White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Friday that it was “outrageous” for Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) to demand an interview with the director of the Office of Governmental Ethics, which some perceived as an intimidation tactic after the agency chief criticized Donald Trump.
“Well this is the completion of the congressional Republican swamp-filling hat trick,” Earnest told reporters Friday during his daily press briefing.
He referred to congressional Republicans’ attempt to gut the independent watchdog Office of Congressional Ethics before they “were even sworn into office” and Senate Republicans’ actions to roll back vetting and compliance standards for Cabinet nominees before turning to Chaffetz, who is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“And now, to complete the hat trick, you’ve got the Republican chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee—the individual who, as much as anyone else in the United States Congress, is charged with providing oversight of the executive branch—now seeking to intimidate a senior executive branch official who is responsible for enforcing ethics rules,” Earnest said. “He’s threatening to shut down the office of the guy who is doing the job that Jason Chaffetz himself is refusing to do. It’s outrageous.”
Chaffetz sent a letter Thursday to Walter Shaub, Jr., the chief of the OGE, demanding to speak with him about “blurring the line between public relations and official ethics guidance” in recent months. Chaffetz cited, among other things, a bizarre series of tweets from the federal agency late last year that encouraged Trump to divest his business holdings.
“Your agency’s mission is to provide clear ethics guidance, not engage in public relations. The Committee is thus continuing its examination of OGE’s operations,” Chaffetz’s letter read. “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.”
Chaffetz’s letter did not explicitly mention Shaub’s extraordinary speech Wednesday at the Brookings Institution, in which he called Trump’s plan to separate himself from his business’ daily operations “wholly inadequate.” Shaub also emphasized that the fact that there is no law under which a president could be held accountable for conflicts of interest does not negate any conflicts of interest.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Friday accused Chaffetz of “trying to handcuff the Office of Government ethics” with the letter.
“It certainly runs contradictory to the preferences of the millions of Americans who showed up at the polls on Election Day and voted for the guy who has vowed to drain the swamp,” Earnest said at the briefing.