The new acting chief of one of Washington’s major banking regulators has agreed to stay away from issues involving dozens of former legal clients, including 14 banks that the agency oversees, according to his ethics agreement.

Keith Noreika, who represented lenders as a private lawyer, plans to recuse himself from matters related to JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc., firms the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency regulates.

Democratic lawmakers had already questioned whether Noreika’s close ties to the industry would prevent him from being an impartial watchdog. The ethics disclosure, released by the OCC Friday, lays out the scope of his potential conflicts for the first time.

“How can he possibly do his job when he can’t regulate these entities?” Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said in a Friday statement. “Not to mention the fact that he stands to profit from all of these relationships the moment he finishes his work at the OCC.”

Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat.
Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat. Bloomberg News

Noreika became comptroller of the currency on a temporary basis last month, leaving his law practice to run the agency until a permanent leader is confirmed by the Senate. This week, President Donald Trump nominated Joseph Otting, a former lieutenant of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s at OneWest Bank, for the OCC post.

Noreika will follow all applicable federal ethics rules when he leaves government, said Bryan Hubbard, an OCC spokesman. That includes a permanent ban on representing banks before any agency if he dealt with an issue pertaining to the firm while at the OCC. Noreika will also be barred for two years from representing clients on matters that were “pending under his official responsibility during the last year of his federal service,” Hubbard said.

In private practice, Noreika earned almost $3.3 million working at two law firms over the past 16 months or so, according to his financial disclosure form, which was also released Friday. His nearly 80 legal clients ranged from Wall Street banks to private equity firms to financial trade associations.

The Trump administration’s decision to use an unusual personnel maneuver to name Noreika to the OCC post also has drawn scrutiny from Democrats, who are concerned that he isn’t following the same ethics rules as full-time officials. Noreika was appointed as a “special government employee,” a status meant for workers who are expected to serve for 130 days over the course of a year.

Under the designation, which hasn’t traditionally been used to hire top regulators, Noreika doesn’t have to sign the ethics pledge that President Donald Trump requires of his appointees. The pledge includes a five-year lobbying ban for former officials.

At the OCC, Noreika’s ethics agreement calls for him to stay away from specific matters, such as enforcement cases, and does not preclude him from participating in broader policy decisions that would impact his former clients. It requires Noreika to recuse himself for one year from the date he last worked for the client. That means some of his recusals have already ended.

For example, Noreika was precluded from issues involving Wells Fargo & Co. until May 18. His restriction on Bank of America will end July 26, and Citigroup lapses on Sept. 30, according to the form.

JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and PNC Financial Services Group Inc. were more recent clients and Noreika will be recused from matters involving them until the next spring, if he is still at the agency.

Bloomberg News