House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz sent a threatening letter to the head of the Office of Government Ethics, who has raised concerns about President-elect Donald Trump's ethical conflicts, proving once again that Republicans are only interested in using their oversight powers to protect Trump and to silence his opponents.
Anyone who was expecting the Republican-controlled Congress to provide meaningful checks and balances on Donald Trump’s administration is in for a rude awakening, courtesy of House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).
Trump’s cabinet nominees have recently come under fire for failing to file their disclosure paperwork with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE), and Senate Republicans have rushed them through their confirmation hearings anyway.
The director of the OGE, Walter M. Shaub, Jr., wrote a letter to Senate Democrats, criticizing Republicans for trying to skip the ethics filings and stating, “I am not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process.”
Shaub, who was appointed to his current position by President Obama but also served in the OGE under George W. Bush, has criticized Trump’s refusal to fully divest from his businesses, calling the minimal steps he has taken “wholly inadequate” to prevent conflicts of interest.
Now, as the New York Times reports, Chaffetz is retributively targeting Shaub for his criticism of Trump.
In a letter to Shaub, Chaffetz accused him of “blurring the line between public relations and official ethics guidance.” He demanded Shaub present himself for an interrogation “to help the committee understand how you perceive OGE’s role,” and threatened to subpoena him if he did not comply.
Even more ominously, he wrote:
The Committee is…considering its examination of OGE’s operations. OGE’s statutory authorization lapsed at the end of fiscal year 2007 and the Committee has jurisdiction in the House of Representatives for reauthorizing the office.
In other words: You work for us and if you do not play ball, we can get rid of you.
Chaffetz’s thinly-veiled threats sparked outrage from Democrats. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a deservedly scathing statement: “House Republicans’ agenda is clear: intimidate and silence anyone who would raise questions about the President-elect’s vast conflicts of interest. Instead of honoring his committee’s responsibility to hold the Administration accountable, Chairman Chaffetz has appointed himself President-elect Trump’s chief strongman and enforcer. Republicans’ accelerating contempt for ethics should alarm every American.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) was similarly blunt:
The Oversight Committee is supposed to protect whistleblowers and independent government watchdogs like the Office of Government Ethics instead of retaliating against them for political reasons. Yesterday, I asked Chairman Chaffetz to hold a public hearing so the American people could hear firsthand from the head of OGE about President-Elect Donald Trump’s refusal to divest. Instead, the Chairman chose to attack the Director and demand that he appear for a closed-door interview.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) accused Republicans of “filling the swamp instead of draining it,” adding: “First, House Republicans tried to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics. Now they’re trying to handcuff the Office of Government ethics. Mr. Chaffetz’s attempt to bully Mr. Shaub out of doing his job [is] absolutely despicable.”
And Josh Earnest, the White House Press Secretary, had a few choice words as well:
.@PressSec: Chaffetz is "threatening to shut down the office of the guy who is doing the job that Jason Chaffetz himself is refusing to do."
— Toluse Olorunnipa (@ToluseO) January 13, 2017
This sordid episode reveals that Republicans in Congress are not only wholly uninterested in using their power — and duty — of checks and balances against Trump; they are also prepared to abuse their power to silence those who attempt to hold him accountable.