Ethics and conflict of interest rules exist to protect the American people from corruption, the misuse of public office for personal financial gain and other abuses of public office.
However, House Republicans have shown very little interest in ethics and conflict of interest rules – except when anyone tries to make them work.
At the beginning of this Congress, House Republicans attempted a sneak attack to try to gut the House Office of Congressional Ethics, the only institution in Congress that has provided effective ethics oversight and enforcement. This was literally an effort initiated in the dead of night with no public notice and planned to take place the next day.
An immediate public uproar played a central role in forcing House Republicans to withdraw the proposal.
Now Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is harassing and threatening to punish the Office of Government Ethics and its director, Walter Shaub, for the outrageous action of doing their job. Representative Chaffetz has even hinted that the agency might be shut down by his committee failing to reauthorize it.
This is a classic case of shooting the messenger, rather than taking seriously the message.
The OGE director has correctly pointed out that President-elect Trump’s announced plan to deal with his business empire is “wholly inadequate” to address the conflict of interest problems he will face as president. The same OGE director has labeled the ethics plan adopted by Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, “a sterling model for what we’d like to see with other nominees.”
The Chaffetz scheme appears designed to provide cover for President-elect Trump’s indefensible conflict of interest plan by threatening and harassing OGE and its director.
On top of this, Chaffetz is proposing to go after OGE in a closed door session, otherwise known as a star chamber proceeding. Once again, House Republicans are attempting to attack ethics oversight and enforcement in the dark, no doubt because they know these efforts cannot stand the light of day.
House Republican leaders should shut down the Chaffetz witch hunt, as they did to the earlier effort this month to emasculate the Office of Congressional Ethics.