They also said the case, while not unlawful, presents another example of problems with the revolving-door norm in Washington.
"For the most part, this is business as usual," said Craig Holman, the government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, "but that doesn't make it ethical."
The TransCanada lobbyist, Paul Elliott, was one of Clinton's top aides in 2008, but because he was a campaign staffer, and not a government official, there was no required cooling-off period between when his campaign work ended and when he could begin lobbying Clinton's office. Still, critics allege that his relationship with State Department officials he knew from the campaign provided TransCanada access to the administration that pipeline opponents, like environmental groups, could not get.
The State Department has said the decision "is not and will not be influenced by prior relationships that current government officials have had," according to the New York Times. But the preexisting relationship between Elliott and State Department officials creates at least the appearance of a conflict of interest, which "can be a huge problem even if there isn't one," said Jake Wiens, an investigator with the Project on Government Oversight.
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