You Know It’s Bad When the Ethics Guy Quits

One of the hardest jobs in Washington, D.C. these days is monitoring the ethics of the Trump administration:  teaching newcomers to government about all the dos and don’ts, some of which aren’t as obvious as we might think, and gently prodding them when they appear to be straying from acceptable behavior.  The job is as much about education as it is about enforcement, and this new administration needs a lot of educating.

Which makes the job especially challenging.

So challenging, in fact, that the guy in charge of it just announced that he’s had enough and is quitting.

Walter Shaub, soon to be ex-director of the Office of Government Ethics, told the New York Times that

There isn’t much more I could accomplish at the Office of Government Ethics, given the current situation.  O.G.E.’s recent experiences have made it clear that the ethics program needs to be strengthened.

Shortly before Agent Orange took office, Shaub suggested that the president-elect liquidate his vast holdings, saying it was the only appropriate option from an ethics perspective.

We all know how that went over.

He recommended that the diabolical Kellyanne Conway be disciplined after going on television and encouraging viewers to buy Ivanka Trump products.

We all know how that went over, too.

Shaub then ran into trouble when he asked to see the waivers the Trump administration gave to people who were given White House jobs despite having conflicts of interest; most of them had been lobbyists.  It took a ten-page letter and a lot of publicity to make that happen.  All those people got to keep their jobs but at least the public learned who they are and the nature of their conflicts.

According to National Public Radio,

Walter Shaub Jr., outgoing director of the Office of Government Ethics, says there’s a new normal for ethics in the Trump administration.

“Even when we’re not talking strictly about violations, we’re talking about abandoning the norms and ethical traditions of the executive branch that have made our ethics program the gold standard in the world until now”…

Also,

“I can only describe my experience with the way they’ve run their ethics program in the White House right now as one of disappointment,” he told NPR, citing especially the ethics waivers for White House staffers. “That’s just no way to run an ethics program.”

Shaub ran into an obvious problem:  how do you hold unethical people to standards of ethics?

Ultimately he realized that you can’t.

Shaub knew his days were numbered even before Trump took the oath of office, as the online publication Politico reports.

In an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” host George Stephanopoulos played a pre-inauguration clip of Priebus, the former head of the Republican National Committee now serving as Trump’s chief of staff.

“The head of the government ethics ought to be careful, because that person is becoming extremely political,” Priebus said in the clip. His comment was in response to Shaub’s statement days earlier that Trump’s ethics arrangement regarding his massive business empire was “meaningless from a conflicts of interest.

Of course, in the Trump world they view it as irrational, and just plain wrong, for anyone not do exactly what they want exactly when they want, and it was clear from the start that Shaub wasn’t going to play ball.

Shaub saw the writing on the wall.

I think the fairly explicit threat from Reince Priebus during that show really is emblematic of how the interactions with the White House have been since the beginning of this administration..

So he won’t have that problem to deal with anymore.

The Curmudgeon saw Shaub on television last week.  He appeared on MSNBC, unadulterated left-wing tv, and they tried and tried and tried to get him to speak in a partisan manner and Shaub would have none of it.  He was thoughtful, he was articulate, he seemed interested only in the question of the ethics of those working in government.  He came across as exactly the kind of fair-minded person you would want holding such a job, but now he’s leaving government because he’s had enough.

Anyone who holds out hope that someone with ability and integrity will be appointed to replace Shaub hasn’t been paying attention.  That replacement is almost certain to be a lackey, a patsy, someone whom no one in the administration will hesitate to run over if needed.  The next person to hold this position, though, is unlikely do anything that necessitates running over.  The help wanted ad might as well say

Ethics chief wanted; boat-rockers need not apply.

Like chlamydia, ethics officials quitting could turn out to be highly contagious:  a few days after Shaub’s resignation, Hui Chen, a lawyer who held a similar position in the Justice Department, tendered her own resignation – and talked publicly about why.  As the online publication The Hill reported,

A top Justice Department official who serves as a corporate compliance watchdog has left her job, saying she felt she could no longer force companies to comply with the government’s ethics laws when members of the administration she works for have conducted themselves in a manner that she claims would not be tolerated.

Also,

“To sit across the table from companies and question how committed they were to ethics and compliance felt not only hypocritical, but very much like shuffling the deck chair on the Titanic,” Chen wrote.

The former federal prosecutor pointed to the multiple lawsuits filed against President Trump questioning the legality of his ties to his family business empire. 

“Even as I engaged in those questioning and evaluations, on my mind were the numerous lawsuits pending against the President of the United States for everything from violations of the Constitution to conflict of interest, the ongoing investigations of potentially treasonous conducts, and the investigators and prosecutors fired for their pursuits of principles and facts,” she continued.

 “Those are conducts I would not tolerate seeing in a company, yet I worked under an administration that engaged in exactly those conduct. I wanted no more part in it,” Chen said, adding that management in her office “persistently prohibited me from public speaking.

Say what you want about Barack Obama, but his eight years in office saw an elevated level of ethical behavior among executive-branch employees.  Questions about the honesty and integrity of the people who worked in his administration were few and far between.

Those days are now over and there’s a new sheriff in town.  Our government is led by people who either don’t know right from wrong or just don’t care.  In only seven months in office we’ve already seen numerous examples of dubious conduct by Trump administration officials, including the president himself, and now, there are fewer independent people of integrity left to blow the whistle on them and make them at least hesitate before they act.

Not that they were really hesitating anyway.

Ours is looking more and more like a government out of control.

 

 

 

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Comments

  • Peaches Shimmerdeep  On July 14, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    Deplorable. (And congrats on the turn of phrase “Like chlamydia”).

    • foureyedcurmudgeon  On July 14, 2017 at 4:17 pm

      Thank you: ALWAYS looking for opportunities to use kerfuffle, bumfuzzled, and chlamydia.

      More deplorable next week – and at the risk of becoming a total drag, twice, actually.

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