Following months of repeated battles with the Trump administration over its reluctance to comply with even the most basic standards of transparency, Office of Government Ethics (OGE) Director Walter Shaub Jr. announced his resignation on Thursday, citing problems with “the current situation” at the White House.
“This president has repeatedly repudiated democratic norms for transparency, accountability, and ethics for the most powerful position in the federal government.”
—Alex Howard, Sunlight FoundationRecent developments have “made it clear that the ethics program needs to be stronger than it is,” Shaub told NPR in an interview. His resignation is effective July 19, at which point he is set to work for The Campaign Legal Center, where he said he will “have more freedom to push for reform.”
“The great privilege and honor of my career has been to lead the OGE’s staff and community of ethics officials in the federal executive branch,” Shaub wrote in his letter of resignation. “They are committed to protecting the principle that public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the constitution, the laws, and ethical principle above private gain.”
Shaub is the second ethics official to resign in recent weeks. As Common Dreams reported, corporate crime watchdog Hui Chen chose to leave the Department of Justice recently because she found it impossible to “hold companies to standards that our current administration is not living up to.”
Of the many clashes between Shaub and the Trump White House, the most prominent conflict was over the administration’s refusal to reveal the names of staffers who had received ethics waivers.
In April, Shaub began publicly demanding that the White House make those waivers public. He won that battle at the end of May, when the administration released the information for White House appointees, including chief of staff Reince Priebus, counselor Kellyanne Conway and chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Waivers are considered public documents, but the Trump White House had been holding them back, saying OGE lacked the legal authority to require disclosure. After weeks of back and forth, the administration did start to post the waivers online and Shaub said public disclosure of “the waivers is critical to ensuring that agencies and individual appointees are adhering to ethics requirements.”
Shaub also rebuked Trump for his refusal to hold his advisors accountable. When presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway endorsed Ivanka Trump’s clothing line and told people to “go buy [her] stuff on “Fox & Friends” in February, Shaub argued that Trump’s refusal to take action was indicative of a deep lack of commitment to common ethical standards.
“Presidential administrations,” Shaub wrote, “have not considered it appropriate to challenge the applicability of ethics rules to the entire executive branch.”
Alex Howard of the Sunlight Foundation argued that Shaub’s resignation should “be taken as a bat signal to Members of Congress who, despite reams evidence of unresolved conflicts, have been far too reticent to oversee ethics in government or threats to transparency under the Trump administration.”
“This president has repeatedly repudiated democratic norms for transparency, accountability, and ethics for the most powerful position in the federal government,” Howard concluded. “Until President Trump holds himself subject to federal ethics laws, disclosing his tax returns and divesting from his foreign and domestic business interests, both real and rumored corruption will continue to put this presidency in shadow.”