House Repub­li­can sum­mons ethics chief over Trump re­marks

Over­sight Com­mit­tee chair calls di­rec­tor’s ac­tions ‘highly un­eth­i­cal’ pub­lic re­la­tions

Houston Chronicle - - NATION | WORLD - By Stephen Oh­lemacher

WASHINGTON — House Repub­li­cans have shown no in­cli­na­tion to chal­lenge Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump on ethics mat­ters. In­stead, they are go­ing af­ter the fed­eral ethics of­fi­cial who ques­tioned Trump’s po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est.

Democrats slammed the move, say­ing GOP law­mak­ers are try­ing to in­tim­i­date an in­de­pen­dent watch­dog for hav­ing the temer­ity to chal­lenge Trump’s busi­ness ar­range­ments.

Rep. Ja­son Chaf­fetz, R-Utah, chair­man of the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee, has sum­moned Wal­ter Shaub Jr., the di­rec­tor of the Of­fice of Gov­ern­ment Ethics, to an­swer ques­tions about his pub­lic com­ments on Trump.

This week, Shaub is­sued a scathing re­view of Trump’s plan to turn over con­trol of his busi­ness to his sons. Shaub said in a speech Wed­nes­day that the only way Trump could avoid a con­flict of in­ter­est as pres­i­dent would be to di­vest from his busi­ness and have his as­sets placed in a blind trust. “Step­ping back from run­ning his busi­ness is mean­ing­less from a con­flict of in­ter­est per­spec­tive,” Shaub said of Trump.

Chaf­fetz sent Shaub a sternly worded let­ter late Thurs­day re­quest­ing that he sit for a tran­scribed in­ter­view. He said the in­ter­view would “help the com­mit­tee un­der­stand how you per­ceive OGE’s role, among other things.”

“Your agency’s mis­sion is to pro­vide clear ethics guid­ance, not en­gage in pub­lic re­la­tions,” Chaf­fetz wrote.

In an in­ter­view, Chaf­fetz said Shaub is of­fer­ing opin­ions on con­flicts of in­ter­est with­out fully re­search­ing the cir­cum­stances. “What he’s do­ing is highly un­eth­i­cal,” Chaf­fetz said.

Chaf­fetz said his own let­ter was drafted be­fore Shaub’s speech. Chaf­fetz said he has been try­ing to meet with Shaub since the fall but that Shaub has de­clined his in­vi­ta­tions.

Chaf­fetz’ let­ter cited a se­ries of tweets by Shaub in Novem­ber. In the tweets, Shaub con­grat­u­lated Trump for agree­ing to di­vest from his busi­ness — an agree­ment that Trump never made.

The con­gress­man’s let­ter did not men­tion Shaub’s speech.

In the speech, Shaub noted that mem­bers of Trump’s Cab­i­net — some of them very wealthy — are re­quired to place their as­sets in a blind trust. Shaub said the pres­i­dent should be held to the same stan­dard. “The plan the pres­i­dent-elect has an­nounced doesn’t meet the stan­dards that the best of his nom­i­nees are meet­ing and that ev­ery pres­i­dent in the past four decades has met,” Shaub said.

Shaub’s crit­i­cism of Trump has been echoed by sev­eral gov­ern­ment watch­dog groups and both Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic gov­ern­ment ethics ex­perts. They in­clude Nor­man Eisen, a for­mer chief ethics coun­selor for Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, and Richard Painter, who served in the same role for Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

Con­gres­sional Democrats sharply crit­i­cized Chaf­fetz.

“In­stead of hon­or­ing his com­mit­tee’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to hold the ad­min­is­tra­tion ac­count­able, Chair­man Chaf­fetz has ap­pointed him­self Pres­i­dent-elect Trump’s chief strong­man and en­forcer,” said House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.


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