Wednesday marks the first day the former director of the U.S. Office of Ethics and Government is living as a non-governmental employee. Walter Schaub began the day with a CNN interview in which he disclosed the shocking ways that President Donald Trump’s administration has managed to circumvent ethics rules.
He disclosed that the last eight months have been difficult since he began working with the Trump transition team after the November 2016 election.
“There’s been a departure from the ethical norms that have really held our ethics program together for all these years,” he said.
Schaub went on to reveal that there are many ethical considerations with the Trump White House that involve serious conflicts of interest.
“Any time you have vast holdings while you’re in a position of public trust, we’ve got to worry about whether you’re making your decisions based on your policy aims or based on your personal financial interests,” he explained. “In this case, we can’t know that because he’s continuing to hold his financial interests despite what every president since the enactment of the Ethics and Government Act in the 1970s did.”
He cited the free advertisements Trump is getting to his properties when he travels, as well as the fact that the Mar-a-Lago property has already doubled the fee to belong to the club. Trump’s daughter Ivanka also earned a free commercial thanks to senior aide Kellyanne Conway.
“These things matter because we have to have able to have the American people trust that government decision making is made on their behalf, not on our own behalf as government officials,” he continued. “Conflicts of interest have a real consequence. People get hurt when decisions are made.”
He used the analogy that a doctor was being paid by a drug company to prescribe a specific drug when another one might work better.
“The reality is these conflicts exist whether they’re illegal or not, and presidents have known that,” he said. “It also sets a tone problem, because you need to set a strong ethical tone from the top. Tone is everything in government ethics and what your appointees do is going to follow what you do. We’ve seen a number of incidents that I’ve tried to highlight over the past several months where they’re not following the traditional ethical tone and behaving in a way government officials always behave, and that has really hurt us along the way.”
Specifically, Schaub explained that he was “horrified when Trump’s lawyer asked if Trump didn’t have to sign it to certify if it’s true” after filling out his disclosures.
“I pointed out to her that millions of financial disclosure reports have been filed in the past four decades and every one of them has been certified as true, and I think we could ask that of our president,” he said.
The lawyer then asked if Trump could file it without signing to certify that it was true. Schaub said that the lawyer claimed that filing was “voluntary” and Trump wasn’t obligated to file if he didn’t want to.
“I said, ‘that’s fine, file it and release it unsigned, but if you want to certify it,’ which they wanted done, ‘it’s going to have to follow the normal rules,'” he recounted the conversation.
Ultimately, Schaub said he wants to see Congress change those rules to demand transparency and disclosure. He cited the many Trump supporters who have said that the American people “knew what they were getting” but that they didn’t actually know because Trump never revealed his tax information the way other presidential candidates did.
He noted that the office had dealt primarily with people who have hedge funds but hasn’t dealt a lot with those who have massive real estate holdings. As a result, there were many shell corporations that didn’t have anything in them that the office had to sift through.
“I don’t think we know 100 percent for sure that we understand all of the underlying holdings are at OGE,” he said. “But it met the disclosure requirements and, you know, technically the conflict of interest laws don’t apply even though previous presidents have always followed them. So, we had to certify the report because it was good enough from a disclosure standpoint to meet the legal requirements, but I’m not sure that we fully understood everything in it.”
Cuomo seemed shocked by that comment.
Schaub gave his two-weeks notice at the beginning of July, citing clashes with the Trump administration.
Watch the full interview below: