Rep. Chaffetz Should Thank Ethics Chief, Not Threaten Him

    Media Contact
  • Dale Eisman
Statement by Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn

As chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Jason Chaffetz ought to acknowledge that Americans want our public officials to observe the highest ethical standards and do all he can to ensure that President-elect Donald Trump, his cabinet nominees, and his administration meet or exceed those standards.

Instead, Rep. Chaffetz, R-UT, is trying to muzzle the executive branch’s chief ethics watchdog. His threat to subpoena Walter Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), and an ominous accompanying reminder that lawmakers have the power to shut the office down, is the latest in a disturbing series of signals about attitudes toward ethics enforcement in the new Congress and administration.

In a speech on Wednesday, Shaub challenged President-elect Donald Trump to come up with a viable plan to avoid conflicts between his new responsibilities as President and his personal financial interests. The trust arrangement Trump has outlined, with the President-elect maintaining ownership of his businesses and management assigned to his two adult sons, is “wholly inadequate,” Shaub declared.

A growing list of Republican and Democratic lawyers share Shaub’s concerns. But rather than thanking the OGE chief for speaking out and using his clout as a senior member of the House to prod the Trump team to produce a better plan, Rep. Chaffetz has set out to bring Shaub to heel.

This all comes less than two weeks after a public outcry, supplemented by Tweets from the President-elect, forced House Republicans to back away from a plan to undermine their own independent ethics watchdog, the Office of Congressional Ethics.  Despite that pushback, Republicans still slipped a measure into the rules declaring that records produced or held by House members’ offices “are exclusively the personal property of the individual Member.” The language will allow lawmakers to shield those documents from ethics and criminal investigators.

Less than two weeks into the new Congress, Chaffetz and his committee have plenty of serious issues to confront, including Trump’s, and his cabinet’s, potential conflicts of interest and violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. Those matters cry out for oversight and Americans expect our elected representatives to provide it.

Read a letter sent today on ethics enforcement from Karen Hobert Flynn to Rep. Chaffetz.