The former head of the Office of Government Ethics argued Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s lack of transparency regarding his business dealings means that he is being “held to a lower standard than the people who work for him.”
Walter Shaub, who left his post Tuesday after months of clashing with Trump and his administration over possible ethics violations, pointed out that several members of the president’s Cabinet, like the president himself, are from the business world. But unlike Trump, those Cabinet members gave up much of their assets before joining the government.
“Some of his supporters have said, ‘Well, it’s just too much to ask to have to give up certain financial interests and maybe be a little bit less rich,’” Shaub told CNN on Wednesday. “But I would give you the example of [Secretary of Commerce] Wilbur Ross. This is an equally wealthy man who has given up a great deal of his holdings in order to come into government, and that happens across the top level of government.”
Shaub went on to note that as ethics chief, his job often involved “delivering the bad news to Cabinet officials and top presidential appointees that they have to sell off their assets, sometimes at a loss, and that’s the price of public service.”
“It hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t been fun to tell them that, but their basic patriotism prevails, and they always do it,” he said. “So I don’t know why the president would be held to a lower standard than the people who work for him.”
Before taking office, Trump placed his businesses in a trust run by his elder sons Eric and Donald Jr., but he has retained a financial stake. As president, Trump and his family have continued to tout their various brands, and there have been numerous reports of Trump-affiliated businesses, such as his D.C. hotel, using the family’s position in the White House to leverage a commercial advantage.
Shaub announced his resignation earlier this month after months of criticizing the president’s poor ethical practices. In his resignation letter, he emphasized “the principle that public service is a public trust, requiring employees to place loyalty to the Constitution, the laws, and ethical principles above private gain.”
Shaub on Wednesday also renewed calls for Trump to release his tax returns. Though it’s not required, the vast majority of elected officials release their financial information in order to be transparent. Trump is the first president in 40 years to eschew the practice. He has claimed repeatedly ― and falsely ― that being under IRS audit prevents him from making the information public.
“They aren’t required to be released, and that’s something I would like to see changed,” Shaub said. “It’s like going out and buying anything. People need to be able to evaluate what kind of conflicts of interest their presidential candidate has, and this story, ‘people knew what they were getting.’ Well, they didn’t know what they were getting because he didn’t release his tax forms the way every other presidential candidate did.”