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The Government's Chief Ethics Guy Keeping Tabs on Trump Just Quit

Walter Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, says "the current situation has made it clear that the ethics program needs to be stronger than it is."

by Mike Pearl
Jul 6 2017, 8:28pm

Photo via AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Common Cause On Thursday, Walter Shaub Jr. announced his resignation as director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) effective Wednesday, July 19. The 2013 Obama appointee was expected to serve out the remainder of his five-year term—a length specifically designed to prevent overt politicization of the office.

Shaub, who's been highly outspoken about Donald Trump's many conflicts of interest, is now taking a job at the Campaign Legal Center—a DC nonprofit that calls itself a group of lawyers who are "fighting for your fundamental right to participate in the political process."

On Thursday, the former OGE head told NPR that "the current situation has made it clear that the ethics program needs to be stronger than it is. At the Campaign Legal Center, I'll have more freedom to push for reform. I'll also be broadening my focus to include ethics issues at all levels of government."

Since Trump's election, Shaub has repeatedly expressed concerns about the president's business affairs interfering with his government work. In November, he was personally responsible for a series of unusual tweets from the official OGE account, in which he encouraged then President-elect Trump to divest some of his assets to avoid conflicts of interest. That effort was largely unsuccessful, but resulted in a flood of correspondence from the public to the OGE.

Since then, Trump's allies have consistently accused Shaub of politicizing his role as the top ethics watchdog. In January, a Republican PAC sent a series of FOIA requests "to understand better what partisan politics are afoot at OGE," and then incoming White House chief-of-staff Reince Priebus warned Shaub to "be careful" about politicizing his office during a TV appearance.

Just last week, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters accused Shaub of "distorting facts and attempting to tarnish the White House for purposes of a partisan agenda" in response to concerns he shared about White House lawyer and "designated agency ethics official" Stefan Passantino. Passantino has done paid work for Trump advisor Carl Icahn, HUD secretary Ben Carson, and HHS head Tom Price before they joined the administration.

Trump will now be responsible for naming a new director, although the position is subject to a confirmation process. Paul S. Ryan (no relation to the Speaker of the House)—one of the vice presidents of Common Cause, a watchdog group that considers itself nonpartisan—told Bloomberg, "It's a big hit for democracy to have one of the only effective watchdogs of the Trump administration's ethics within government now leaving."

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Update 7/6: This article has been updated to reflect Common Cause's self-identification as nonpartisan, rather than left-leaning.