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Sunday, August 6, 2017

An erosion of ethics oversight should make us all more cynical about Trump

The Editorial Board
The Los Angeles Times
Originally published August 4, 2017

President Trump’s problems with ethics are manifest, from his refusal to make public his tax returns to the conflicts posed by his continued stake in the Trump Organization and its properties around the world — including the Trump International Hotel just down the street from the White House, in a building leased from the federal government he’s now in charge of. The president’s stubborn refusal to hew to the ethical norms set by his predecessors has left the nation to rightfully question whose best interests are foremost in his mind.

Some of the more persistent challenges to the Trump administration’s comportment have come from the Office of Government Ethics, whose recently departed director, Walter M. Shaub Jr., fought with the administration frequently over federal conflict-of-interest regulations. Under agency rules, chief of staff Shelley K. Finlayson should have been Shaub’s successor until the president nominated a new director, who would need Senate confirmation.

But Trump upended that transition last month by naming the office’s general counsel, David J. Apol, as the interim director. Apol has a reputation within the agency for taking contrarian — and usually more lenient — stances on ethics requirements than did Shaub and the consensus opinion of the staff (including Finlayson). And that, of course, raises the question of whether the White House replaced Finlayson with Apol in hopes of having a more conciliatory ethics chief without enduring a grueling nomination fight.

The article is here.