By Nicholas Fandos
WASHINGTON – Walter M. Shaub Jr., the government's top ethics watchdog who has repeatedly gone head-to-head with the Trump administration over conflicts of interest, said Thursday that he was calling it quits.
Shaub's five-year term as the director of the Office of Government Ethics is not set to expire until January, but with little chance of renewal and an appealing offer in hand from a nonpartisan advocacy group, he said the time was right to leave.
"There isn't much more I could accomplish at the Office of Government Ethics, given the current situation," Shaub said. "OGE's recent experiences have made it clear that the ethics program needs to be strengthened."
His new position, he said, will allow him to advocate freely for such reforms.
In a short letter informing President Donald Trump of his decision, Shaub did not offer a specific reason for his departure but extolled "the principle that public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws and ethical principles above private gain." He had not been pressured to resign, he said.
In departing ahead of schedule, Shaub has handed Trump an opportunity to begin putting his mark on the agency overseeing the federal government's vast ethics program, including that of the White House. The office's director traditionally has had wide latitude to set its priorities, its tone in working with the White House and other federal agencies and, perhaps most important, how to interpret the country's ethics laws.
The impending vacancy is all but certain to raise fears among Democrats and those in the small world of government ethics who see the office under Shaub as an important political bulwark against conflicts of interest in the upper echelons of the government. To Trump's defenders, who have seen Shaub, an Obama appointee, as politically motivated, it is more welcome news.
The intensity of feeling over what is usually an obscure job speaks to the central role ethics have come to play in Trump's Washington, where the vast holdings of the president and his Cabinet, as well as an influx of advisers from businesses and lobbying firms, have raised a rash of accusations of conflicts of interest.