The government agency in charge of overseeing ethics in the federal government and policing conflicts of interest has struggled to contact members of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team since Election Day.
In emails obtained by MSNBC, Office of Government Ethics (OGE) Director Walter Shaub wrote that his agency’s attempts at outreach to the incoming administration have been met with silence.
“We seem to have lost contact with the Trump-Pence transition since the election,” Shaub said.
In a letter to Trump advisers, Shaub warned that by announcing its cabinet picks without proper vetting by the ethics office, the team runs the risk of causing “embarrassment for the President-elect.”
Requirements for White House aides are even more stringent with regards to conflicts of interest and incoming aides to Trump may be in violation of federal law.
“They run the risk of having inadvertently violated the criminal conflicts of interest restriction at 18 USC 208,” Shaub wrote.
Furthermore, he said, “If we don’t get involved early to prevent problems,” he added, “we won’t be able to help them after the fact.”
Throughout history, U.S. presidents have placed their assets in a so-called “blind trust” for the duration of their presidency. Trump and his advisors have made vague public statements about the Trust, saying it would be managed by the former reality TV star’s adult children.
This is far from adequate, said Shaub. The ethics office only considers a trust blind when its assets have been “sold off” and liquidated.
The emails were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by federal employment lawyer Bradley Moss. They show a confused tangle of unanswered queries, delayed responses and comments that Trump and his legal team are hard to reach and nearly impossible to “pin down” on issues.
Moss said that the emails show a surprising lack of interest on the part of the Trump team in divestment of assets to avoid conflicts of interest.
“Conspicuously absent is any evidence of the preparations allegedly being undertaken by President-Elect Trump to resolve potential conflicts of interest through some manner of divestment,” Moss said to NBC News.
He asked, “If the President-Elect’s lawyers and compliance officers are not coordinating with OGE, who, if anyone, within the government are they coordinating on these matters?”
For weeks, Trump has been postponing a planned press conference where he says that he will explain in detail his plan to divest himself of his holdings and hand over his businesses.