“Chairman Chaffetz originally requested a meeting with Mr. Shaub almost two months ago in order to discuss the mission of the Office of Government Ethics,” M.J. Henshaw, a committee spokeswoman, said in an email. “The Chairman looks forward to a productive discussion on ways to update and strengthen the agency.”
Shaub, appointed by President Obama to lead the ethics office that helps incoming presidents and Cabinet nominees address potential conflicts of interest, had wanted to have a public conversation after a news conference he held at the Brookings Institution put him in the crosshairs of GOP lawmakers. In a 13-minute address last week, hours after Trump announced he would place his businesses in a trust managed by his elder sons, Shaub denounced the plan as a “wholly inadequate” strategy to avoid conflicts of interest.
The rebuke followed a series of tweets Shaub sent in late November that heaped praise on Trump for divesting his assets — something he had not, and has not, done.
Government ethics analysts praised Shaub for coming forward. Republicans accused him of partisanship. Shaub contributed $500 to Obama’s reelection campaign before the outgoing president appointed him to a five-year term that ends in a year.
After Shaub’s appearance at Brookings, Chaffetz sent Shaub a letter summoning him to appear before lawmakers for a transcribed interview that congressional staffers said would be similar to a deposition in a court case. The chairman said he had reached out to Shaub after the election for a private meeting, but he complained last week that the ethics chief was unresponsive.
Chaffetz noted in the letter that the ethics office is up for reauthorization from Congress, a sentence Shaub’s supporters viewed as a veiled threat to strip the office’s funding.
Shaub responded to Chaffetz in a letter this week in which he pressed for a public meeting “to ensure transparency.”
Here’s an excerpt from the Jan. 16 response:
Allowing the public to attend our meeting — or, at the very least, to view it through live broadcast or the attendance of the news media — would ensure transparency and educate the public about how OGE guards the executive branch against conflicts of interest. As you know, I have devoted most of my career to government ethics. I believe passionately that ethics matters and that if Americans do not have confidence that their government leaders’ decisions are free from conflicts, the integrity of our government suffers. I have had the honor of helping thousands of officials from both parties ensure that their work is free from any conflicts of interest. In recent weeks, I have spoken publicly about my concerns about the President Elect’s current plan to not divest — as well as to applaud some of his nominees’ ethics agreements, such as Rex Tillerson’s. My remarks were intended to educate the public about the shortcomings of the President Elect’s current plan and made in the hopes of persuading him to make adjustments that will resolve his conflicts of interest. I believe these remarks to be in line with OGE’s mission.”
Chaffetz did not agree to a public meeting but pulled back from a deposition-like arrangement, agreeing to a meeting Jan. 23 and signaling a conciliatory turn. A spokesman for the ethics office did not respond to a request for comment on the meeting.