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A Voice Crying Out in the Post-Ethics Wilderness

May 24, 2017

Let us now praise Walter M. Shaub, Jr.

In case that name doesn’t ring a bell, he is the head of the Office of Government Ethics, and the man trying to hold back the flood of corruption unleashed by the Trump kleptocracy.

Shaub is now involved in a battle with the White House after he requested release of the names of all former lobbyists who have been given waivers to work in the White House or federal agencies by the Trump administration–a request which the White House has demanded that he withdraw while challenging his authority to ask for the information.

The New York Times reports that dozens of former lobbyists and industry lawyers are now “working in the Trump administration, which has hired them at a much higher rate than the previous  administration.” Such lobbyists and lawyers are prohibited from working on matters involving former clients for two years, and lobbyists can’t work on the regulatory issues that they had previously lobbied on. The reasons should be obvious.

However, the administration can issue waivers. According to the NYT story, the Obama administration automatically made all waivers public and included detailed explanations for each waiver. In contrast, the Trump Administration has kept them secret, hence the request for information made by Shaub on behalf of the OGE.

The aggressive refusal of the Trump administration to comply has shocked those familiar with past practices and has raised new concerns about what they are trying to conceal. By law, the OGE has clear authority to make such a “data request” to federal agencies (though there is some debate whether the White House itself is considered a “federal agency”). In any case, Shaub clearly isn’t backing down and shot off a blistering 10-page response to the White House’s rebuff of the original request.

Now Democrats in congress are protesting the secret waivers and threatening to issue their own demands for information if the White House continues to stonewall. As usual, congressional Republicans are attacking Shaub and his agency for doing their job.

Back in November, soon after the election, Shaub sent out a series of tongue-in-cheek tweets which congratulated Trump for his decision to divest himself of his assets and cited laws, regulations, and established custom for doing so.  Of course, Trump did no such thing. And after Trump’s laughable announcement that he was turning over management of his assets to this sons while retaining full ownership, and the inclusion of Ivanka and her husband in the White House staff while they retained de facto control of their enterprises, Shaub rebuked them for their pitifully inadequate steps to avoid conflicts of interests.  This in turn, aroused Republican attack dogs in congress, like Jason Chaffetz, to attack the ethics watchdog.

The Trump famiglia‘s shameless exploitation of the White House for personal enrichment is bad enough to warrant outrage and investigation. But potentially far worse would be the wholesale turnover of federal government agencies to the agents of the corporations, industries, and interests they are supposed to regulate on behalf of the American people as a whole.

Some of this is happening in plain sight with the appointment of people like Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos, Rex Tillerson, Wilbur Ross, etc. to cabinet level positions. But those, at least, require senate confirmation and public scrutiny.  Secretly embedding scores of corporate and industry agents in key positions in federal agencies is another matter entirely and should be strongly denounced and resisted.

We seem to be well on our way to government by the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned against. It may be a losing battle, but be glad for true patriots in the professional federal bureaucracy like Walter Shaub who are trying to keep some hope alive for government by the people rather than corporations. His fight should concern us all.







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