In a letter sent today to Reince Priebus, incoming White House chief of staff, a group of nineteen organizations and individuals with governance expertise challenged Priebus’ comments as “highly inappropriate and an obvious effort to intimidate” the director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub.

The signers of the letter included Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush and Norman Eisen, chief White House ethics lawyer for President Barack Obama.

According to the letter, Priebus’ threatening comments “are part of what appears to a pattern of attacks on ethics rules for Executive Branch officials and members of Congress by trying to undermine the oversight and enforcement of these rules.”

In addition to the Priebus effort, the letter referred to the effort made by House leaders to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics and to the threats made to the Office of Government Ethics by another House leader, Representative Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The Priebus letter stated that Shaub “has correctly described as “wholly inadequate” President-elect Trump’s recently announced plan to deal with the serious conflicts of interest and Emoluments Clause problems he faces the moment he becomes president.”

The letter said the statements by Priebus “represent a classic example of “shoot the messenger” as a way to shift attention away from the failure of President-elect Trump to take necessary steps to solve his serious ethics problems.”

According to the letter:

Instead of threatening the OGE director, we would urge you to focus your attention on persuading President-elect Trump to eliminate the ethics and conflicts of interest problems facing him, just as former presidents have done for the past four decades.

The letter stated:

Ethics rules and standards exist to protect the American people from conflicts of interest, self-dealing, the improper use of public office for personal gain and other abuses of office by public officials.  Presidents and members of Congress are not free to ignore these rules and standards as they see fit. While one statutory provision dealing with conflicts of interest does not cover the president, other ethics rules and the Emoluments Clause do cover him, as do general standards of ethical behavior.

According to the letter:

No president in our history has ever attempted to own and financially benefit from a worldwide business empire at the same time he served as president. President-elect Trump’s plan to do this is a disservice to the American people and is bound to end in very serious problems for President Trump and for the country.

The letter concluded:

As the incoming White House chief of staff, we call on you to do everything you can to persuade President-elect Trump to eliminate the serious conflicts of interest and Emoluments Clause problems he is about to face.

We also call on you and others in the incoming administration to refrain from using threats and intimidation in an effort to prevent OGE from properly doing its job to protect the interests of the American people.

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