Bloomberg WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) — In an unusually frank statement, the top U.S. government ethics officer declared that President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to place his business in a trust without divesting does not meet standards for the highest levels of public service in the United States.
The concerns, expressed by Office of Government Ethics chief Walter Shaub just hours after Trump announced his plan, underlined the extent to which several ethics-watchers in government and on both sides of the political aisle worry that the Trump Organization could influence the president’s decision-making and weaken ethics standards across the government.
“The plan the president has announced doesn’t meet the standard that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president in the past four decades has met,” Shaub said at the Brookings Institution in Washington, referring to Trump. “The greater the authority entrusted in a public official, the greater the potential for conflicts of interest.”
Shaub, who was appointed by President Barack Obama to lead the agency in 2013, said the parts of Trump’s plan that emphasized relinquishing positions at the Trump Organization “is meaningless from a conflicts of interest perspective.”
“The presidency is a full-time job and he would have had to step back anyway,” Shaub said.
Shaub conceded that the main ethics law that governs executive branch appointees, including Trump’s own nominees, does not apply to the president. But, he said, that is because the president cannot recuse himself from assets causing conflicts “without depriving the American people of the services of their leader,” meaning the president should act as if the law does apply.
“Should a president hold himself to a lower standard than his own appointees?” he said. “I don’t think divestiture [is] too high a price to pay to be the president of the United States of America.”
“I could actually run my business and run government at the same time,” Trump said during his press conference Wednesday. “I don’t like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that if I wanted to.”