OGE released a series of tweets applauding Trump over business comments.
The Office of Government Ethics on Wednesday released a bizarre series of tweets praising President-elect Donald Trump for a commitment to remove himself entirely from his business—a commitment he has yet to make.
The tweets congratulated Trump for divesting entirely from the Trump Organization, a promise the president-elect never actually made. Instead, Trump and transition officials said on Wednesday he would turn over control of his business to his children. Transition officials declined to state whether Trump would give up his ownership stake in the company, as would be required for complete divestiture.
Wednesday morning, Trump announced on Twitter that he would leave the business “in total,” with documents currently being drawn up to take him “completely out” of the operations. His tweets did not address his ownership stake.
Still, OGE said “Bravo!” in response to Trump’s announcement, and tweeted it was “delighted” Trump had decided to divest from his businesses. “Good call!” OGE extolled.
.@realDonaldTrump - we told your counsel we'd sing your praises if you divested, we meant it.— U.S. OGE (@OfficeGovEthics) November 30, 2016
.@realDonaldTrump Brilliant! Divestiture is good for you, very good for America!— U.S. OGE (@OfficeGovEthics) November 30, 2016
OGE is an independent agency whose director, Walter Shaub, was nominated by President Obama and is serving in the fourth of a five-year term. The office sets governmentwide ethics policy and can, in some cases, recommend discipline, but typically refrains from weighing in on theoretical decisions from individual employees or elected officials. OGE originally posted the tweets Wednesday morning, subsequently deleted them and then reposted them in the afternoon.
The office claimed to have discussed Trump’s business dealings and possible conflicts of interest with Trump’s counsel; the president-elect said last week that Don McGahn would serve as his White House counsel.
“Now that the transition is approaching, OGE will continue to work toward establishing a strong ethical culture in the new presidential administration,” Shaub said in July. “Our mission is to do everything we can to get the new administration off to a strong start. The president-elect and the American people deserve nothing less.”
OGE also in July issued a guide to help the new administration navigate ethics laws. In a statement to Government Executive, an OGE spokesman said the office “applauds that goal” Trump set out in his tweets, but confirmed he had not provided additional details on the president-elect’s actual plans.
“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,” the spokesman said. “Divestiture resolves conflicts of interest in a way that transferring control does not. We don’t know the details of their plan, but we are willing and eager to help them with it.”
OGE also said Trump’s decision—or its interpretation thereof—would bring him in compliance with its 1983 guidance that presidents should hold themselves in line with conflict of interest laws that apply to all other federal employees besides the president and vice president.
Presidents are not immune from all potential conflicts of interest; the Congressional Research Service noted in a recently released memorandum that several provisions “might technically apply” to the president. The U.S. Constitution, for example, prevents any office holder from accepting any financial benefit from a foreign state. They might also have to comply with financial disclosure requirements and restrictions on the employment of relatives, as well as provide foreign gift receipts and other gifts reporting.
Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee have called on their Republican counterparts to investigate, identify and protect against any potential conflicts of interest. Trump has faced a new round of criticism after an op-ed published in Government Executive this week stated the president-elect would, once he takes office, be in violation of his organization’s lease with the General Services Administration to operate a hotel in the Old Post Office Building in Washington.