White House chooses interim head of ethics agency

The White House has picked David Apol to be the interim head of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) after Walter Shaub's resignation.

Apol, the OGE's general counsel since 2014, has worked on federal ethics programs for more than three decades. He previously worked at the OGE as associate general counsel during the George W. Bush administration.

Under Shaub, the OGE had publicly criticized President Trump's business holdings as conflicts of interest, putting the small office in the unprecedented position of directly and publicly confronting the White House.

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The 70-person agency has flown under the radar since its creation in the post-Watergate era and functions only to create and advise the federal government on the ethics regulations that apply to roughly 2.7 million employees — not to enforce them.

Trump will get to nominate a permanent replacement for Shaub, which would be subject to Senate confirmation. Rules prohibit him from choosing senior officials at the OGE.

Before joining the OGE for the second time in 2014, Apol served for a decade as the chief counsel for administrative law to the U.S. trade representative.

He also worked as the chief ethics counsel in the Clinton White House, and worked as counsel for the ethics office at the Labor Department from 1992 to 2000. From 1987 to 1992, Apol served as a counsel for the Senate Ethics Committee.

“Ideally, laws would reflect sound ethics and morals, but not always,” Apol told Wheaton Magazine, a publication of his alma matter, Wheaton College, about his job at the OGE. “It’s very hard to keep broad rules from permitting actions they’re supposed to prevent while permitting actions that are completely innocent. At the same time, the more complex you make the rules, the harder they are to follow.” 

Shaub, whose five-year term was set to expire in January, is now working at the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, where he leads its ethics division.

Shelley Finlayson — Shaub’s chief of staff — briefly served as acting director of the OGE after Shaub's departure. The agency’s rules say the chief of staff would take over as acting director unless the White House appoints someone else.

OGE changed the rules regarding the line of succession in 2015. Prior to that, the general counsel would have automatically taken the vacant director spot.

On Friday, Shaub blasted the pick, accusing the White House of "playing politics."

“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," he said in a statement. "This way, the White House gets to install its preferred candidate without having a Senate confirmation hearing in which it would have to face tough questions about how the nominee would address the administration’s ethics problems.”

When Shaub hired Apol in 2014, however, he issued a statement saying that Apol "has time and again proven himself to be a gifted legal professional with a deep understanding of the federal ethics rules and an appreciation for the core principles underlying them."

"Mr. Apol’s proven leadership, dedication to helping government employees serve the public trust, and extensive knowledge of the federal ethics laws and regulations make him the ideal person for this important job," Shaub said of his newly hired general counsel. "I am confident that the addition of Mr. Apol to OGE’s leadership team will strengthen OGE’s legal and policymaking capacity." 

— This post was updated at 2:01 p.m.