— U.S. OGE (@OfficeGovEthics) April 19, 2017
The Office of Government Ethics just shared an astonishing measure, above, of public alarm over President Trump's potential conflicts of interest.
The OGE works to identify and avoid conflicts of interest among the members of the executive branch. The ascension of Trump, a wealthy executive with his own sprawling business empire, to the White House has created a challenge for the ethicists and lawyers tasked with keeping track of all the president's entanglements.
Among other things, Trump has
- Refused to release his tax returns
- Refused to completely divest from his businesses
- Secretly issued ethics waivers to some staffers
- Traveled to his private resort at taxpayer expense numerous times
And when it comes to potential ethics violations, those are just the tip of the iceberg.
The OGE's numbers in the chart above suggest that many voters are deeply concerned about these issues. During the two fiscal quarters covering Barack Obama's first election and inauguration (October 2008 to March 2009), the OGE fielded 733 inquires from the public.
By contrast, during the comparable period for the Trump administration (October 2016 to March 2017), the office has received 39,105 inquires -- an increase of roughly 5,200 percent.
OGE Director Walter Shaub says his office is inundated with calls and emails. “We've even had a couple days where the volume was so huge it filled up the voicemail box, and we couldn't clear the calls as fast as they were coming in,” he told NPR News earlier this week.
But OGE can only advise the executive branch -- it doesn't have the power to investigate potential violations or enforce its own guidelines. That work falls to the House Oversight Committee, led by Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz. Chaffetz has not been terribly interested in investigating White House ethics breaches so far. (He also on Wednesday announced he will not seek reelection.)
While the White House has dismissed ethics concerns, saying that legally speaking it's impossible for a president to have conflict of interest and claiming that the public doesn't care, this past weekend saw widespread public protests calling on the president to release his tax returns.
Trump responded by alleging, without evidence, that the rallies were paid for by some unknown third party.