It looks like the Democrats will stop at nothing to bash Trump and his presidency, in any capacity. Luckily we have guys like Jason Chaffetz on our side to shoot down their insanity.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the head of the House Oversight Committee, criticized the director of the federal Office of Government Ethics on Thursday over his criticism of Donald Trump’s plan to address conflicts of interest. And he threatened to subpoena the official, Walter Shaub, if he refuses to participate in an official interview.
“He seems to be acting prematurely at best, without doing investigations or thorough looks,” Chaffetz said in an interview. “He’s rendering opinions publicly that really cause you to scratch your head. We need the Office of Government Ethics to act ethically. Ironically, that’s not what they’re doing.”
Shaub, an appointee of President Barack Obama, has been a frequent critics of the incoming administration’s ethics plans, peaking Wednesday when he called Trump’s newly unveiled conflicts of interest policy “meaningless.”
The public rebuke of Trump’s business arrangements came during a press conference at the Brookings Institution that included the outspoken former White House ethics lawyers for Obama and former President George W. Bush. In his remarks, Shaub said the president-elect “stepping back from running his positions is meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective.”
“The plan does not comport with the tradition of our presidents over the last 40 years,” he added.
Chaffetz said Shaub has refused since the election to agree to a meeting to discuss matters related to OGE’s public remarks about Trump, as well as the Republican-led panel’s plans to pass language reauthorizing the office. If Shaub continues to resist, Chaffetz said he’d issue a subpoena “if we have to.”
“He is coming in. This is not going to be an optional exercise,” Chaffetz said, adding that he expected a meeting within a few weeks.
Shaub’s 5-year term expires in January 2018.
“We need a fair person behind the plate that’s going to call balls and strikes,” Chaffetz said. “What they’re supposed to do is help work with somebody to comply with the ethics requirements. But when you talk publicly about private conversations, that’s not ethical. And when you refuse to come in and talk to the committee when you’re doing reauthorization, when you start tweeting and issuing press statements on things you never looked at, that shouldn’t be the case at all.”
Earlier Thursday, Chaffetz had praised Trump’s newly announced ethics policy. “President-elect Trump’s obligation is to comply with the laws on the books. It appears he is going to great lengths to be as responsible as possible and comply with those requirements,” he said in a statement.
On Wednesday, Trump rolled out an ethics policy that places his two adult sons and a longtime executive in charge of his company, as well as imposing a prohibition on new international deals and requiring a newly-appointed Trump Organization ethics staffer to review any domestic changes in the portfolio. The approach falls short of the total divestment that Shaub, ethics officials and many Democrats have called for.
This isn’t Chaffetz’s first time challenging Shaub. In late 2015, the Republican accused the Obama appointee of giving Hillary Clinton a pass on conflict-of-interest laws over speaking fees she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, were supposed to disclose. But Chaffetz said he’s grown more frustrated with Shaub since the November election and also singled out the OGE’s use of its official Twitter account to issue a bizarre series of posts — in Trump’s own staccato style — congratulating the president-elect for making major changes to his business arrangements.
At the Brookings event Wednesday, Shaub explained why he’d directed Trump a tweet storm at Trump in late November, an unusual series of missives written in a style similar to Trump’s own. “My thinking was that more pointed language would have been too strong at a point in time when he was still trying to make up his mind,” he said.
A spokesman for the OGE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The OGE director is also under fire from conservative groups over his criticism of Trump and other administration officials. On Twitter, Judicial Watch Chief Tom Fitton said the ethics chief “abuses his office, per the Obama way.” And the conservative super PAC America Rising targeted Shaub, filing Freedom of Information Act requests with his office seeking information that they allege may show it is coordinating with Democrats to smear the Trump administration.
“The American people deserve to know if Walter Shaub has turned the ethics office into an arm of the Senate Democrats’ campaign of obstruction,” said America Rising’s Scott Sloofman.
Chaffetz’s 2015 clash with Shaub grew out of reports in POLITICO and other news outlets that Hillary Clinton’s financial disclosure reports omitted paid speeches given by her husband when the speaking fees were directed to the Clinton Foundation. In some instances the payments came from foreign government entities.
Shaub’s office indicated at the time that such omissions could be appropriate if the person involved was speaking on behalf of an organization and not in their individual capacity. However, other ethics experts disagreed and said the honoraria directed to charity should have been reported.
Following the press reports, Hillary Clinton’s campaign disclosed nearly 100 speeches she, the former president and daughter Chelsea gave since 2002 on behalf of the Clinton Foundation, bringing in over $12 million for the charity.
At a hearing in December of that year, Chaffetz grilled Shaub about his office’s position on the issue. He insisted disclosure was not required.
“It’s not even a close call as to whether it would be reportable if you’re acting as an agent of a foundation. It’s not even a close call. I could tell you unambiguously that’s not reportable,” Shaub said, notwithstanding the criticism leveled by other ethics experts and questions about whether the speeches were actually related to the Clinton Foundation.
Chaffetz accused the ethics office of rubber stamping the disclosure forms without investigating their accuracy. “You shuffle paperwork. There’s no consequence. There’s no accountability. There’s no review and there’s no investigations. Why do we need you?” the Utah Republican said at the time.
Later that month, Chaffetz sent Shaub a detailed demand for documents relating to the ethics office’s handling of Clinton’s financial disclosures. It’s unclear what information the committee received, if any.