Former Ethics Chief Calls Trump White House a Kleptocratic 'Embarrassment'
"We're running around the world trying to promote anti-corruption measures and we don't even have our own house in order."
With the Trump White House reeling from internal turmoil, burgeoning scandals, and investigations that have reportedly reached into the finances of the president's family, Walter Shaub—former head of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE)—said in an interview with the Guardian on Monday that President Donald Trump's first six months in office have had the effect of making the U.S. look like a "kleptocracy."
"The fact that we're having to ask questions about whether he's intentionally using the presidency for profit is bad enough."
—Walter Shaub, Campaign Legal CenterEven the "appearance" that Trump is profiting from the office of the presidency "undermines the faith in governmental decision-making and puts a cloud over everything the government does," Shaub said. "We can't know whether his decisions are motivated by his policy aims or his financial interests."
As Common Dreams has reported, Shaub resigned earlier this month citing "problems with the current situation" at the White House. Shaub frequently lambasted the Trump administration for failing to adhere to even the most basic standards of transparency during his tenure as head of the OGE, which began in 2013.
The most notable clash between Shaub and the Trump White House came over the administration's refusal to make public the names of officials who had been granted ethics waivers.
"It is an extraordinary thing. I have never seen anything like it," Shaub said of the administration's efforts to block his inquiries.
After leaving his post at the OGE, Shaub joined the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, where he is now the senior ethics director. From this new position outside government, Shaub has remained pointedly critical of the Trump administration's seeming contempt for ethics rules, which he argues has created an "ethics crisis."
"[Trump's] actions create the appearance of profiting from the presidency, and the appearance here is everything."
Recent developments make clear that the Trump White House will continue its rebuke of Shaub's call for higher ethical standards: Trump has named as new head of the OGE David Apol who, contra Shaub, has "sought to roll back or loosen ethics requirements on federal employees," the New York Times reported last week.
The administration has also, as ProPublica has reported, formed "secretive teams to roll back regulations" that are in many cases staffed with industry lobbyists who stand to benefit from their influence on public policy.
Overall, Shaub concluded in his Guardian interview, Trump's "actions create the appearance of profiting from the presidency, and the appearance here is everything."
He added that the behavior of the Trump White House is a national "embarrassment," given that "we're running around the world trying to promote anti-corruption measures and we don't even have our own house in order."
"The fact that we're having to ask questions about whether he's intentionally using the presidency for profit is bad enough, because the appearance itself undermines confidence in government," Shaub said. "It certainly risks people starting to refer to us as a kleptocracy. That's a term people throw around fairly freely when they're talking about Russia, fairly or unfairly, and we run the risk of getting branded the same way. America really should stand for more than that."