(Photo: Evan Vucci, AP)
WASHINGTON — The White House has posted inaccurate texts of President Trump’s own executive orders on the White House website, raising further questions about how thorough the Trump administration has been in drafting some of his most controversial actions.
A USA TODAY review of presidential documents found at least five cases where the version posted on the White House website doesn’t match the official version sent to the Federal Register. The differences include minor grammatical changes, missing words and paragraph renumbering — but also two cases where the original text referred to inaccurate or non-existent provisions of law.
By law, the Federal Register version is the legally controlling language. But it can often take several days for the order to be published, meaning that the public must often rely on what the White House puts out — and that’s sometimes inaccurate. For example:
► The controversial travel ban executive order suspended the Visa Interview Waiver Program and required the secretary of State to enforce a section of the Immigration and Naturalization Act requiring an in-person interview for everyone seeking a non-immigrant visa. But the White House version of the order referred to that provision as 8 U.S.C. 1222, which requires a physical and mental examination — not 8 U.S.C. 1202, which requires an interview.
► An executive order on ethical standards for administration appointees, as it appears on the White House website, refers to”section 207 of title 28” of the U.S. Code. As the nonprofit news site Pro Publica reported last week, that section does not exist. The Federal Register correctly cited section 207 of title 18, which does exist.
Transparency advocates said the discrepancies raises unnecessary concerns about the Trump’s executive actions. “These last-minute edits suggest the Trump White House needs to revisit their vetting, sign-off, and publication processes for executive orders,” said John Wonderlich, executive director of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.
The White House has faced questions about the vetting of executive orders, especially the order suspending travel for nationals of seven majority-Muslim countries. That order caused confusion inside and outside the administration and led to the firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates when she refused to defend it in court.
Trump has signed almost all of his executive orders in public ceremonies. The White House Staff Secretary’s office then sends the original, signed copy to the Office of the Federal Register, which is part of the National Archives. The Federal Register says its version is the exact text of what the president approved.
“We would never correct something that the president signs,” said Jim Hemphill, special assistant to the director of the Federal Register. “Once the president’s signature is on that, that’s a legal document that we would never change.”
The White House did not respond to a request for comment Monday. It’s unclear whether the press office somehow released out-of-date copies of executive orders, or whether the president signed new orders correcting mistakes before they were sent to the Federal Register.
Among the other discrepancies:
► An executive order asking the secretary of Labor to re-examine the “Fiduciary Rule” is missing the beginning of a sentence describing what rule the memo is referring to. The official version reads, “The Department of Labor’s (Department) final rule entitled, Definition of the Term ‘Fiduciary.’ ” The White House version simply says “Term ‘Fiduciary.’ ”
► A memorandum on construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline contained minor grammatical changes, with the official version putting instructions to the secretary of the Army in the passive voice. Instead of “the Secretary of the Army shall promptly provide a copy of this memorandum” to Congress, the final text said “a copy of this memorandum shall be provided immediately.”