Reince Priebus’ Jan. 15 warning to Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub that he was becoming too political was emblematic of his interactions with President Donald Trump’s White House, the outgoing OGE chief said Sunday.
Shaub announced last week that he would resign from his position, effective July 19.
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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 perspective.”
“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,” said Shaub, who has accepted a position with the Campaign Legal Center as senior direct of ethics.
Shaub said he always thought federal ethics rules were sturdy enough “to protect the integrity of the government’s operations.” But his experience during the Trump administration has convinced him that the rules need strengthening, he said, and that he had accomplished all he could in his role.
“When the opportunity at the Campaign Legal Center came up, I wanted to seize it before it was gone because I really think I may be able to have more impact from outside the government than inside at this point, because I’ll have a lot more freedom outside the government,” he said.
In a statement Friday to ABC, a White House official said Shaub “has been outspoken by leaking, tweeting, and writing letters to Democrat members of Congress, but … never once raised travel, passive holdings or other ethics issues involving the president in a single discussion with the White House counsel or deputy counsel overseeing ethics and compliance.”
Shaub called the statement “ridiculous” and argued that he has been responsive to Republicans and Democrats. He said he spoke to the White House counsel several times before the counsel absented himself and had Shaub work with the counsel’s deputy in charge of ethics.
As for the increasingly public nature of his role in the Trump administration, Shaub suggested he only has what he called “two sources of leverage,” pointing to the White House and the public. Lacking support from the White House, “The only other avenue OGE has to leverage change is communicating with the public and enlisting them,” he added.