So Walter Schaub, chief of the Office of Government Ethics, gave literally his two weeks notice.
Any ethics director would have had a parlous relationship with the Trump administration, not only stylistically but substantively. The government ethics program, which only covers the executive branch, was never designed for business executives with widespread interests and a brand identity. Most corporate executives could hit the ethics gates by placing their financial holdings in trust. This wasn’t true for Trump. Having said that, Schaub, a Democrat donor (I know, we aren’t supposed to mention it anymore when a high ranking bureaucrat who is at odds with the president is also a donor to Democrat candidates and progressive causes) went out of his way to pick fights with the incoming administration. In December, Schaub personally authored a series of Trump-esque tweets and distributed them via OGE’s official Twitter feed mocking Trump. Unprofessional, to be sure, and, when you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t take jokes all that well, not a great way to gain cooperation. In January, Schaub insisted, contrary to federal law, that nominees had to be cleared by OGE before they could take office. He also discovered that the rules that had governed the Obama adminstration were much too lax. On January 12, Schaub gave a speech in which he publicly lambasted the incoming administration’s ethics compliance plan. Things reached a point where Jason Chaffetz threatened to hold hearings on how Schaub’s public criticism of Trump was affecting the performance of his office.
The New York Times spins this as a defeat for the ethics program. In reality, it was a victory. Schaub hopelessly compromised his position by picking a fight with the president and by keeping the fight going. In a few short months he showed how an honest broker, like OGE, can be weaponized and used as a political tool. Given Trump’s personality, the new ethics chief may not fare any better but the new guy will be Trump’s choice and any conflict will be clearly about ethics and not about carrying on a rearguard action on behalf of the Democrats.