POLITICS
12/30/2016 11:16 pm ET

U.S. Ethics Chief Ordered Gushing Responses To Trump's Tweets

Was the director trying to pressure the president-elect to divest from his companies?

Newly obtained records reveal that the head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics personally ordered several oddly enthusiastic tweets after President-elect Donald Trump’s recent claim that he planned to sever ties to his business operations to avoid conflicts of interest as president.

“We told your counsel that we’d sing your praises if you divested and we meant it!” read one of the gushing tweets issued by the department. Another read: “Brilliant! Divestiture is good for you, good for America!” The tweets were so unusual for the staid department that Twitter initially investigated to determine if the account had been hacked. The tweets also sparked controversy. Some readers thought they were too wildly positive, while others thought they were mocking Trump’s bombastic style and his overuse of exclamation points.

According to emails first obtained by National Public Radio and the Daily Dot as part of a Freedom of Information Act request, the tweets were among nine ordered by agency director Walter Shaub Jr.

“Post the following tweets,” he emailed OGE Chief of Staff Shelley K. Finlayson on Nov. 30, hours after Trump tweeted about pulling out of business operations. “Post them first thing — 8:30 or as soon as possible. Post them all at once.”

All of the tweets are directed to the president-elect’s Twitter site @realDonaldTrump. Some of the others read: “Bravo! Only way to resolve these conflicts of interest is to divest. Good call,” and: “We can’t repeat enough how good this divestiture will be!”

Sent: Wednesday, November 30, 2016 8:04 AM
To: Shelley K. Finlayson
Subject: Tweets ASAP Post the following tweets. I would like them posted first thing ͲͲ8:30 if possible or as soon as possible thereafter . Post them all at once.  
 
@realDonaldTrump OGE is delighted that you’ve decided to divest your businesses. Right decision!
@realDonalTrump As we discussed with your counsel, divestiture is the way to resolve these conflicts
@realDonaldTrump this aligns with OGE opinion that POTUS should act as if 18 USC 208 applies (put link to 1983 opinion after this one)
@realDonaldTrump Bravo! Only way to resolve these conflicts of interest is to divest . Good call!
@realDonaldTrump Brilliant! Divestiture is good for you, very good for America! @realDonaldTrump We can’t repeat enough how good this total divestiture will be @realDonaldTrump Ͳ we told your counsel we’d sing your praises if you divested, we meant it @realDonaldTrump this divestiture does what handing over control could never have done @realDonaldTrump OGE applauds the “total” divestiture decision. Bravo! 

Shaub, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2012, also followed up with a link to a legal document mentioned in one of the tweets and added: “Get all of these tweets posted as soon as humanly possible.”

Trump didn’t mention the word “divestiture” in his pronouncements. The president-elect had tweeted that, while he “wasn’t mandated” to do so by law, “I feel it is visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses.” He added that “legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations.” Trump also said he would be leaving his “great business in total.” 

He could still have holdings in his companies without participating in the “business operations,” which would not constitute divestiture.

Trump has yet to provide any details. He initially announced that he would reveal specifics on Dec. 15, but he canceled that date and hasn’t rescheduled.

The strategy behind the tweets wasn’t completely clear, though some observers believe Shaub was likely attempting to nudge Trump into divestiture in part by convincing him that that’s what the president-elect had just tweeted.

“I think that there’s a uniform consensus among everybody who does government ethics for a living ... that Donald Trump must divest — he’s got to sell his holdings or use a blind trust or the equivalent, as every president has done for 40 years,” Norm Eisen, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, told NPR. “I took the tweets as an expression of that common-sensical view.”

Shaub also wrote an enthusiastic email to “D. McGahn” (Trump has named Don McGahn as White House counsel). “Like everyone else, we were excited this morning to read the President-elect’s twitter feed indicating that he wants to be free of conflicts of interest. OGE applauds that goal .... We don’t know the details of their plan, but we are are ready and willing to help them with it.”

The released files also include dozens of comments from the public to the OGE, including many from those concerned about Trump’s potential business conflicts of interest and some complaining that the OGE has too optimistically interpreted what he said.

“His commitment to leave his business is vague,” writes someone from Massachusetts in a letter printed by the Daily Dot. “It is likely that he will retain a financial interest in his business, and that his children will be running his business. That does not constitute a blind trust. I hope that the Office of Government Ethics intends to more diligently ensure that the President is not subject to conflicts of interest.”

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