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Warren Asks if DeVos Counsel Violated Conflict of Interest Law

August 16, 2017

In a letter sent today to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, asked for information about the work of senior counsel Robert Eitel to determine if he broke conflict-of-interest laws.

Eitel, a former compliance officer at for-profit college operator Bridgepoint Education Inc. while serving at the department, has been the subject of multiple inquiries Warren has sent to DeVos. He has been recused from discussions of the gainful-employment rule at the department but not the borrower-defense rule, which lays out guidelines for students defrauded by their institution to seek discharge of federal student loan debt.

In the letter, Warren asked DeVos to clarify aspects of Eitel's involvement in decision making on both rules.

"I have repeatedly sought information from the department on the nature of Eitel's involvement with the borrower-defense regulation and the timeline of his involvement, but you have so far failed to provide me with this information," Warren wrote.

If Eitel provided written or verbal advice on the borrower-defense law while still employed at Bridgepoint and without a relevant waiver, he may have violated criminal conflict-of-interest statute, Warren wrote.

UPDATE: Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, called any suggestion that Eitel had violated the law "not just outrageous but also defamatory." Eitel took an unpaid leave of absence from Bridgepoint during his temporary 120-day appointment at the department this spring. After he was formally appointed, he resigned from his former employer, Hill said.

"Senator Warren knows that. And she should also know that there is absolutely nothing untoward about that process," she said.

Hill said Eitel met with the department's ethics officer before coming on board, when it was decided that he would recuse himself from working on any particular matter related to his former employer, including borrower-defense claims filed by Bridgepoint students under current regulations. Eitel also went further, recusing himself from all claims filed by students from any institution under the current rule, she said.


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