Ethics director who clashed with Trump resigns

Walter Shaub, the leader of the federal government’s ethics office who previously criticized President Trump over the president's business interests, submitted his resignation on Thursday.

He will leave office nearly six months before the end of his term.

Shaub will officially step down from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) on July 19, according to a letter to Trump that Shaub posted on his Twitter account.

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The letter was a veiled shot at the Trump administration, which has routinely clashed with the small independent agency over the appearances of conflicts of interest.

“The great privilege and honor of my career has been to lead OGE’s staff and the community of ethics officials in the federal executive branch,” Shaub wrote. “They are committed to protecting the principle that public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws, and ethical principals above private gain.

“I am grateful for the efforts of this dedicated and patriotic assembly of public servants, and I am proud to have served with them,” the letter closes.

Schaub has served in OGE under both Republican and Democratic presidents, starting his tenure during the George W. Bush administration. He became director under former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaOvernight Cybersecurity: What we learned from Carter Page's House Intel testimony | House to mark up foreign intel reform law | FBI can't access Texas shooter's phone | Sessions to testify at hearing amid Russia scrutiny Russian social media is the modern-day Trojan horse Trump records robo-call for Gillespie: He'll help 'make America great again' MORE.

His term was set to end in January 2018. He has worked for more than a decade in the ethics office — as the attorney in charge of the presidential nomination program, then as deputy general counsel. Obama named him as the agency’s director in 2013.

Except for a short stint in private practice, he has worked as a lawyer in various government agencies since 1997.

Shaub told The Washington Post that no one in the Trump administration pressured him to leave his position early.

But, “it’s clear that there isn’t more I could accomplish,” he told the publication.

Shaub told CBS News on Thursday evening that he doesn't know whether Trump is profiting from his businesses, but that's not the point.

"I can’t know what their intention is. I know that the effect is that there’s an appearance that the businesses are profiting from his occupying the presidency,"he told CBS News correspondent Julianna Goldman during the first televised interview following his resignation.

"And appearance matters as much as reality, so even aside from whether or not that’s actually happening, we need to send a message to the world that the United States is going to have the gold standard for an ethics program in government, which is what we’ve always had," he continued.

"America should have the right to know what the motivations of its leaders are, and they need to know that financial interests—personal financial interests—aren’t among them," Shaub told CBS News.

OGE Chief of Staff Shelley Finlayson is the first in line to succeed Shaub as acting director, but rules allow the White House to pick from senior officials at the office to fill the top slot.

The OGE director position is decided by the president, and all eyes will be on whether Trump chooses someone to lead OGE or simply keeps the slot vacant.

Even before Trump was sworn in as president, Shaub had been outspoken about and openly frustrated by the businessman’s efforts to meet federal ethics standards.

In November, the OGE’s official Twitter account began sending out sarcastic missives after the newly elected president wavered about whether he would disconnect himself from his businesses.

“Brilliant! Divestiture is good for you, good for America!” the tweets read.

In January, prior to the inauguration, Shaub made a rare public appearance at the Brookings Institution in Washington, where he criticized the president.

On Jan. 11, a lawyer for Trump unveiled how the president would structure his businesses after he stepped into the Oval Office. Rather than completely divesting, Trump would maintain connections to his business empire — though only be permitted limited access to information about it.

Shaub forcefully disagreed with the arrangement, calling it “wholly inadequate” in resolving any potential conflicts of interest.

“The plan the president-elect has announced doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president in the last four decades have met,” Shaub said during the Brookings speech.

Trump's lawyer Sheri Dillon countered that selling off all of the president's assets would create even more possible conflicts.

The OGE has no enforcement power of any federal ethics rules; that’s left to ethics officials within each agency and the White House.

“I’m not fighting against him. I’m fighting for the ethics program. And there is a difference,” Shaub told The New York Times in May. “Because if I succeed, he’ll benefit.”

Several former White House ethics counsels expressed surprise at the few times that either political nominees or the president himself pushed back against some of the OGE guidance.

The White House has even appeared to bristle at mundane requests for information.

In May, when the OGE issued a routine data call for any waivers to the federal ethics program that the government handed out, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney questioned its authority to make the request.

"OGE declines your request to suspend its ethics inquiry and reiterates its expectation that agencies will fully comply with its directive by June 1, 2017,” Shaub shot back in a letter to Mulvaney. “Public confidence in the integrity of government decision-making demands no less.”

Ultimately, Mulvaney said the whole thing was a miscommunication, and the financial disclosures were released on time. 

The agency has been working overtime to confirm Trump’s political appointees, and touted Wednesday on Twitter that even though the picks’ “disclosures are more complex, OGE is reviewing nominees faster than in the last transition while upholding the same standards.” 

In recent months, the OGE has also called out other White House officials. 

In February, it urged the White House to reprimand Kellyanne Conway — who appeared to promote a clothing brand owned by Trump’s daughter Ivanka on television — and told lawmakers that an ethics waiver for White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon looked “problematic” without a signature or date.

Shaub will go to the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit focused on political and election law, to head up its ethics practice.

“In working with the current administration, it has become clear to me that we need improvements to the existing ethics program. I look forward to working toward that aim at Campaign Legal Center, as well as working on ethics reforms at all levels of government,” Shaub said in a statement released by the center on Thursday.

The Campaign Legal Center is helmed by Trevor Potter, a former Republican chairman of the Federal Election Commission.

“It’s imperative that we sustain a culture of high ethical standards in our government,” Potter said in a statement. “Walt, in serving the American public at the OGE under three presidents, has demonstrated the highest level of professionalism and integrity. All of us at CLC are thrilled to have him join us in our continuing work to protect and improve our democracy.” 

This breaking news report was last updated at 7:25 p.m.