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Trump’s New Ethics Chief Alarms Ethics Community

by Countable | 7.27.17

What’s the story?

Last week President Trump elevated David Apol — leapfrogging him over his supervisor — from the position of general counsel at the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) to be its new director, following the resignation of Walter Shaub Jr. Despite Apol serving for 30 years in the ethics field, his appointment is raising eyebrows due to his history of challenging strict readings of statutes regarding conflicts-of-interest by federal employees and officials.

Why does it matter?

Typically, when an agency director resigns the next career official in line would be elevated temporarily to the position until a replacement could be nominated and confirmed. In this case that would have been Shelley Finlayson, the OGE’s chief of staff and program counsel. However, according to the 1998 Vacancies Reform Act, "the role of OGE’s acting director automatically goes to OGE’s highest-ranking career official, the chief of staff, unless the president overrides that designation."

The president has the legal right to appoint Apol, though the move to forego Finlayson prompted a strong response from recently-departed director Shaub, according to Government Executive:

"If they have someone they like, they should formally nominate that person to be permanent director. This sort of political interference creates the appearance that the White House may be hoping to engineer looser oversight by reaching down and leapfrogging a career employee over his own supervisor temporarily."

Shaub left his position early following months of sparring with the administration over ethics concerns. Since leaving he has been vocal in his perspective that the current administration presents an "ethics crisis." For their part, the administration has characterized Shaub as partisan and says that he never properly raised his concerns with the White House while he was in the position to do so.

The concerns about the appointment of Apol aren’t limited to his being elevated over someone above him in the ranks, however. The New York Times interviewed several former colleagues and senior officials about Apol, and Richard M. Thomas, who served as associate general counsel at the agency until 2011, had this to say:

"Dave Apol is undeniably smart. However, in my experience, Dave had a tendency toward idiosyncratic legal interpretations that frequently were more permissive than O.G.E. orthodoxy."

Apol agrees with the characterization of himself as someone who questions the way things have always been done. He told the Times:

"As an attorney in the office, I thought it was useful to ask if all the assumptions we made and practices we had were necessarily the best way to do things. I would oppose changing the rules in any way that did not protect the public’s trust."

So far the White House has applauded Apol’s approach, which has involved closer collaboration than has historically occurred. Apol is reported to be consulting with the White House before he issues policies, a practice that his predecessor Shaub insists threatens the Office’s independence. The White House disagrees, issuing this statement, which includes a clear reference to Shaub:

"The White House welcomes a return to a traditional working relationship with the Office of Government Ethics in which both entities share a common goal of ensuring public confidence that the executive branch is adhering to the highest possible ethical standards as opposed to an approach whereby individuals manufacture false conflicts for purposes of self-promotion."

Apol will get to display his "independence" soon, as he will have to make a determination about the issuance of a certificate of divestiture (CD) to newly appointed White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci for the sale of his stake in the investment firm SkyBridge Capital. CDs are issued to government employees in the executive branch to minimize their tax burden as they sell off property, investments and businesses to avoid a conflict of interest. The controversy surrounding Scaramucci’s request for a CD is that he initiated the sale in January, prior to joining the Trump administration, and CDs are supposed to issued prior to the commencement of divestiture proceedings.

The CD would offer Scaramucci a tax break equaling tens of millions of dollars despite that fact that it may no longer pose a conflict of interest since he has already agreed to sell his investment firm.

So far Apol has said of the Scaramucci issue:

"The test whether we issue a CD is whether or not it meets the requirements in the law. If it does, we will; if it doesn’t, we won’t."

What can you do?

Do you think the White House should expedite the nomination of a permanent director of the OGE? Are you concerned about ethics oversight of the administration? Do you approve of the White House’s decision to elevate Apol to run the OGE?

Use the Take Action button to tell your reps what you think!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Wheaton College)

Countable

Written by Countable

Leave a comment
(96)
  • Amoráh
    07/27/2017
    ···

    No, no, and HELL NO! Leapfrogging due process is unacceptable and UNETHICAL behavior from this 'president' again. Stop this BS NOW! Publicly censure & discipline this 'man' each and every time he oversteps so he can MAYBE learn his job. How many employees would keep their job after 7 months with no evidence of learning the job, or acting on behalf of ALL AMERICANS? Zero. Fire him!

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  • Andi
    07/27/2017
    ···

    Doesn't it sound like an oxy moron when Trump and ethics are used in the same sentence

    Like (42)
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  • Kim
    07/27/2017
    ···

    What happened to this country and when are Republicans going to step up and stop this corruption at every level.

    Like (32)
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  • Michele
    07/27/2017
    ···

    And so it continues. Let's just violate ethics by skipping over due process. Anything to give his "highness" what he desires. Please speed up the impeachment.

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  • Barbara
    07/27/2017
    ···

    Walter Schaub warned us that this administration might do exactly what has now come to pass. They have chosen someone who they believe will be more pliable and forgiving as they continue to shred ethical norms. This corruption is another assault on our traditions and institutions. Bannon must be rubbing his hands in gleeful anticipation of the improprieties they will be able to perpetuate.

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  • Patty
    07/27/2017
    ···

    The White House is definitely trying to engineer oversight in their favor by skipping over the next in line to fill Mr Shaubs post as head of Head of ethics. How many more assaults to democracy can this country take?

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  • Bruno
    07/27/2017
    ···

    Ethics....plain and simple...accountability...integrity...honesty....what happened to these basic values...time is the present to step up...

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  • Kathy
    07/27/2017
    ···

    The first thing Dave Apol did was to sign off on Jared Kushner 3rd amendment of his security clears form. So why wouldn't 45 love the work he's doing. He just got a new lap dog in the OGE department. When will the Republicans stand up for the country? They are so high on having control of all 3 branches they are willing to put up with total BS from the White House. Remember what goes up has no place to go then down, it's just a matter of time. Jared Kushner like father ( Charles Kushner) like son!

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  • Pat
    07/27/2017
    ···

    I have no words for this administration. When will the insanity end?

    Like (7)
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  • Judith
    07/28/2017
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    I oppose the elevation of Apol over his supervisor to run the OGE over established procedures. Just the fact that Apol accepted this over his boss shows how unethical he actually is. He should not be able to head this important essential agency and float through the unethical decisions and practices of this corrupt administration.

    Like (7)
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  • Rita
    07/27/2017
    ···

    Nobody else should be confirmed until the Russian investigation is done. These nominees are wholly unqualified and you all know it.

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  • Doug
    07/27/2017
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    Without serious people in this role the department is nothing more than a paper tiger. We demand more from our leaders, doctors, teachers and children. Why are we lowering the bar when we should be raising it?

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  • Ron
    07/27/2017
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    Unacceptable. Another attempt to shape the message by this clearly corrupt WH.

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  • Vanessa
    07/27/2017
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    Does this erratic behavior surprise anyone anymore....Please someone help us!

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  • Lelia
    07/27/2017
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    We still need ethics in the Capital. Can't throw out the window because Trump and Republicans all in control !!!

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  • Pru
    07/27/2017
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    Noooooooo!!!

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  • Roxanne
    07/27/2017
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    I am a constituent who is extremely concerned about the OGE and oversight of this administration. Appointing Mr. APOD over Mr. Finlayson is obviously a move by the White House to have a director who is favorable to this administration. Appoint a more appropriate person to serve in the position.

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  • Duncan96
    07/27/2017
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    Any US American who values the existence of our nation should recognize this as nothing less than an act of aggression against the public interest. Letting the President appoint his own chosen Ethics director allows the most powerful man in the country to control how ethical standards are interpreted, especially when it comes to his to executive actions. Maybe they will come for your enemies, maybe for your acquaintances, maybe your friends, or maybe they will come for you. If we allow this to happen, then as citizens we have surrendered to an authoritarian rule with no ethical checks to balance the power of the president, and that should be unacceptable to all citizens and federal employees of the United States, regardless of political affiliation.

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  • Michael
    07/28/2017
    ···

    Through their inability to act in a bipartisan and united way to pass laws that improve the situation of all Americans, Congress has abdicated the rule of law and our political system to an administration that resembles the court of Louis XV. The parallels are striking. We have an administration that likes to send decrees by tweet. They use court intrigue (read Scarramucci v. Preibus) and untruth to distract a vast swath of the American people from their failure to lead. Our president, much like Louis XV enjoys picking up people like toys to amuse him, until they receive more attention than his narcissism can allow. This administration has assumed the mantle of leadership without any of the necessary structure or expertise to actually lead a government. The appointees and too few politicos seen as Loyal to the Trump agenda reflect the worst of cronyism. They pose an eminent threat to our national security. An article in VanityFair makes it clear that through neglect at DOE our nuclear facilities and weapons will become our own worst fears. And this is not the only department under threat. The small government types must be thrilled to see parts of our government threatened with extinction. But how are we to avoid lawlessness and chaos? Perhaps shrinking government would work under a strong executive leadership. But under this administration which believes it has god given power, simply because it won an election, we risk descending into anarchy. So we now need to rely on our elected officials at every level of government to stop the spread of ignorance and autocratic rule. We need you, our representatives to at least keep our nukes safe and then follow Mr. McCain's advice to work together in the interest of all the American people.

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  • Al
    07/27/2017
    ···

    Isn't that just what Republicans wanted? No Ethics? So there's only a problem for the American people who would open and honest government. It's clear the GOP is having none of that! So can we expect the same when Democrats are in charge? Or will Republicans rig the vote to form the Authoritarian government they want. God help America we have nothing but greedy evil scumbags leading our once great Democracy. MAGA what a fucking joke!

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