Walter Shaub Jr., who has quit as head of the Office of Government Ethics in frustration with President Trump’s flouting of long-standing ethical standards told the New York Times today that this administration has created a historic ethics crisis that is negatively impacting not just the U.S. but also ethics in the rest of the world.
“It’s hard for the United States to pursue international anti-corruption and ethics initiatives when we’re not even keeping our own side of the street clean. It affects our credibility,” says Shaub, whose last day on the job is tomorrow, six months before his appointment was supposed to end.
“I think we are pretty close to a laughingstock at this point,” warns Shaub.
Shaub served under Republican President George W. Bush before being named to head the government ethics agency by Democratic President Obama. Everything changed for the shy man who ran a quiet agency when Trump, his family, and allies took over the White House.
Even before Trump was officially sworn in, Shaub made a public push urging the new president to do what every other president in the modern era has done – sell his assets or put them in a truly blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest, both real and perceived.
Trump ignored Shaub’s advice and put his huge, sprawling, global business empire into a trust controlled by Trump’s adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, and a longtime business associate.
Trump has continued to own the assets and his son’s regularly consult with him about operations. Trump also has the right to take money out of his private companies without asking permission of anyone or any public disclosure.
That did not satisfy Shaub, who says he has shuddered each time Trump has made trips to his company’s properties for visits, vacations, to play golf or just hold meetings. Trump has visited Trump Organization properties at least 54 times in his first six months.
“It creates the appearance of profiting from the presidency,” says Shaub. “Misuse of position is really the heart of the ethics program, and the internationally accepted definition of corruption is an abuse of entrusted power.”
“It undermines the government ethics program,” Shaub adds, “by casting doubt on the integrity of government decision making.”
Shaub is calling for about a dozen changes to the federal ethics rules, most of which he did not think were necessary before Trump arrived and started ignoring the traditional ethics questions that every president, Democrat or Republican, had followed for decades.
Ideas for addressing the crisis – to this I would add true investigative authority coordinated with, but not in, OGE https://t.co/JPzHtQFomO
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) July 17, 2017
Among the changes Shaub would like to see are new laws that would require presidential candidates to make their tax returns public, and tougher financial disclosure rules. He wants to see his successor have limited subpoena power to ensure ethics rules are obeyed, but he is not asking for the right to hold lengthy investigations.
The view that conflicts of interest matter for *everyone* in government goes back a way . . . pic.twitter.com/t7Eo8JjxM1
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) July 16, 2017
Shaub knows that with the current Republican-controlled Congress, it will be difficult to get any ethics reform but he hopes that in the future, it can be done. Read his proposals in this New York Times article.
Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), an outspoken critic of Trump’s unethical behavior, lying, nepotism and more, is already drafting model legislation in case there is an opportunity to put comprehensive new regulations in place.
“The Office of Government Ethics,” says Cummings, “has an impossible job under this administration because President Trump has ignored its advice, undermined its authority and openly flouted ethics rules.”
The White House has responded to Shaub’s call for stronger rules by complaining he is going beyond the scope of his office. “He interested in grandstanding and lobbying for more expansive powers int he office he holds,” says White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters.
That answer from the most corrupt administration in years is ridiculous of course since Shaub is resigning the office, not empire building for his own glory a la Trump.
A more telling comment comes from Hui Chen, who until Trump arrived was an ethics expert in the Justice Department’s Fraud Section: “Anytime when we see a company with a chief compliance office making what we call a ‘loud withdrawl, it is considered a red flag for a company.”
Shaub is right on the money when he raises lots of red flags about Trump’s misuse of his high office, his appointment of cronies instead of qualified cabinet members and government officials, his rampant nepotism, his use of his office to boost his company’s properties and interests, and the rest of his lies, deceptions and insults to American government ethical standards.
Shaub is also right that the necessary reforms will not happen while the Republican leadership is complicit in Trump’s underhanded approach, but it sets a standard for future presidents and Congress people who can put in place rules to make it impossible for future aberrations like Trump to stain America’s reputation by showing that he has no personal or business ethics, only a will to grab for unlimited power, money, and influence.