ETHICS OF­FI­CIAL

warns of U.S. cred­i­bil­ity risk.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - ERIC LIPTON AND NICHOLAS FANDOS

WASH­ING­TON — Ac­tions by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his ad­min­is­tra­tion have cre­ated a his­toric ethics cri­sis, the de­part­ing head of the Of­fice of Govern­ment Ethics said. He called for ma­jor changes in fed­eral law to ex­pand the power and reach of the over­sight of­fice and com­bat the threat.

Wal­ter Shaub Jr., who is re­sign­ing as the fed­eral govern­ment’s top ethics watch­dog to­day, said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion had flouted or di­rectly chal­lenged long-ac­cepted norms in a way that threat­ens to un­der­mine the United States’ eth­i­cal stan­dards, which have been ad­mired around the world.

“It’s hard for the United States to pur­sue in­ter­na­tional an­ti­cor­rup­tion and ethics ini­tia­tives when we’re not even keep­ing our own side of the street clean. It af­fects our cred­i­bil­ity,” Shaub said in a two-hour in­ter­view this past week­end — a week­end Trump let the world know he was spend­ing at a fam­ily-owned golf club that was be­ing paid to host the U.S. Women’s Open tour­na­ment. “I think we are pretty close to a laugh­ing­stock at this point.”

Shaub called for nearly a dozen le­gal changes to strengthen the fed­eral ethics sys­tem: changes that, in many cases, he had not con­sid­ered nec­es­sary be­fore Trump’s elec­tion. Ev­ery other pres­i­dent since the 1970s, Repub­li­can or Demo­crat, worked closely with the ethics of­fice, he said.

A White House of­fi­cial dis­missed the crit­i­cism, say­ing Sun­day that Shaub was sim­ply pro­mot­ing him­self and had failed to do his job prop­erly.

“Mr. Schaub’s pen­chant for rais­ing con­cerns on mat­ters well out­side his scope with the me­dia be­fore ever rais­ing them with the White House — which hap­pens to be his ac­tual day job — is rather telling,” Lind­say Wal­ters, a White House spokesman, said in a state­ment that mis­spelled Shaub’s name. “The truth is, Mr. Schaub is not in­ter­ested in ad­vis­ing the ex­ec­u­tive branch on ethics. He’s in­ter­ested in grand­stand­ing and lob­by­ing for more ex­pan­sive pow­ers in the of­fice he holds.”

Trump’s re­peated trips to his fam­ily’s busi­ness prop­er­ties — he has vis­ited one of them on at least 54 days since mov­ing into the White House nearly six months ago, in­clud­ing nearly 40 stops at a fam­ily golf course — have caused dis­com­fort for Shaub each time.

“It cre­ates the ap­pear­ance of prof­it­ing from the pres­i­dency,” Shaub said. “Mis­use of po­si­tion is re­ally the heart of the ethics pro­gram, and the in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cepted def­i­ni­tion of cor­rup­tion is abuse of en­trusted power. It un­der­mines the govern­ment ethics pro­gram by cast­ing doubt on the in­tegrity of govern­ment de­ci­sion-mak­ing.”

Shaub rec­om­mended giv­ing the ethics of­fice lim­ited power to sub­poena records, as well as author­ity to ne­go­ti­ate pro­hi­bi­tions on pres­i­den­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est; man­dat­ing that pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates re­lease tax re­turns; and re­vis­ing fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure rules. But he ac­knowl­edged that some of these pro­pos­als would be dif­fi­cult to pass in Congress.

There are signs that law­mak­ers are open to con­sid­er­ing the ideas. Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, the new Repub­li­can chair­man of the House Over­sight and Govern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee, said he was prepar­ing to meet with Shaub.

Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings of Mary­land, the com­mit­tee’s top-rank­ing Demo­crat, also wants to dis­cuss the ethics of­fice and ways to strengthen it.

“I look for­ward to hav­ing a pro­duc­tive con­ver­sa­tion with Mr. Shaub and Eli­jah Cum­mings be­fore the out­go­ing di­rec­tor leaves of­fice,” Gowdy said in a state­ment in re­sponse to ques­tions from The New York Times about pos­si­ble changes in the author­ity granted to the of­fice, known as OGE. “The dis­cus­sion will in­clude ways to im­prove the ethics process and in­still con­fi­dence in OGE.”

Cum­mings is draft­ing leg­is­la­tion with the hope of gain­ing Gowdy’s sup­port, mem­bers of his staff said. It will in­cor­po­rate some of Shaub’s pro­pos­als, al­beit the less con­tentious pro­vi­sions that stand a chance of pass­ing in a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress.

“The Of­fice of Govern­ment Ethics has an im­pos­si­ble job un­der this ad­min­is­tra­tion be­cause Pres­i­dent Trump has ig­nored its ad­vice, un­der­mined its author­ity and openly flouted ethics rules,” Cum­mings said in a state­ment. “Now more than ever, it is im­por­tant for Congress to act to strengthen OGE and pro­tect its in­de­pen­dence.”

Shaub wants Congress to clar­ify that the agency has clear ethics over­sight author­ity over all parts of the White House and that its di­rec­tor may only be re­moved for cause.

Other changes would in­crease the agency’s en­force­ment abil­i­ties and au­ton­omy. Shaub said he did not be­lieve the of­fice should be al­lowed to con­duct ex­ten­sive in­ves­ti­ga­tions but ad­vo­cated grant­ing it lim­ited sub­poena author­ity so it could make sure ethics ques­tions were an­swered.

His sug­ges­tion that Congress cre­ate new con­flict-of-in­ter­est stan­dards for the pres­i­dent, and re­quire pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to dis­close their tax re­turns to the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion and have them posted by the Of­fice of Govern­ment Ethics, may be more dif­fi­cult to en­act.

His­tor­i­cally, pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates and of­fice­hold­ers have vol­un­tar­ily re­leased their tax re­turns and di­vested their hold­ings. Trump has not. “Other pres­i­dents have un­der­stood it is a prag­matic ne­ces­sity,” Shaub said.

Shaub, who is tak­ing a job at a non­profit group called the Cam­paign Le­gal Cen­ter, said he had never wanted the role of chal­leng­ing the U.S. pres­i­dent. He said he re­gret­ted that his ac­tions had at times been ex­ploited by Democrats, in­clud­ing at least one ef­fort to raise money off his work.

“I would not have picked this fight,” said Shaub, who be­came a ju­nior lawyer in the ethics of­fice in 2001 and was ap­pointed by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in Jan­uary 2013 to a five-year term as di­rec­tor. “But I have never been one to shy away from bul­lies.”

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