Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub publicly declared his intent to resign from his position as the top ethics compliance watchdog Thursday. Shaub, who has held his position since 2013, posted his resignation letter on Twitter and held a press conference regarding his decision to step down, effective beginning on July 19.
OGE Directors are appointed by sitting presidents and run for five years. Shaub’s term was not set to end until January 2018. However, he and his office have been at odds with the current administration since well before Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States in January. According to Shaub, this is what led to his decision to resign.
“There isn’t much more I could accomplish at the Office of Government Ethics, given the current situation,” Shaub explained on Thursday. “O.G.E.’s recent experiences have made it clear that the ethics program needs to be strengthened.”
Shaub has accepted a position with the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C., organization of attorneys and election law experts. His new position will allow him to advocate for reforms in the U.S. government ethics program. Shaub also stated that he will be “broadening my focus to include ethics issues at all levels of government.”
The Office of Government Ethics is a small agency with only about 70 employees. It was relatively unknown to most people outside of Washington, D.C., or government employees. But the OGE was thrust into the spotlight as the Trump administration began to take shape, as many Americans began to call on Shaub and his office to address ethics issues with the administration.
According to OGE records, the agency received 733 calls, emails, or letters between October 2008 and March 2009 as former President Barack Obama was forming his cabinet and administration. Compare that figure with the same period following Trump’s election, when the agency received 39,105 public contacts with no increase in staff or oversight. The OGE works with appointees in the executive branch to avoid conflicts of interest and advise them on compliance regarding ethics issues, but has no power to enforce any rules.
“We’ve even had a couple days where the volume was so huge it filled up the voicemail box, and we couldn’t clear the calls as fast as they were coming in,” Shaub said in April in the midst of battling the Trump White House to release ethics waivers it had given to dozens of former lobbyists who now work within the executive branch.
The saga between the OGE and the Trump administration began when Shaub publicly criticized Trump for his plan to avoid conflicts of interest, saying that it “doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president in the past four decades has met.” The plan in question involved Trump moving business interests into a trust run by his sons, which the president is the sole beneficiary of.
U.S. presidents have either sold or placed their business interests into blind trusts run by third parties since the 1970s. The Trump trust, according to Shaub, “isn’t even halfway blind.”
“His sons are still running the businesses,” Shaub said in remarks given at the Brookings Institution on January 11, just days before Trump’s inauguration. “And, of course, he knows what he owns.”
Shaub has also been very vocal about Republican congressional shortcomings in following up on ethics issues. Since the OGE has no enforcement authority, it falls on congressional committees to take action concerning ethics violations. During his battle with Trump’s administration regarding ethics waiver disclosures, Shaub singled out Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, who was chairman of the House Oversight Committee at the time, saying that Chaffetz has the “authority to investigate these things and compel responses, so hopefully we’ll see some action from him.”
A permanent replacement for Shaub as the director of the Office of Government Ethics requires nomination by President Trump and approval by the U.S. Senate, but the White House could simply choose to leave an acting director in that position indefinitely. Walter Shaub’s resignation could potentially leave a hole in the leadership of the U.S. government’s ethics program, which helps protect the American public from elected officials using the power of office for personal gain rather than the greater good.
[Featured Image by J. Scott Applewhite/AP Images]