U.S. Office of Government Ethics(WASHINGTON) — The director of the Office of Government Ethics is taking President-elect Donald Trump to task over his announced plan to separate himself from his vast business empire, saying the steps laid out Wednesday “cannot achieve” the goal of removing conflicts of interest.
“We can’t risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for profit,” OGE Director Walter Shaub said at the Brookings Institution Wednesday. “That’s why I was glad in November when the president-elect tweeted that he wanted to, as he put it, ‘in no way have a conflict of interest’ with his businesses. Unfortunately, his current plan cannot achieve that goal.”
It marks the second time in a week that the OGE, an independent nonpartisan agency that helps coordinate with executive branch officials to prevent conflicts of interests, has taken issue with Trump and his transition diverting from traditional processes with regards to ethics laws. Last week, the OGE sent a letter to Democratic senators complaining it had not received the proper ethics packages normally provided by Cabinet nominees prior to their confirmation hearings.
Shaub took issue particularly with Trump’s plan to hand over the Trump Organization to his two sons Eric and Don Jr., saying such a move would still involve communication absent in blind trusts previous presidents agreed to enter into.
“The idea of limiting direct communication about the business is wholly inadequate,” Shaub said. “That’s not how a blind trust works. There’s not supposed to be any information at all.”
Trump’s lawyer Sheri Dillon said Wednesday when outlining the separation that the idea of a blind trust was an impossibility considering “you cannot have a totally blind trust with operating businesses.” Dillon also argued that selling off the business entirely, or divestiture, would create more legal hurdles and winding up costing the Trump family millions of dollars.
Shaub took direct aim at that complaint in his remarks.
“It’s important to understand that the president is now entering the world of public service,” Shaub said. “He’s going to be asking his own appointees to make sacrifices. He’s going to be asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives in conflicts around the world. So, no, I don’t think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be the president of the United States of America.”
While Shaub expressed dismay that the Trump transition team has not approached the OGE to resolve its conflicts of interest, he noted that there is “still time.”
“Let’s all remember there’s still time to build on that plan and come up with something that will resolve his conflicts of interest,” Shaub said. “To be clear, [the] OGE’s primary recommendation is that he divest his conflicting financial interests. Nothing short of divestiture will resolve these conflicts.”
The Trump transition team did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
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