U.S. chief of ethics to resign
White House had run-ins with office
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.”
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.”