosure forms released last month revealed Shine received $8.4 million in severance pay from 21st Century Fox in 2017 and will receive roughly $7 million more by the end of 2019.
"21st Century's Fox's previous and ongoing payments to Mr. Shine of millions of dollars in severance payments raise questions about his compliance with federal conflict of interest statutes and regulations," the senators said.
The senators requested that Flood, the White House counsel who's filling in since former legal counsel Ty Cobb left, answer a slew of questions relating to if Shine has told officials he's had meetings or communications with anyone at his former company since working for the White House and if he's signed waivers that would allow him to have communication with and receive money from Fox.
Under federal conflict of interest laws, an employee is disqualified for two years from serving in a government role dealing with the former employer if they "received an extraordinary payment" from their former employer in excess of $10,000. Had Fox known Shine would move on to work for the White House prior to the payments, that would also be against the law, assuming a waiver was not provided by the White House.
The White House did provide a waiver for Shine to still have contact with Fox, but did not appear to provide such a document for him to receive compensation from the company or one to exempt him from a criminal conflict of interest.
The White House did not immediately respond to Newsweek on Monday for a request for comment.
The Democrats also asked whether Shine entered into any "recusal agreements" for his financial connection to Fox.
It's no secret that Fox News and the president have a closer relationship than Trump does with other media outlets. The network's programming is consumed by the president daily, which he then often tweets about, referencing specific segments and topics aired on the channel. Some of its employees have personal relationships with Trump, including Sean Hannity, who reportedly speaks with the president nearly every night.
"In addition," the senators wrote, citing a Politico report, "Mr. Shine has reportedly been personally involved in White House-related matters with Fox News and its affiliates during his tenure in the Administration. He has, for example, helped prepare President Trump for interviews with Fox News hosts, and he reportedly communicates with 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch."
The senators asked that Flood respond to their letter by January 2, 2019.