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Federal ethics chief resigns after clashes with Trump

Walter Shaub Jr., director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
Walter Shaub Jr., director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Walter Shaub Jr., director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, announced Thursday he would resign, following a rocky relationship with President Trump and repeated confrontations with the administration.

Shaub, appointed by President Obama in 2013, had unsuccessfully pressed Trump to divest his business interests to avoid potential conflicts of interest, something Trump refused to do.

The ethics watchdog also engaged in a public battle with the White House over his demands for more information about former lobbyists and other appointees who had been granted waivers from ethics rules. After initially balking, the White House eventually released the requested information about the waivers.

Shaub called for a harsher punishment for presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway after she flouted ethics rules by publicly endorsing Ivanka Trump’s clothing line during a television appearance.

Shaub did not specify a reason for his resignation in a letter to President Trump, which he released on Twitter on Thursday afternoon. He told the Washington Post he was not leaving under pressure.

He said in a separate statement that his time working with the Trump administration made it “clear to [him] that we need improvements to the existing ethics program.”

Shaub’s resignation, effective July 19, comes nearly six months before his term expires in January. He will join the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center as senior director for ethics.

In his letter of resignation to the president, Shaub said the office was “committed to protecting the principle that public service is a public trust,” and employees must place loyalty to ethics over private gain.

Shaub had come under fire from Trump supporters for being politically motivated and some had called for his resignation.

Interest in the office has soared recently. Since Trump took office, the OGE has seen a rise in public contacts, which it defines as phone calls, emails or combined correspondence, about recent events.

In the first two quarters of fiscal year 2017, the office received 39,105 public contacts, compared with 164 during the same period in 2016.

The OGE does not have investigative or enforcement authority but can provide guidance to other agencies responsible for conducting investigations.

Jordan Libowitz, communications director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said next director should focuson enforcing conflicts of interest rules. CREW filed a complaint the same day as Shaub’s resignation against Jared Kushner for not disclosing or divesting from an online real estate investment company he co-founded.

“This isn’t about punishment, this is about following the rules and making sure people will follow the rules,” Libowitz said. “Our hope is that the next director approaches the job with the same zeal for ethics.”

President Trump will nominate the next director and the Senate must confirm his pick.

The White House had no immediate comment.

1:02 p.m.: This story was updated.

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