Speed Reads

Trump v Ethics

Federal ethics chief responds to threats from House GOP by suggesting public meeting

Last week, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, issued a thinly veiled threat to Walter Shaub, director of the independent Office of Government Ethics, sending Shaub a letter requesting a "transcribed interview with committee staff" on Shaub's public comments about President-elect Donald Trump's conflicts of interest. Chaffetz, in his letter, noted that he has jurisdiction over the OGE's funding and very existence. Shaub responded in a letter dated Monday and released to CNN on Tuesday night, saying that over the weekend Chaffetz had changed his request from "transcribed interview" to "private meeting," then making a counter-offer: a public meeting.

Chaffetz's chief of staff had declined Shaub's suggestion, the OGE director said, and Shaub asked him to reconsider. "Allowing the public to attend our meeting — or, at the very least, to view it through live broadcast or the attendance of the news media — would ensure transparency and educate the public about how OGE guards the executive branch against conflicts of interest." Since Trump was elected, Shaub added, "our office has received an unprecedented volume of telephone calls, emails, and letters from members of the public related to our executive branch ethics program."

Shaub told Chaffetz he would "attend a private meeting if you insist," and there's a good chance Chaffetz will insist. On Sunday's ABC This Week, the Utah Republican said he thinks Shaub's tweets to Trump praising him for divesting his business — which Trump will not do — were "unethical" and said he would subpoena the OGE director if he doesn't voluntarily appear for his interview. Trump's incoming White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, also blasted Shaub on This Week, warning, "The head of government ethics ought to be careful because that person is becoming extremely political." It is unclear what "standing" Shaub has "anymore in giving these opinions," Priebus said.

On ABC, Chaffetz referred to suggestions his committee investigate Trump's business ties — to Russia and elsewhere — as "fishing" expeditions three times, saying, "Until we see something that is actual wrongdoing, we're probably not going to go on a fishing trip to go see." He added: "We're just not going to do that. That's not what we do in this committee."