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

Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
(Image credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

"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."

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Peter Weber, The Week US

Peter has worked as a news and culture writer and editor at The Week since the site's launch in 2008. He covers politics, world affairs, religion and cultural currents. His journalism career began as a copy editor at a financial newswire and has included editorial positions at The New York Times Magazine, Facts on File, and Oregon State University.