WASHINGTON ― Before he was sworn in, President Donald Trump disappointed ethics experts by refusing to sell his business empire. Instead, he presented stacks of manila folders that supposedly contained “some of the many documents” he’d signed to give control of his companies to his adult sons.
Reporters weren’t allowed to see those documents. And according to Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), the Office of Government Ethics hasn’t seen them, either.
Cummings met on Monday with Walter Shaub, director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, along with Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, and other committee Democrats to discuss OGE operations and other issues.
Reports suggest that the meeting was amicable. But Shaub also told committee members that the OGE “never received copies of the documents that then-President-Elect Trump brought to his press conference … regarding his conflicts of interest,” according to a Monday press release from Cummings’ office. “The Office of Government Ethics has received no new information since this press conference.”
Shaub nonetheless remained “willing and ready” to help Trump address his business conflicts, Cummings’ office noted. The OGE chief did not respond to a request for comment.
Norman Eisen, who served as the chief White House ethics lawyer under former President Barack Obama, told The Huffington Post that the president is subject to disclosure rules under federal law that are within OGE’s jurisdiction. According to Eisen, ethics lawyers for president-elects and presidents have always worked closely with OGE on their finances during transitions and after assuming the presidency ― which includes sharing documents. “That does not seem to have happened here,” he said.
The Trump transition team did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump is the first president in the modern era to refuse to divest or separate himself from business holdings that may pose conflicts of interest. The Trump Organization released a letter on Monday — dated the day before inauguration — that said he’d resigned from hundreds of corporate entities. But ethics experts say Trump’s move to stop managing his companies fails to alleviate problems that may stem from his continued ownership of his business empire.
For months, Shaub sought to connect with the Trump transition team. OGE even resorted to getting Trump’s attention over Twitter: “Brilliant! Divestiture is good for you, good for America!” the office wrote in a series of seemingly sarcastic tweets.
After Trump failed to divest, Shaub went public with his concerns. “This is not a blind trust, it’s not even close,” he said at the Brookings Institution on Jan. 11. His comments, as well as his office’s tweets, prompted Republicans to go after OGE.
Chaffetz accused Shaub of refusing to come in and meet with his staff, going so far as to threaten a subpoena. But it was Chaffetz who missed a previously discussed meeting in early December, according to Office of Government Ethics emails The Huffington Post obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. Cummings said that based on the HuffPost report, it seemed that Chaffetz owed Shaub “an apology for these inaccurate public attacks against him.”
Although lawmakers reportedly scolded Shaub on Monday about his office’s tweets, the meeting — which was closed to the public — appears to have eased some of the tension. Chaffetz indicated that it went well. “I think we understand each other better,” he told reporters. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
Still, Cummings said the meeting left him “more concerned than ever about President Trump’s refusal to follow the advice of Republican and Democratic ethics experts.”