Government Ethics Chief Steps Down After Determining His Existence Is Futile

Walter Shaub. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Six months before the end of his five-year term, the government’s top ethics watchdog, Walter Shaub Jr., is calling it quits after high-profile battles with the Trump administration left him pessimistic about his ability to do any good from within the Office of Government and Ethics.

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

Upon his resignation on July 19, Schaub plans to join the Campaign Legal Center, where he will expand the nonpartisan group’s efforts to monitor government ethics from the outside. “At the Campaign Legal Center, I’ll have more freedom to push for reform,” he told NPR Thursday. “I’ll also be broadening my focus to include ethics issues at all levels of government.”

Shaub’s departure comes after months of clashes with the Trump administration. The spats began three weeks after the election when Shuab used the official O.G.E. Twitter account to mock Trump’s refusal to divest from his business. By leaving his sons in charge of his trust, Trump’s didn’t “meet the standards that … every president in the past four decades has met,” Schaub said in January.

The typically low-profile position Schaub occupies has been thrust into the headlines this year thanks to the many ethical quagmires created by different members of the Trump administration. Schaub has been in the news calling for Kellyanne Conway to be punished for promoting Ivanka Trump’s clothing line and for refusing to comply with the White House’s request to keep its ethics waivers secret, among other things.

By leaving his post, Schaub may be relieving himself of endless frustration, but he’s also giving Trump a gift — the ability to appoint his own head of O.G.E. six months before he otherwise would have been able to. That comes with a downside though. The position requires Senate confirmation and it’s not hard to imagine the Democratic playbook in a setting where Trump’s ethics are the topic of the day.

As the Times notes though, if the White House wants to avoid giving Democrats a platform to rail about the president’s unethical behavior, Trump could pick an acting director and leave him in charge indefinitely.

It might not be the ethical thing to do, but when has that stopped Trump?

Government Ethics Chief Steps Down