Society

Ethics Chief Says US 'Close To A Laughingstock'

| by Jordan Smith
Donald TrumpDonald Trump

The United States is "close to a laughingstock" on ethical questions, according to the head of the Office for Government Ethics (OGE).

Walter Shaub, who will resign his position July 18, made the comments in an interview with The New York Times.

Former President Barack Obama appointed Shaub to a five-year term to head the office in 2013. But Shaub has increasingly been at odds with President Donald Trump's administration, including with his demand that Trump sell his assets in line with the actions of previous presidents.

"It's hard for the united States to pursue international anticorruption and ethics initiatives when we're not even keeping our own side of the street clean," Shaub told The Times. "It affects our credibility. I think we are pretty close to a laughingstock at this point."

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Shaub spoke to the newspaper as Trump spent the weekend at a family-owned golf course. The ethics chief said Trump's frequent visits to his properties, where he has spent 54 days since coming to office, troubled him.

"It creates the  appearance of profiting from the presidency," he added. "Misuse of position is really the heart of the ethics program, and the internationally accepted definition of corruption is abuse of entrusted power. It undermines the government ethics program by casting doubt on the integrity of government decision making."

The White House rejected Shaub's criticisms in a statement.

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"Mr. Schaub's penchant for raising concerns on matters well outside his scope with the media before ever raising them with the White House -- which happens to be his actual day job -- is rather telling," wrote spokeswoman Lindsay Walters in a statement which spelled Shaub's name incorrectly. "The truth is, Mr. Schaub is not interested in advising the executive branch on ethics. He's interested in grandstanding and lobbying for more expansive powers in the office he holds."

However, Shaub insists he is not trying to be partisan.

"I don't like the fair-weather friends who are supportive of the ethics program only as a political tool against this present administration," Shaub told The Times. "My goal from the start has been to advance the ethics program, not a political goal."

Shaub has proposed a number of changes to give the OGE additional powers. Among them are measures enabling the office to subpoena records in certain cases, negotiate prohibitions on presidential conflicts of interest, and mandate presidential candidates to release their tax returns.

The Trump administration has also seen criticism over its appointments of individuals with close ties to industry and business to oversee deregulation efforts in a number of areas. The Times reported that it identified 71 appointees across various departments, including 28 with potential conflicts of interest.

In one case, the Department of Education is employing two people who formerly worked as charter school advocates.

The newspaper noted that several federal agencies have yet to release information on who is part of their deregulation teams.

Sources: The New York Times, (2) / Photo credit: The White House/Flickr (2), Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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