In one of his efforts to “drain the swamp,” President Donald Trump forbade his appointees from participating in matters involving their former employers in any professional capacity. But that's exactly what Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, did, according to an ethics complaint filed Thursday by a government watchdog group.
Lloyd runs the agency charged with resettling refugees and caring for unaccompanied children, including those separated from their families as part of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigration. He used to work for the Catholic charity group Knights of Columbus.
In June 2017, Lloyd sent one of his staffers an email he’d received in April from an employee at the Knights. That email — whose subject line read “Share with Scott Lloyd” — contained forwarded conversations between a staffer at the Knights of Columbus and a member of a Catholic religious order, the Franciscan Friars’ Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province, about the possibility of using one of the order’s Wisconsin buildings to house refugees.
“Could you forward this to the appropriate person? It’s in reference to a monastery that wants to house refugees in Wisconsin,” Lloyd wrote in the email, which was obtained by the Campaign for Accountability through a Freedom of Information Act request and viewed by VICE News. The group filed the ethics complaint (in full, below) on Thursday with the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
“Sure. I will connect them with the State Coordinator,” the staffer wrote back.
The building discussed in the emails was not operated by the Knights of Columbus (KofC). “The KofC never requested a government contract nor did it ever receive one for this matter,” Joseph Cullen, a spokesperson for the Knights said in an email. “The KofC has not requested or received any government money from Health and Human Services.”
Lloyd didn’t directly communicate with the Knights staffer who forwarded him the email about the building or housing refugees more generally, Cullen said.
Ultimately, the building was not used to shelter refugees, said Jim Gannon, provincial for the Franciscan Friars, which owns the building. “We don’t have a relationship with the Knights of Columbus,” he said. “We did put out feelers just to see where this would go, with different things — one was refugees.”
Lloyd’s email exchange, however, still violates government ethics rules put in place by President Donald Trump, the Campaign for Accountability argues in its complaint.
“Attempting to do that shows the conflicts of interest inherent in doing that, even if it didn’t work out,” said Dan Stevens, the group’s executive director.
In January 2017, Trump issued an executive order that barred presidential appointees in executive agencies from participating in matters involving their former employers for two years, with few exceptions. (President Barack Obama issued a similar executive order.)
Lloyd — who was appointed to lead the Office of Refugee Resettlement and took over in March 2017, court records show — should have signed an ethics pledge agreeing to Trump’s stipulations.
“That executive order seems to be pretty clear that he should have signed an ethics pledge and that he shouldn’t have communications with his former employer,” said Alice Huling, staff attorney for the Campaign for Accountability. Lloyd worked for the Knights of Columbus, which does not support abortion access, from 2011 until he joined the Trump administration, according to a copy of Lloyd’s resume.
The Campaign for Accountability, which favors abortion rights, has asked the Trump administration for a copy of Lloyd’s ethics pledge and filed a Freedom of Information Act request for it, Huling said. But so far, the Campaign for Accountability has not received any proof Lloyd signed one.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families declined to comment on the complaint’s allegations. The deputy ethics counselor at the Department of Health and Human Services, to whom the complaint was filed, did not reply to a VICE News request for comment.
Bob Carey, who led the Office of Refugee Resettlement under the Obama administration, said he would have never helped out or even communicated with a former employer during his time at at the department. For him, that would be a clear ethical violation.
“If there was any conversation with my former employer about anything to do with ORR, I would recuse myself,” Carey said. “I literally would not have taken a work call from a former colleague or in any way intervened or interceded or even facilitated anything for them.”
In any case, the Office of Refugee Resettlement generally does not provide refugees with housing when they first enter the country. The State Department usually handles refugee housing through its relationships with resettlement agencies throughout the United States.
Lloyd, who’s spent much of his career crusading against abortion, has faced the glare of the spotlight multiple times during his tenure heading the ORR. In October 2017, an undocumented immigrant teenager held in a Texas facility operated by the department sued the administration over its refusal to let her get an abortion. Lloyd had implemented a policy that required him to personally sign off on any minor’s request for abortion, court records later showed. That teen was eventually allowed to get an abortion after a court intervened.
At another point, Lloyd spoke with administration staffers about the possibility of “reversing” another undocumented teen’s abortion, using a controversial, scientifically unproven procedure.
Lloyd once again found himself under a national microscope in June 2018, when the Trump administration started separating families at the border. Separated children were turned over to Office of Refugee Resettlement for shelter, which led to a series of news stories about facilities full of crying toddlers and children being forcibly injected with drugs.
If the Department of Health and Human Services opens an investigation into the complaint, Lloyd could face sanctions, Stevens said. “It’s up the agency and the attorney general to decide what the provisions would be.”
Read the complaint:
Cover image: Scott Lloyd, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is sworn-in during a House Judiciary Committee hearing concerning the oversight of the U.S. refugee admissions program, on Capitol Hill, October 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)