Walter Shaub resigned his position as Director at the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) today, telling NPR that “the ethics program needs to be stronger than it is.”
Shaub’s tenure under the Trump administration has been marked by deep disagreements with the White House over their lax ethical standards and constant evasion of ethical rules.
A week before Inauguration Day, Shaub said in remarks to the Brookings Institution that Donald Trump’s plan to separate himself from conflicts of interest “doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president in the past four decades has met.”
“The signals a President sends set the tone for ethics across the executive branch. Tone from the top matters,” Shaub added, complaining that the new president’s sons were running a portfolio of assets in a “strange new kind of trust” that remains “not even halfway blind.”
After Kellyanne Conway was merely “counseled” for breaking the law by urging television viewers to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” Shaub pilloried the White House for her insufficient punishment.
By May, Shaub was critical of Trump for issuing secret ethics waivers to former lobbyists working for his administration. Shaub said that disclosure was “critical to ensuring that agencies and individual appointees are adhering to ethics requirements.”
When the White House finally did comply with the rules at Shaub’s urging in June, we learned that “former” Breitbart News CEO Steve Bannon is still communicating with the alt-right website as Trump’s senior strategist, for example.
Shaub’s patient persistence has won some small victories. But he seems to be very focused now on the institutional shortcomings of OGE, which “has no investigative authority, so we’re limited as to what we can do if these waivers are not being released publicly,” as Shaub tells NPR.
Clearly, Americans are at least as worried about the Trump administration’s ethical problems as Shaub is.
The agency reports that during the six months between October 2008 and March 2009, as the Obama presidency was taking shape, it got 733 public contacts, such as calls, letters and emails. During the October 2016 to March 2017 period in the Trump era, it was swamped with 39,105 contacts — an increase of 5,235 percent.
“We’ve even had a couple days where the volume was so huge it filled up the voicemail box, and we couldn’t clear the calls as fast as they were coming in,” Shaub said in an NPR interview in April.
In a statement on Twitter, Shaub explained that he will continue to press for changes within the federal government, but from the outside.
“In working with the current administration, it has become clear to me that we need improvements to the existing ethics program,” he says in the second tweet ever from his personal account. “I look forward to working toward that aim at Campaign Legal Center, as well as working on ethics reforms at all levels of government.”
The Campaign Legal Center welcomed Shaub to the team by quoting the very first tweet from his personal account — an image of his OGE resignation letter.
— CampaignLegalCenter (@CampaignLegal) July 6, 2017
However, Mr. Shaub has used OGE’s Twitter account before. Hoping to cajole the president-elect into full and proper divestment by imitating his Twitter voice, Shaub said that Trump’s initial decision to form a blind trust was “good for you, very good for America!”
Speaking out this way garnered unusual attention for an office that is normally quite obscured from the headlines. Now that he will be lobbying for tougher rules and laws from the outside, Walter Shaub will have no ethical constraints on his criticisms of Donald’s administration. Who knows what kind of waves he can make?
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