U.S. chief of ethics to re­sign

White House had run-ins with of­fice

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Ros­alind S. Hel­der­man and Matea Gold of The Wash­ing­ton Post and by Julie Bykow­icz of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

WASH­ING­TON — The di­rec­tor of the in­de­pen­dent Of­fice of Govern­ment Ethics, who has been the fed­eral govern­ment’s most per­sis­tent critic of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proach to ethics, an­nounced Thurs­day that he is re­sign­ing nearly six months be­fore his term is sched­uled to end.

Wal­ter Shaub Jr. re­peat­edly chal­lenged the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, pub­licly urg­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to fully di­vest from his busi­ness em­pire and chastis­ing a se­nior Trump ad­viser for vi­o­lat­ing ethics rules. His com­ments drew the ire of ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials while fans started a Face­book page in his honor, and his name has oc­ca­sion­ally ap­peared on posters at anti-Trump protests.

Shaub made no ref­er­ence to those clashes in a res­ig­na­tion let­ter he posted Thurs­day that in­di­cates he will step down July 19. In­stead, he praised the work of fed­eral ethics of­fi­cials, point­edly not­ing their com­mit­ment to “pro­tect­ing the prin­ci­ple that pub­lic ser­vice is a pub­lic trust, re­quir­ing em­ploy­ees to place loy­alty to the Con­sti­tu­tion, the laws, and eth­i­cal prin­ci­ples above pri­vate gain.”

In an in­ter­view, Shaub said he was not leav­ing un­der pres­sure, adding that no one in the White House or the ad­min­is­tra­tion pushed him to leave. But the ethics chief said he be­lieved that

he had reached the limit of what he could achieve within Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“It’s clear that there isn’t more I could ac­com­plish,” he said.

Shaub is set to take a new job as se­nior di­rec­tor of ethics at the Cam­paign Le­gal Cen­ter, a non­profit le­gal ad­vo­cacy group founded by Trevor Pot­ter, who served as a Repub­li­can ap­pointee to the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion. Shaub said he hopes to find bi­par­ti­san so­lu­tions to strength­en­ing govern­ment ethics pro­grams at the fed­eral and state lev­els.

“In work­ing with the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion, it has be­come clear that we need to strengthen the ethics pro­gram,” he said.

After Shaub’s res­ig­na­tion, White House spokesman Lind­say Wal­ters said: “The White House ac­cepts Mr. Shaub’s res­ig­na­tion and ap­pre­ci­ates his ser­vice.” She said the pres­i­dent would nom­i­nate a suc­ces­sor “in short or­der.”

Cre­ated in 1978, the ethics of­fice is de­signed to pro­mote and pro­tect laws in­tended to pre­vent con­flicts of in­ter­est by govern­ment of­fi­cials. The of­fice of­fers ethics guid­ance and train­ing for govern­ment of­fi­cials and over­sees em­ploy­ees’ an­nual dis­clo­sure of per­sonal fi­nances, but it has lim­ited en­force­ment au­thor­ity.

Di­rec­tors are ap­pointed by the pres­i­dent and con­firmed by the Sen­ate to five-year terms — a length of time in­tended to give the of­fice in­de­pen­dence by en­sur­ing di­rec­tors’ terms over­lap pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Ethics of­fi­cials and crit­ics of the pres­i­dent had re­garded Shaub as one of the few fed­eral of­fi­cials who had been will­ing to speak out when he viewed the ad­min­is­tra­tion de­part­ing from past ethics norms. Trump al­lies cast him as a grand­stander and noted that he had been ap­pointed by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama.

Upon Shaub’s de­par­ture, the ethics of­fice’s chief of staff, Shel­ley Fin­layson, is ex­pected to as­sume the role of act­ing di­rec­tor, although Trump could ap­point an­other se­nior ethics of­fice of­fi­cial to serve tem­po­rar­ily un­til he chooses a per­ma­nent re­place­ment. In 2014, Shaub de­scribed Fin­layson as “a tire­less ad­vo­cate for [the of­fice’s] mis­sion” and praised “her re­li­ably cool judg­ment.”

Shaub, who be­fore his ap­point­ment had served in other roles at the of­fice and as a lawyer at other fed­eral agen­cies dat­ing to 1997, was named the of­fice’s di­rec­tor by Obama in 2013 and had been sched­uled to serve un­til Jan­uary.

In a state­ment, Sen­ate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., promised that Democrats would closely scru­ti­nize Trump’s se­lec­tion to re­place Shaub.

“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,” he wrote.

Nor­man Eisen, who served as the chief White House ethics lawyer un­der Obama, called Shaub “one of the great pub­lic ser­vants of the ex­ec­u­tive branch.”

“He clearly feels that given this ad­min­is­tra­tion’s failings that there is no more that he can do,” Eisen said, adding, “In his own un­der­stated and non­par­ti­san way, this is a protest res­ig­na­tion.”

WHITE HOUSE RE­SIS­TANCE

Be­gin­ning shortly after Elec­tion Day, Shaub and Trump’s at­tor­neys of­ten clashed over Of­fice of Govern­ment Ethics tweets, let­ters be­tween them and ethics of­fice re­sponses to con­gres­sional re­quests.

After Trump made clear in Jan­uary that he would not sell off his global busi­ness em­pire to avoid the ap­pear­ance of con­flicts of in­ter­est, Shaub spoke out.

He said Trump’s plan to re­tain fi­nan­cial in­ter­ests in the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion while hand­ing over lead­er­ship to his adult sons and a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive “doesn’t meet the stan­dards” of Trump’s own Cabi­net nom­i­nees and four decades of pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents.

Since then, the ethics of­fice has un­suc­cess­fully asked the White House to pun­ish a se­nior ad­viser to the pres­i­dent over in­ap­pro­pri­ately pro­mot­ing Trump’s daugh­ter’s fash­ion line. Kellyanne Con­way urged view­ers on Fox News to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” but fed­eral law pro­hibits govern­ment em­ploy­ees from en­dors­ing brands or prod­ucts.

The White House said Con­way had been speak­ing in a “light, off-hand man­ner” and was un­likely to vi­o­late the rule again. In a let­ter, Shaub re­sponded that fail­ing to take ac­tion against a se­nior

of­fi­cial risked “un­der­min­ing the ethics pro­gram.”

More re­cently, Shaub has clashed with the White House over his ef­forts to gather data about for­mer lob­by­ists and other fed­eral ap­pointees who had been granted waivers to ethics rules al­low­ing them to in­ter­act with their for­mer em­ploy­ers while serv­ing in the White House or at fed­eral agen­cies.

The Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get had tried to block Shaub’s re­quest for copies of the waivers, prompt­ing him to pen a scathing 10-page let­ter re­fus­ing to back down, writ­ing that the ethics of­fice ex­pected fed­eral agen­cies to com­ply with the re­quest.

“Pub­lic con­fi­dence in the in­tegrity of govern­ment de­ci­sion mak­ing de­mands no less,” Shaub wrote.

Ul­ti­mately, the White House re­leased the doc­u­ments as Shaub had de­manded. They showed that 17 ap­pointees had been granted waivers to ethics rules to al­low them to serve in the White House, in­clud­ing four lob­by­ists.

But Shaub has con­tin­ued to agi­tate over the is­sue, par­tic­u­larly an un­dated and un­signed waiver al­low­ing all White House of­fi­cials to in­ter­act with the news me­dia. The rul­ing means that chief strate­gist Steve Ban­non can com­mu­ni­cate with ed­i­tors at Bre­it­bart, the con­ser­va­tive pub­li­ca­tion he used to run.

“There’s no such thing as a retroac­tive waiver,” Shaub said last month, promis­ing to keep press­ing the White House on the is­sue.

Shaub said Thurs­day that his new post at the Cam­paign Le­gal Cen­ter would pro­vide a plat­form to work on im­prov­ing ethics rules in a non­par­ti­san en­vi­ron­ment, adding that he did not want to lose the op­por­tu­nity by wait­ing un­til the end of his term.

In a state­ment, Pot­ter said it is im­per­a­tive to “sus­tain a cul­ture of high eth­i­cal stan­dards in our govern­ment” and that Shaub would help the group “pro­tect and im­prove our democ­racy.”

AP/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE

Wal­ter Shaub Jr., di­rec­tor of the U.S. Of­fice of Govern­ment Ethics, an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion Thurs­day, saying “It’s clear that there isn’t more I could ac­com­plish.”

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