The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee on Thursday issued a stern letter, including a veiled threat of an investigation, to the federal government's top ethics monitor, who this week had questioned President-elect Donald J. Trump's commitment to confront his potential conflicts of interest.In an unusual action against the independent Office of Government Ethics, Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah accused the office's director, Walter M. Shaub Jr., of "blurring the line between public relations and official ethics guidance."
Following months of questions and controversies, Donald Trump this week unveiled his plan to address his many conflicts of interest. Almost immediately, legal and ethical experts panned the president-elect's approach as a joke -- and some literally laughed out loud at Trump's proposed solution.One of the most notable critics, however, was Walter Shaub, the director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, an independent, non-partisan office, which tries to prevent conflicts of interest among high-ranking federal officials. And as Rachel noted on the show the other day, after Trump unveiled his so-called plan, Shaub, who started working at the OGE during the Bush/Cheney era, gave a blunt and passionate assessment criticizing the president-elect's approach.As the New York Times reported, Shaub learned yesterday he's being called to Capitol Hill -- and it's not to receive a reward.
It's one thing for Republicans to look the other way in response to Trump's conflicts of interest; it's almost certainly worse when they target a public official who takes the issue seriously because he did his job.The report added that Chaffetz, in his letter, also "noted his committee's authority to reauthorize the office, a hint that it could perhaps be shut down."Asked for his response, Richard Painter, who served as an ethics lawyer in the Bush/Cheney administration told the Times that Chaffetz appeared to be trying to punish Shaub for criticizing Trump. "[Congressional Republicans] are obviously very upset the Office of Government Ethics is leaning on Trump and not willing to jam through his nominees," Painter said. "It is political retaliation."Let's not miss the broader context: two months ago, congressional Democrats had already pleaded with Chaffetz to hold Oversight Committee hearings on Trump's various conflict-of-interest controversies. So far, Chaffetz has ignored them.The Utah Republican does, however, intend to investigate Hillary Clinton's emails even further."My job in this role is not to protect or be a cheerleader for the president," Chaffetz told BuzzFeed this week. "It's just not."I wish it were possible to accept that claim at face value.