Trump Aide Says Ethics Chief Should ‘Be Careful’ in Comments

  • Priebus says ethics head Shaub becoming ‘extremely political’
  • Incoming White House chief of staff speaks on ABC ‘This Week’

Donald Trump’s incoming chief of staff warned that the top U.S. ethics official “ought to be careful” after publicly criticizing the president-elect’s plan to step down from leading his businesses while keeping his ownership interests.

“That person is becoming extremely political,” incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” about Walter Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics.

“I’m not sure what this person at Government Ethics, what sort of standing he has any more to be giving these opinions,” Priebus said.

In announcing his plan on Jan. 11, Trump said his two adult sons would run the company and would take steps to limit any conflicts, including a ban on new international business deals. He also said his hotels would pay any profits derived from foreign governments’ spending to the U.S. Treasury.

QuickTake on Trump Conflict Concerns That Won’t Go Away

Hours later, Shaub said at the Brookings Institution that Trump’s plan to step down from leadership roles while still owning the business was “meaningless from a conflicts-of-interest perspective.”

“We can’t risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for personal profits,” Shaub said in remarks at the Washington research group.

Mandate Overstepped?

Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who chairs the House Oversight Committee, responded by telling Shaub in a letter that he’d overstepped his mandate as ethics director. Chaffetz summoned Shaub for a closed-door interview to explain his actions later this month.

“How does he come to his current conclusion having never done an investigation?” Chaffetz said on ABC. The lawmaker also said he won’t go on a “fishing expedition” to investigate whether Trump’s business interests create conflicts of interest.

Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on Chaffetz’s committee, said in a statement Sunday, “It now appears that Chairman Chaffetz and the Trump campaign are engaged in a blatant, coordinated attack on our nation’s top ethics official simply because he is trying to protect against conflicts of interest and constitutional violations by the incoming president.”

The OGE is an independent agency with the mission of providing oversight of the executive branch’s ethics program to prevent and resolve conflicts of interest. It works with ethics officials in more than 130 agencies.

Shaub, an attorney who’s been with the agency since 2008, was appointed to a five-year term as OGE’s head by President Barack Obama in 2013. His office didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment Sunday.

National Public Radio reported that the ethics office’s website crashed Friday afternoon, apparently overwhelmed with traffic during the political fight.

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