CNN: The White House ethics ship is sinking in the swamp

Walter Shaub
Nov 27, 2017
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CLC's Senior Director of Ethics, Walter Shaub, wrote an editorial for CNN on the current ethical climate. 

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It's not clear if anyone noticed last week when deputy press secretary Raj Shah fired a distress flare from the deck of a White House that is sinking into a swamp as deep as the sea.

It was the day before Thanksgiving, and Shah had been asked why at least four former presidential appointees --reportedly among them, Donald Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon -- had failed to file their termination financial disclosure reports upon leaving federal service.
 
Perhaps things would have been different if the White House had set a better tone from the top and instilled a firm commitment to ethics. Had that been the case, the former appointees in question would have understood the importance of filing their disclosures to give the public insight into their compliance with conflict of interest laws and their financial dealings while wielding the power of high public office.
 
Collecting financial disclosures is the most routine of the routine tasks ethics officials perform. Some experienced ethics officials in other agencies have managed to insert themselves into the out-processing procedures for departing officials, refusing to sign any exit forms before receiving these disclosures.
 
Ethics officials are supposed to hound wayward former appointees with calls and emails, which they should log for evidentiary purposes should enforcement action become necessary. They can escalate with formal letters sent by certified mail to issue stern warnings about late fees and more severe consequences. If all else fails, they can contact the Justice Department, which has the authorityto seek civil penalties or criminal prosecution of offenders for refusing to file required disclosures.
 
In this context, Shah's response is as illuminating as it is seemingly befuddled. It's a bright red flare revealing the White House ethics office to be either inept or indifferent. That office's failure to fulfill as basic an ethics function as collecting financial disclosures indicates either alternative is possible, but my money is on malignant indifference to ethics.
 

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