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Cummings Issues Statement on Trump-Chaffetz Coordinated Attack on Top Government Ethics Official

Jan 15, 2017
Press Release

Cummings Issues Statement on Trump-Chaffetz

Coordinated Attack on Top Government Ethics Official

Washington, D.C. (Jan. 15, 2017) – Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued the following statement after President-Elect Donald Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, appeared on national television and appeared to threaten Walter Shaub, the Director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), who has been critical of Trump’s refusal to divest in accordance with decades of advice from Republican and Democratic ethics officials:

“It now appears obvious 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.  Republicans should start doing their job under the Constitution rather than doubling-down on their retaliatory attacks against ethics officials, acting as the President-Elect’s personal cheerleaders, and doing back-flips to avoid doing any real oversight. 

“President-Elect Trump has tweeted that it is important ‘to in no way have a conflict of interest’ with his business enterprises and that ‘the Presidency is a far more important task’. I agree, which is why Congress needs to obtain the documents necessary to review the President-Elect’s massive global entanglements.  That is our duty under the Constitution.”

Appearing this morning on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Priebus issued a not-so-subtle threat, warning that Director Shaub “ought to be careful” in his criticism of Trump.  Priebus commended Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz for sending a letter earlier this week attacking Director Shaub, threatening funding for his office, and demanding that he appear for an interrogation behind closed doors.

Priebus stated, “I think Jason Chaffetz was correct to call for an investigation into the Government Ethics Department in the government for the positions that they've taken in this campaign.”

Yesterday, the New York Times revealed that Chaffetz admitted that he sent his letter to Director Shaub after talking personally to the Trump campaign “about Mr. Shaub and his series of public comments about Mr. Trump.”  According to the Times, “Mr. Chaffetz said that he had been in touch with the Trump team in recent days, speaking with Donald F. McGahn II, who will be Mr. Trump’s White House counsel.”

For the past two months, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings and other congressional Democrats have repeatedly asked Chaffetz to investigate Trump’s vast conflicts of interest, but Chaffetz has declined these requests.

Last week, Trump announced that he plans to defy warnings from Republican and Democratic ethics experts by refusing to do what every previous president has done for decades—divest himself of his corporate ownership interests, liquidate his business assets, and place them in a truly blind trust operated by an independent entity.

Director Shaub, the nation’s top government ethics expert, warned that Trump’s plan is “wholly inadequate.”  He also stated: “We can’t risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for profit.”  

His position was identical to that of Antonin Scalia when he served more than 40 years ago at the Department of Justice before becoming a Supreme Court Justice.

Chaffetz, also appearing on This Week, accused Director Shaub of acting unethically by offering conclusions without doing more investigation.  Yet, Chaffetz immediately commended Trump’s plan not to divest, proclaiming:  “he is going to great lengths to be as responsible as possible.”  Chaffetz admitted that he has not held one hearing, conducted one interview, or received a single document about Trump’s plan.

Chaffetz also stated this morning that he has no plans—even after Trump is sworn in—to obtain any documents relating to this issue, claiming that such concerns are “speculative” and should be directed to the White House.

Over the past week, a growing and bipartisan group of good-government groups, Republican and Democratic ethics experts, and Members of Congress had increasingly criticized Chaffetz for publicly attacking Director Shaub while not investigating Trump’s refusal to divest.

115th Congress