Last week PEOTUS Trump announced his long promised plan to rid himself of his conflicts of interest. Trump is placing his operating companies into a trust and turning over the day to day operations to his two sons. There are a few more details but that’s the gist of it.
Attorneys who specialize in government ethics including lead ethics attorneys from the Obama and Bush administrations Norm Eisen and Richard Painter and Harvard Constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe, were not impressed.
Their opinions and I’m paraphrasing: “You can put lipstick on a pig but its still a pig”.
The Director of the Office of Governmental Ethics, Walter Schaub, a career ethics attorney for the federal government, seems to share this opinion. In an unusual move, Mr. Schaub shared his opinion publicly in remarks at the Brookings Institute hours after Trump announced his plan.
Schaub’s actions, predictably, have raised the ire of some Republicans. The Chair of the House Oversight Committee Rep. Jason Chaffetz(R) has demanded Schaub explain himself in a closed door hearing and threatened the funding of OGE.
There is no need for a hearing. Chaffetz could save time, stop this persecution of a dedicated public servant and get back to doing the People’s Business if he bothered to read Schaub’s remarks at Brookings. Below is my “Cliff Note” version of Schaub’s remarks but I recommend you read them for yourself here.
Why did Schaub take this unprecedented step of publicly calling out Trump’s plan?
Simple, Trump did not work with OGE to address his conflicts of interest like every President since 1978 has done. (The office was established by Congress after Nixon and the Watergate crisis). In typical Trump fashion, he went around the office charged with overseeing Executive Branch ethics to get an opinion that suited him.
What requirements does Trump need to meet in Schaub’s opinion?
The requirements of conflict of interest laws and regulations that apply to his cabinet members. This is in accordance with OGE policy since its inception. This policy was formalized in an OGE opinion during the Reagan era.
Why Is OGE’s policy to require compliance with COI laws Congress specifically exempted POTUS from?
According to Schaub, “Common sense dictates that a President can, of course, have very real conflicts of interest. A conflict of interest is anything that creates an incentive to put your own interests before the interests of the people you serve. The Supreme Court has written that a conflict of interest is, and I’m quoting here, “an evil which endangers the very fabric of a democratic society, for a democracy is effective only if the people have faith in those who govern, and that faith is bound to be shattered when high officials and their appointees engage in activities which arouse suspicions of corruption.”
What does Trump need to do to eliminate his conflicts of interest?
Trump needs to do what every President since Carter has done, sell his assets and put the proceeds in a blind trust with an independent manager. Yes, its may be painful and costly but it is the price of being the Leader of The Free World. It is the price every other President has willingly paid and it is the price Trump’s Executive Branch appointees must pay.
This kerfuffle is once again entirely of Trump’s making. His failure to work with OGE, the very office that is charge with preventing ethics issues in the Executive Branch, has left another dedicated public servant with few options but to publicly call Trump out for not meeting the requirements of his office.
In response, Trump, his team and other Republicans have attempted to humiliate and threaten the messenger.
We, the American people, need to remember that public servants like Mr. Schaub are ultimately responsibile to us. When all other options have been exhausted and others in the Government are failing to protect the United States, it is their duty to inform the American people of these failures.
Thank you Mr. Schaub for fulfilling your duty to the American people.