Ethics Office Director Resigning, Will Join Campaign Legal Center

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By Kenneth P. Doyle

Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics, who has clashed repeatedly with the Trump administration, is resigning from his post and will join the nonprofit watchdog group Campaign Legal Center (CLC).

Shaub’s July 6 resignation letter to President Donald Trump didn’t mention any disagreements with the administration and didn’t indicate he was being forced to leave his government job. The letter said Shaub’s resignation would take effect July 19.

Shaub had six months left to serve in his fixed, five-year term as OGE director. In a statement released by the CLC, Shaub noted he has served at the OGE under three presidents: George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Trump.

The White House said in a statement that it accepted Shaub’s resignation and “appreciates his service.” The statement added that Trump “will be nominating a successor in short order.”

Shaub Faulted Trump’s Failure to Divest

Shaub’s statement released by the CLC said, “In working with the current administration, it has become clear to me that we need improvements to the existing ethics program. I look forward to working toward that aim at Campaign Legal Center, as well as working on ethics reforms at all levels of government.”

Shaub had criticized Trump even before he took office for failing to divest himself of his interests in private businesses and place his assets in a blind trust. Trump noted that federal conflict-of-interest laws contain a specific exemption for the president, while Shaub countered that all other recent presidents followed the requirements of ethics laws as a matter of policy.

Trump had about $3.6 billion in assets and $630 million in debt held in more than 500 companies, according to an analysis done last July by Bloomberg.

OGE Unable to Enforce Ethics Rules

“Although every president in modern times has adopted the OGE’s recommended approach” of asset divestment, Shaub noted in a January letter, “OGE has no power to require adherence to this tradition.”

Democratic lawmakers and watchdog groups frequently have complained to the OGE about actions by Trump administration officials that they said violated ethics rules. Under Shaub’s leadership, the OGE responded to many of these complaints by indicating that violations may have occurred but noting that the office had no independent authority to enforce ethics rules.

The latest complaint, filed July 6 with the OGE by the watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said Jared Kushner, a top administration official who is also the president’s son-in-law, had failed to fully disclose his assets as required when he joined the White House staff. The CREW complaint said Kushner appeared to have failed to disclose his ownership interest in an online real estate investment company called Cadre, which reportedly has a total value of $800 million.

Next OGE Director to Face Senate Scrutiny

The CLC statement said that, when Shaub joins the nonprofit group, he will work with Larry Noble, a former general counsel of the Federal Election Commission who is now the CLC’s senior director and general counsel. The statement said the CLC would continue to address violations of the ethics laws, issue policy recommendations and educate the public on the importance of ethics to a functioning democracy.

“It’s imperative that we sustain a culture of high ethical standards in our government,” said CLC President Trevor Potter, an attorney now in private practice who formerly served as a Republican commissioner on the FEC. “Walt, in serving the American public at the OGE under three presidents, has demonstrated the highest level of professionalism and integrity. All of us at CLC are thrilled to have him join us in our continuing work to protect and improve our democracy.”

Shaub’s departure will allow Trump to name the next OGE director. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said anyone nominated for the post will face scrutiny in the Senate confirmation process.

“The next Director of the Office of Government Ethics must demonstrate that they are committed to actually draining the swamp and ensuring administration officials are not using their positions for personal gain,” Schumer said in a statement. He referred to Trump’s frequent statements on the campaign trail that he would drain the swamp of Washington corruption—a promise the president’s critics say he has failed to fulfill.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bna.com

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