Speed Reads

Nice ethics office you've got there....

GOP House oversight chairman issues thinly veiled threat to ethics chief over Trump critiques

"You don't hear about ethics when things are going well," Walter Shaub, director of the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics (OGE), said Wednesday, in a speech laying out why President-elect Donald Trump's plan to manage conflicts of interest is "wholly inadequate." "You've been hearing a lot about ethics lately." On Thursday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) made ethics news once more, sending Shaub a letter sternly asking "about blurring the line between public relations and official ethics guidance," specifically "in the wake of communications with the incoming administration on ethics questions via Twitter and through the press."

In the letter, an unusual step against the independent federal ethics office, Chaffetz noted that his oversight committee has jurisdiction over OGE authorization and funding, before requesting a "transcribed interview with committee staff" by the end of January. Ethics experts called that a barely veiled threat. "They are strong-arming them," Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration, told The New York Times after reading the letter. "They are obviously very upset the Office of Government Ethics is leaning on Trump and not willing to jam through his nominees. It is political retaliation." Painter told The Washington Post, "They are saying lay off Trump and push through these nominees or we'll kill the funding of OGE."

Along with his Trump speech, Shaub has warned Congress that Trump's nominees were lagging in submitting their ethics review paperwork and suggested Senate Republicans should slow down the confirmation process, and — as Chaffetz mentioned — issued a series of bizarre tweets Nov. 30 congratulating Trump on deciding to divest his business, something Trump did not decide to do. Chaffetz also criticized Shaub's office for weighing in on Hillary Clinton's speaking fees in 2015.

Chaffetz, who voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics earlier this month, said before the election that President Hillary Clinton would be "a target-rich environment," promising his committee already has "two years' worth of material already lined up" on her, and on Monday he told reporters he will continue investigating Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state. He also said his "job in this role is not to protect or be a cheerleader for the president," and he's "not here to defend him at every turn," but that his hands are largely tied with President Trump because he will be "exempt" from "a lot" of laws.