The following story appeared on Fox New’s online news page this morning:
House Republicans, led by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, have summoned the head of the independent federal ethics office to answer questions about his agency and his public criticism of President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to separate from his real estate empire.
Chaffetz, the chairman of the GOP-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he sent a letter Thursday to Walter Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, asking him to appear before lawmakers in a closed-door, transcribed interview.
Shaub is not being subpoenaed, but asked to respond to questions in a setting like a deposition, committee staff said.
“I want to talk about the whole department,” Chaffetz said in an interview. “Mr. Shaub has taken a very aggressive stance on issues he’s never looked at. He’s raised a bunch of eyebrows.”
Shaub, appointed by President Barack Obama to a five-year term that has a year to go, gave an extraordinary [emphasis mine] public admonishment on Wednesday of Trump’s plan to place his businesses in a trust managed by his elder sons. The ethics chief said the plan was “wholly inadequate” to protect the incoming president from conflicts of interest.
“Stepping back from running his business is meaningless from a conflict-of-interest perspective,” Shaub said at a forum at the Brookings Institution.
Chaffetz said he has not yet decided whether to ask Shaub to testify at a public committee hearing but will wait for the transcribed interview, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The comments followed a tweetstorm from Shaub’s office in late November that congratulated Trump on divesting himself of his business holdings. The tweets were composed, public records requests have revealed, by Shaub himself. Trump had not agreed to divest, however.
Chaffetz said that after the election he asked Shaub to meet with him to discuss the tweets and other operations of the ethics office, which is up for reauthorization by Congress. But the congressman said Shaub refused to meet.
OGE spokesman Vincent Salamone declined to comment early Thursday when asked about Chaffetz’s claim. Salamone could not immediately be reached for comment later on the committee’s request for a transcribed interview.
Last year, Chaffetz accused Shaub of going silent on potential conflicts of interest for Hillary Clinton as she accepted speaking fees for speeches, money that went to the Clinton Foundation. Republicans said she was required to disclose it. Shaub told the oversight committee at the time that the law did not require disclosure.
Richard W. Painter, who served as an ethics lawyer for George W. Bush said Republicans appear to be “strong-arming” the agency.
“They are obviously very upset the Office of Government Ethics is leaning on Trump and not willing to jam through his nominees. It is political retaliation,” he told The New York Times.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
Walter Shaub was appointed by Barack Obama. That pretty much says it all. One would think that in Shaub’s official capacity as Director of the OGE there would be a standard protocol for looking into and reporting findings on potential ethics violations and that such protocol would rise above the level of a tweet. Given how he came into his position and the following news from NPR surrounding his controversial tweets on Trump, it’s obvious to me that his goal is to set Trump up as a target of his committee and taint him as unethical before he even takes office:
From NPR on 12/30/2016;
In November, the typically straitlaced Office of Government Ethics surprised observers with a series of tweets mimicking Donald Trump’s bombastic style, exclamation points and all: “Brilliant! Divestiture is good for you, good for America!”
The controversy was two-fold: (1) The OGE doesn’t typically air its positions publicly, advising White House transition teams behind the scenes. (2) Trump hadn’t promised the total divestitures of business interests implied by the tweets.
New records shared with NPR on Friday show that behind the curious tweets was the head of the OGE himself, Director Walter Shaub Jr.
In two emails, dated Nov. 30, just several minutes apart, Shaub sent to OGE Chief of Staff Shelley Finlayson the nine tweets that took the Internet by storm that day. He then followed up with a link to a legal document referenced in one of the tweets and writes: “Get all of these tweets posted as soon as humanly possible.”
Of course we should expect Trump to behave ethically and to not use his office to enrich himself, but the expectation that Donald Trump should have to entirely divest himself of a multi-billion dollar empire in order to be POTUS is so impractical as to be absurd. It would take years and all of Trump’s focus to make that happen, so it’s dumb to suggest or expect it. I’m no cheerleader for Trump, but as a constituent I was satisfied with the plan presented by his advisers with respect to distancing himself from his business empire. BTW I went back through Shaub’s tweets in the days following Loretta Lynch’s infamous ethical lapse when she met clandestinely with the husband of a high-profile investigative target (that would be Hillary, of course) and – surprise! – Shaub apparently had no opinion on that.
Now let’s have a look at ethics “expert” Richard W. Painter. This “Republican” wrote an op-ed for the StarTribune on July 25, 2016 endorsing………….wait for it………… Hillary Clinton. Again, actions speak louder than words and that pretty much says it all. We still don’t know what we’re going to get from Trump as a government official, ethically speaking, but we damn sure knew what we would get from Hillary. So much for Mr. Painter’s lofty ethics standards.
Shaub and Painter are leftwing hacks and the OGE has undoubtedly been politicized, so I applaud Chaffetz and other Republicans for not sitting idly by while the Left does its dirty work, as Republicans usually do. This also demonstrates that the current Republican congress was correctly following its instincts when they sought to shut down this partisan agency as their first official act, but they were publicly admonished by Donald Trump. It will be interesting to see if he has a change of heart somewhere along the way.
You go, Congressman Chaffetz!