Politics

Ethics Office Director Resigns to Join Watchdog Group

“The White House accepts Mr. Shaub’s resignation and appreciates his service.”

Walter Shaub Jr. (Courtesy Office of Government Ethics)

The director of the federal Office of Government Ethics, who has clashed repeatedly with the Trump administration, announced Thursday he will step down before his term ends to join a nonpartisan watchdog organization.

Walter Shaub Jr. is leaving the post he’s held since January 2013 to become senior director for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center. Shaub’s resignation and new position take effect July 19.

“In working with the current administration, it has become clear to me that we need improvements to the existing ethics program,” Shaub said in a statement released by the CLC.

He did not elaborate on what improvements are needed. An appointee of President Barack Obama, Shaub had about six months left in his five-year term.

“The White House accepts Mr. Shaub’s resignation and appreciates his service. The president will be nominating a successor in short order," said Lindsay Walters, a White House spokeswoman.

OGE, which is not an enforcement agency, was created in 1978 and serves primarily to assist government officials with disclosures about their investments and financial holdings. The ethics office is “about preventing problems,” Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, told CQ in January. 

OGE gained national attention shortly after the 2016 presidential election with a series of tweets directed at Trump, which cheekily encouraged the real estate mogul to divest his businesses to avoid any conflicts.

But when Trump decided against full divestiture and handed control of his businesses to his adult sons, Shaub criticized Trump for continuing to own his real estate company.

Democrats and ethics experts have had a steady stream of complaints ever since about Trump’s business interests, including events paid for by foreign governments at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. About 200 Democratic members of Congress recently filed a lawsuit against Trump, charging that the president is in violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause that forbids gifts from foreign leaders.

Shaub also raised the ire of the White House when he demanded the administration make public any ethics waivers granted to presidential appointees working at the White House and in the administration. Documents released in May and June show former lobbyists in the administration have received waivers to influence policies such as health care, immigration and taxes that affect their former K Street clients.

“Today is a sad day for the government’s ethics program,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, said in a statement.

Cummings urged Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., to invite Shaub to testify before the panel about the lessons he learned while leading the Office of Government Ethics.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer hailed Shaub as a “good, honest man.”

The New York senator said in a statement it is imperative that Shaub’s successor demonstrate a commitment “to actually draining the swamp and ensuring administration officials are not using their positions for personal gain” and to “preventing lobbyists and other representatives of special interests from further rigging the system.”

Shaub, a lawyer, will work at the Campaign Legal Center with Larry Noble, the organization’s senior director and general counsel, who is an expert on campaign finance and ethics. Shaub said he will work “on ethics reforms at all levels of government.”

In his resignation letter posted on Twitter, Shaub saluted his colleagues at the tiny federal agency.

“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 the ethical principles above private gain,” Shaub said.

The words “public service is a public trust” were emphasized in italics in the letter.

John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.