tv Former Government Ethics Director Speaks at National Press Club CSPAN July 31, 2017 11:38am-12:30pm EDT
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>> former white house ethics director walter shaub outlined ways to strengthen executive ethics rules. he criticized the trump administration for not adhering to ethical norms that previous administrations have observed and what it might mean for the future. jamie: thank you. i want to thank everyone coming out today and those joining us this morning via c-span. my name is jamie horowitz, i'm on the headliners committee here at the national press club. on behalf of our president, jeff, and our 3,000 members, we're honored today to have mr. walter shaub jr. with us. i want to say that yesterday as i was driving -- perhaps more
accurately, stuck in washington traffic listening to radio news and despite all the drama going on about health care, i was taken by the fact that so many of the news stories had words like, emoluments clause, ethics, rich people's problems, legal precedent, those kinds of phrases in story after story after story. all those stories had to do with president trump and his relatives. one had to deal with the new white house communications director and the pending sale of his company to chinese investors. so the question today, are these just rich people's problems or are they serious challenges to our democracy? our speaker today hopefully will answer that question a lot more.
i'm told just earlier this month he was the director of the office of government ethics. o.g.e. is an independent agency that aims to prevent conflicts of interests on the part of government employees and works to resolve conflicts when they occur. mr. shaub, i'm sure he'll tell you more about his background but he's a virginia native that graduated from james madison university and received his law degree here in washington at the american university. and prior to working at o.g.e., he had worked as a government lawyer but also in private practice. and today, i guess for the last two weeks, he's at the campaign legal center and i'm sure he'll tell you about his work there. rather than me saying anything else, let me turn it over to him and then after he gives some brief remarks we'll open it up to questions from the room. thank you.
walter: well, thanks for having me today. as he said, i'm walter shaub, and my focus is on ethics in general. prior to that i was with the office of government ethics and my focus was more specifically government ethics. i have worked -- i had -- i got to get used to the past tense -- worked at the office of government ethics since 2001 except for a couple of years when i went to a law firm in between. prior to that i had worked in a number of federal agencies and in fact even when i was in a law firm, my work involved federal agencies. so really my whole career has been on federal service and federal employees and ethics more broadly. and in that context, i had a lot of time working with the government ethics program. i saw how it was supposed to work.
what i can say unequivocally that ethics really has no party. both major political parties have always been incredibly supportive of the government ethics program and neither can really claim sole credit for having built it. that and -- and in fact as i worked with both the administrations of president george bush and barack obama, i can say that in every encounter that i ever had with both white houses, and i worked closely with the white house because i handled their presidential nominees, they were always incredibly supportive of the government ethics program. in fact, in terms of my day-to-day interactions, i couldn't distinguish the difference between the bush administration and the obama administration. so with that context, this past eight months and i say eight months because my work with this administration began during the presidential campaign has been
an absolute shock to the system and i would say that we are truly in an ethics crisis right now. and something's got to be done about it. that's partly why i left because i reached the end what i thought i could achieve there and one of the things i want to work on outside is proposals for improving the government ethics program. in addition, i think the crisis we're facing was experienced very acutely in the government ethics program but it's part of a broader assault on the institutions of our representative form of government. and so i hope to broaden my focus in my new job. in order to talk about how i think we have to address the
ethics program in the executive branch, i want to give you a little bit of a primer on that ethics program because it's important to understand what we're talking about when we say the ethics program. it's really made of three components and that's the rules and regulations that set the absolute bare minimum floor for what you have to do in order to we're talking about when we say not be a criminal or not be a civil violator or not be a rule breaker. and so they are not as overburdensome as they could be if we were trying to say here's what you should aspire to. there's also ethical principles and ethical norms. so you got the rules and regs, ethical principles and ethical norms. those are three distinct and interrelated things that are absolutely essential to the functioning of that program. the ethical principles are real actual thing and i can hold this up because all you really need to see is this number is 14, and they're written out. i printed this off of o.g.e.'s webpage. these 14 very specific
principles come to us george h.w. bush entered way back in 1989 and tweaked a little bit in 1990 but they actually are separate and distinct. part of the ethics programs, they have been incorporated in o.g.e.'s rules and there is a provision, wherever i need the individual rules don't apply, you apply these 14 principles to evaluate what can and cannot happen. a government employee could be fired for breaking those principles even though there isn't a specific rule on the point. and rather than reading you all 14 i'll just give you a couple examples. i mean, there's the principle
that you should not engage in public service for private gain. and an agency could actually fire an employee for misusing their official position to actually benefit someone that they're close to. you got an impartiality rule that say you got to protect the government's operations by being impartial in your dealings with the public and with businesses. the president has not strictly covered in a technical legal sense that apply to federal employees, but they normally follow that, try to adhere to it. the president started tweeting out how everybody should go buy eddie bauer products because they supported him in the position. that's misuse of position, abuse of authority. even though it's not strictly illegal, it's a departure and it's a problem. another one of the ethical principles talks about disclosure of waste, fraud and abuse. and we get into some tricky areas if you do an overbroad clamping down on what you call leakers. you have the administration calling things leaks that are not at all leaks.
like when o.g.e. decides to fulfill its mission to communicate with the public about important matters of government interest, they call that a leak. well, it's an official release, not a leak. or when this week anthony scaramucci talks about going to the f.b.i. or d.o.j. because somebody released his public financial disclosure report which says public at the top and has a discussion of the release mechanism. so these are ethical principles and the departure from them is every bit of a threat as any violation of a specific rule. there's also ethical norms. and i'm going to talk about why they're important a little bit later, but let's just talk about what they are. these ethical norms include the tradition that our modern presidents have followed in divesting their conflicts of interest. and that sets the tone from the top. when you don't do that you run into problems. we -- another example is with presidential nominees.
the law of governing conflicts of interest that apply to them when they come into government is not a prohibitive holding statute. there are some but i am talking about the main primary conflicts of interest that apply to all of the nominees. and instead it's a recusal statute that says if you have a financial interest in a matter that's going to be directly and predictably affected by it, you can't participate as a government official. so you could literally comply with that particular statute as the secretary of energy if you held exxon and chevron and b.p. and just sat at your desk with your feet up reading the newspaper all day. the problem is you can't run the department of energy that way. and so an ethical norm that has evolved is that o.g.e. and executive branch agency ethics officials run the program as a risk management program and they try to read the tea leaves as best they can and admittedly it's more art than science to
predict what kind of matters are going to come up that a nominee is going to have to get involved in. and they reduce risks by having them divest it. for the first time ever -- and i don't want to impugn all nominees in this administration. some of them have been cooperative. but for the first time ever we're having a number of nominees or they're having a number of nominees at o.g.e. who are pushing back on literally everything. and even some of the basic assumptions of the ethical norms that you have to divest things that are likely to be a conflict. one other example that i wanted to offer you was that last year when i was the director of o.g.e., i managed to get through a regulation and it was not intended as a last-minute rule change. we had been working on it for a couple of years and the rules moved slow, the regulatory process. but i amended the gift rules to say that even -- the rules say you can't accept gifts and then it gives some exception.
you can accept gifts in these conditions but i have the rule now saying, employees should consider declining otherwise permissible gifts if they believe that a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts would question the employee's integrity or impartiality as a result of accepting the gift. and it focuses on a number of factors that employees should consider including whether the gift has a high market value, whether there is an appearance that the donor is trying to influence them, whether the person has interests that could be directly affected by the employee's specific duties as opposed to just an interest in the agency's work generally. and this is an important one, and i valued this one the most. whether it would provide the donor with significantly disproportionate access to the government. and so you have wealthy groups
or organizations able to make donations in the form of, come to our event, and here's a gift exception that says you can go to our event. it's perfectly ok to rely on an exception. but if you are going to an event when you are hearing one vide side's view on the issue then they're buying influence or at least appear to be buying influence and the gift is appearance-based than actual conflict-based because the odds that you'll change everything because you got one scalloped wrapped in bacon is not likely. but we have to protect even the appearance of the government's integrity. and that is one of the ethical principles. and it's -- and so this articulates a new ethical norm for the gift rules. interestingly, by the way, that rule applies to the president and that admonition applies to the president. by statute. the problem is, it was never intended to be an enforceable
rule because we don't want people relying on exceptions and then having their heads chopped off and they lose their job because they relied on a perfectly acceptable exception but somebody else's subjective analysis of this standard was different. so it's not literally enforceable in the sense of penalties, but it's trying to create a new ethical norm because it's values-based. a lot of people talk about rules-based and values-based ethics programs. we absolutely have to have a rule-based program so that there's a floor, but this is an example of a values-based rule that tries to push the people to go further. and the problem of the values-based program can be that the question comes up, whose values? well, by putting this in this regulation and putting employees on notice, we're saying, this is a value of the government. this is the value you should adhere to. it's not open to anybody deciding you can't or can do
something. but you're only going to have that addition be effective if you have an administration sending the message that ethics really matters, that ethical norms really matter and that people should adhere to these types of aspirational requirements. when you have an administration under the leadership of counsel to the president like don mcgahn, you have an attitude of bare minimum compliance, in my view. and so a rule like this is just going to fall on deaf ears, and i challenge them and i hope they're able to meet this challenge to show me an example of where somebody applied that value and decided to decline a gift because that would be wonderful and they would deserve credit, this administration, for having achieved that. so make us all proud. tell us you've achieved that. the problem is not confined to the ethics program, though. we are looking at broader
society experiencing some of these problems. you have a president criticizing law enforcement officials, firing one and threatening to fire others or implying that he's going to fire others, criticizing them publicly as he's done jeff sessions. attacking the press, calling them the enemy of the people. can i just tell you here at the press club, you are not the enemy of the people. [laughter] you are a valuable institution that is part of what makes our country great. in fact, it was so important it was the first amendment that had to be added to the constitution. and as i said before, going too far in cracking down on leaders -- leaders -- leakers could affect whistleblowing. of course we don't want people disclosing classified information, but, again, when you have ryan of "the new yorker" reporting that anthony scaramucci was outraged that it was leaked that somebody went to a dinner, that's fairly outrageous. so why does it matter? it matters because norms are the
glue that holds society together. and i heard a media personality who i respect yesterday on tv say we should all stop talking about norms. why norms? and i got her point. it sounds soft. and so maybe it communicates to it sounds soft. a broader audience i need to come up with a jazzier, more important, scary sounding word than norms. even if the word sounds esoteric, the meaning is important. people see a crime being committed on the street, somebody being mugged, they call the police. it's an ethical norm. in most neighborhoods, most parts of the country people call the police when there's a crime unless something has completely
broken down in that neighborhood which happens sometimes. but they're not usually legally required to do it. i read about a new england state once that had $100 fine for the guilty bystander and that sort of what the "seinfeld" episode was based on at the end, they were prosecuted for not acting. in reality it doesn't happen. it was funny in a sitcom. we can account to people having the norm. if you don't you have utter chaos. that's why norms are important. i think what to do, my advice to reporters in particular, report on departures from norms, not just strictly violations. and there's two reasons for that. one, a lot can slip away and a lot of harm can happen before you have an actual violation. and, two, it reinforces this attitude that i perceive, now, maybe that's not in my head. but i perceive don mcgahn adopting an attitude of bare minimum compliance and you don't want to validate that kind of approach by only talking about
violations. and then, for my part, i've got a legislative proposal that i hope to be making, but just will back -- i guess i stay within time so that you have plenty of time to ask questions. maybe what i'll do is talk a little bit about the legislative proposal. -- this is mys i proposal at this point. i am working with clc and other groups to try to refine it so it's got more buy-in. my personal thinking is that we need to clarify the o.g.e.'s authority to make it clear that o.g.e. has authority over the entire executive branch which was the intent of congress when they passed the statute. there was a case in 1995 in the district of columbia, federal circuit that called into question whether the white house is an agency for all purposes. i think people have missed this
fact that posted on o.g.e.'s website is a form the white house filed this year in which they declared that they're a federal agency because they relied on a legal authority to accept outside contributions to cover their official travel that only applies to federal agencies and only federal agencies are required to file that form. so it's at odds with the claim they have raised, that they are not a federal agency, and therefore are not covered by oge's organic statute which says that o.g.e. has authority over every executive agency. so, there are some inconsistencies there. they want to be an executive agency when it means they can accept gifts, but they don't want to be an executive agency when it means they can be held , accountable for ethics. that's a nice deal if you can get it. so, increase o.g.e.'s authority to access to information and records. i would like to see o.g.e. have subpoena authority and i would
like to see it enforceable by a court. if need be, if somebody ignores it. i ran into the experience recently where i was fighting to , get waivers from the white house and these are routine ethics requests, routine oversight activity, o.g.e. conducts as the supervising ethics office for the executive branch, and i got a letter from mick mulvaney, the director of the office of management and budget that he copied to every single general counsel in every single designated agency ethics official in the government. we are talking potentially hundreds of people, saying that the o.g.e. may lack the authority and they need to dig in deeper whether they should respond to this routine request. and obviously that's a very intimidating letter to send to agency ethics officials and general councils because he's , the person that controls their budget. and so i came back as hard as i knew how and they wound up releasing the waivers.
and then again getting back to , ethical norms, i discovered that 10 of them were unsigned, undated and retroactive and so, again, we have the departure from the ethical norms. i do think there should be additional investigative authority. i don't think it should rest with o.g.e. that's where i differ from some people making recommendations. but having been on the inside, i think that the office of government ethics performs a very important prevention role and their form of prevention role, people have to be willing to come to you and ask you for advice before they do things. when's the last time you went up to a police officer and asked if you could cross the street here in the middle? people are not going to go to the cop. so, you still have to have that separation. my idea is there's a lot of entities in the federal government, agencies, the white house, -- whether they want to claim they are not an agency, let's call them the white house, -- and inspectors general
themselves. these entities don't have -- very small agencies don't have inspectors general. so if there was one central inspector general for the executive branch who had jurisdiction over every office and employee in the executive branch who doesn't have an inspector general, that would plug all the gaps. i'd like to have them have a special responsibility to o.g.e. where if o.g.e. asks them to investigate something they have the independence to decide whether to investigate it or not. but if they decline, i'd like them to have to notify congress and o.g.e. in writing of the reasons they were declining. and i think having to put your name to that, would ensure that o.g.e. would have the support and independence they needed. now, obviously there would have to be exceptions when it would interfere with an ongoing investigation or national security to release that. but in all other cases i think it should be posted on the website. i think o.g.e. needs to be more independent. its director needs to be removed for cause only with 30 days'
notice, both to the director and to congress and o.g.e. it needs legislative and bypass authority, which means they can , talk to congress without having to get permission from the white house or o.m.b. there's nuanced rules you can respond to letters from congress asking you questions. but to just submit a legislative proposal or budget you have to go to o.m.b. first. i'd like them to be able to send those simultaneously to o.m.b. and the legislative branch so that congress could have the information it needed without having it filtered. i think o.g.e. needs to be able to enforce ethics rules. i'd like them to have a civil action in court for civil penalties unless the department of justice chose to initiate the action or to take over the action after o.g.e. had initiated it. i'd like to remove some overly burdensome due process procedures that established way too complicated a mechanism for o.g.e. to pursue recommendations
of disciplinary action or order people to stop engaging in things that violate the rules. o.g.e. hasn't traditionally engaged in much of that because they went too far on the due process protections and o.g.e. can't do that work. i'd like them to tighten the revolving door by extending the restriction on post-employment for senior employees, senior officials, people at my level when i left the government to two years instead of one year. and that would keep them from going back to their agencies to represent somebody for two years. i'd like to see a recusal obligation for anybody who comes into government and gets a special payment, something discretionary from an employer on the way in. right now it would be illegal for somebody to give you a payment after you go into government for going into government but there's a loophole. you can give it before their first day and it's perfectly legal and there's a regulation that carves out a very narrow swath. this is technical.
it applies only to party matters, matters involving specific parties actually engaged as parties in the matter. i'd like the recusal obligation to be statutory. i'd like it to come with civil penalties. i'd like it to be so broad that if any particular matter affecting the financial interests of the person who gave and i'd like it to last at least two years, if not four. and so that would presumably i hope deter people from giving , you special payments because it means you are going to be sitting on the sidelines and not doing anything to help them. i'd like to see a two-year recusal instead of one year for past clients and employers. i'd like to amend the ethics and government act to prohibit public officials from receiving compensation for the use of their names, their family's names. i'd like to see an increase in transparency where certain types of ethics records should go on o.g.e.'s website and agency
ethics website but i don't think it should apply to every advice they give, which i have seen some people call for. my concern there is o.g.e. can't be prevention mechanism and ethics officials can't be the prevention mechanism if they know that everything they say to you when they come for advice is going to be slapped up on the webpage. i think there are certain concrete actions that can be defined clearly like waivers, any kind of authorizations, anything to do with ethics agreements or compliance with ethics agreements; anything to do with certificates of divestiture or training records. and any other kind of approvals like approval to accept a gift. and i would like to see a new disclosure requirement for a narrow set of people. the top layer of government. technically it's people covered by section 13 of the stock act, for any lawyers out there who want to research that. but it's the top layer of government.
i'd like them to have to disclose business liabilities of any business that they still have a large interest in. if they were recently an officer, director, employee of that organization or their family controls it as long as it's a private organization. i'm less worried about publicly traded companies. i would like to free up some resources by removing the requirement to disclose income from publicly traded assets. your average middle-class federal employee could fill out their financial disclosure report in 15 minutes. but having to look up how much they earn from a mutual fund or a stock that's publicly traded and go over each quarterly report, that turns it into a two or three-hour affair. i think that removing that requirement would free up a lot of resources of the ethics program to focus on more
significant disclosure issues. so i'm not all more is more. there is one area where i think less is more. i think people have to disclose discretionary trust. i'd like to see that as a new requirement. discretionary trusts are trusts where you're a beneficiary and the trustee has total discretion to give you a payment or not . right now you don't have to disclose the underlying holdings of a trust like that. you don't even have to disclose that the trust exists. so, for all we know, there could be plenty of people over the coming years who file financial disclosure reports and maybe they are the beneficiaries of assets, and have an interest in trying to advance those, but we are not going to know about it. so i'd like to see that as a requirement added to the disclosure rules. i'd like to salvage the blind trust program. you hear a lot about blind trusts, let me tell you the exact number that are in the executive branch. zero.
so it's not hard for me to remember that number. the last one was henry paulsen in 2006 and it's because the program is fairly unworkable. it doesn't really solve the problems people are after. but if we could come up with a new mechanism that actually created blind trust you would actually have a new level of protection against conflict of interest that we have never seen before. and what i would like to do is authorize managed accounts rather than trusts. you can walk into a financial institution right now and say i'd like to sign up for a managed account and somebody will buy and sell assets for you and it's not going to qualify as a blind trust. but if we could have some requirements to ensure you don't know what they're buying and selling, that would be so feasible to be able to just enter into it, that you may even get to the point where you are not -- where you not only have top government officials entering into these things, but people at all levels. and i'd love to have a day where instead there are reporting there are zero i could report
there are 4,000. and so that's one thing that i think could really make a change. one other change -- i got two more. one other is having to do with special government employees. and this is something senator grassley has been pushing. it's currently his interpretation. while i was in the executive branch i was bound by the department of justice's interpretation. the current interpretation of the executive branch is, if you're appointed as a special government employee, you can serve forever, you know, for the whole year and show up every single day and still be a special government employee as long as they had a good faith belief when they designated you that you were only going to serve for 130 days or less. and then fewer ethics rules apply to you. i'd like it to be consistent with what senator grassley has said, to be that at 130 days you turn into a pumpkin. you don't get to be an s.g.e. anymore. instead of being a special government employee, you either have to leave or become a regular government employee. and then all the rules apply.
so either of those would be an acceptable outcome to me. then, of course, i'd like to address , and this is the final presidential conflicts of one, interest. now, these other ones i talked about, they are sufficiently technical and bureaucratic and i hope i haven't put you to sleep , but that i am hoping there will be noncontroversial. -- they will be noncontroversial. this one i get that we're in a hyperpolarized society right now and so people will have a hard time from both sides of the aisle being able to take a look at this issue. but i think it's important because we've always been free of presidential conflicts of interest since the ethics and government act was enacted and now we're not and you see the president flying around giving free advertisements to his properties. you see foreign governments and businesses and charities and even political officials holding events at his properties. and it's just inextricable the conflicts of interest. so i'd like to have a prohibition on presidential conflicts of interest.
it cannot be a recusal requirement like the existing statute. we need our president to participate in everything, but you could have a rule that prohibited the holding of assets and it would need to have plenty of reasonable exceptions. i'd be ok with the president having more exceptions than even the rank and file employees because this is unlike the other one which is a recusal statute and actual prohibited holding statute. now, in terms of penalties, i'd like the penalty to be, you're a violator. you can't really impose penalties for this. there is an impeachment mechanism, you could have a requirement that somebody just simply has to divest. that's the cure for violating the rolls, you go and sell. but congress already has a constitutional mechanism to -- for violating their walls -- violating the-rules, you go and sell.
but congress already has a constitutional mechanism to address violations of law by a president so it's enough that it , says it's illegal to hold certain holdings. and i think we need to reclarify that nepotism, the anti-nepotism statute applies to the white house. on the first day of this new administration, the office of legal counsel and the department of justice rolled that back, and i think it's created some difficulties. so i'd like to see this statute amended to make clear. now, of course, there has to be an exception for the president's spouse. but that should be the limit of it. so anyways, those are the types of things that i'd like to see happen and i'm going to be working with various groups to see where we can find commonalities, work with the folks at c.l.c. to see what they want to sign onto as specific official position. i just want to say i'm really looking forward to continuing working in this area and broadening my focus. the campaign legal center is a terrific group, i hope everybody will go and check it out on their website now and -- now
that i don't have a conflict of interest and can talk about them. they are involved in incredibly important litigation there. i should say we instead of they. they are leading a case that could end political gerrymandering which is the kind of thing that could transform a society, and the oral arguments are this october. so, check them out to rid follow the case, it is an incredibly important case and let's keep our fingers crossed for an end to political gerrymandering. so -- [applause] jamie: so with that we are going to open it up to questions. if you have a question, i would ask you to identify yourself by name and your news organization. so let's throw it open to the floor. questions. yes, in the back. >> in the past you spoke out about the president's plans place his holdings in trust with his son. in terms of that plan and g.s.a. leaks specifically, do you think
that is better at this point? or do you think action needs to be taken on that front? secondly what congressional , avenues do you see as picking up the mantle on ethics issues? walter: do i need to repeat the question for tv or do they have sound? ok. great. so the first question was about the president's plan to set up a trust run by his kids and whether more needs to be done on that. i said it back in january and nothing has changed. it's worthless. it's meaningless from a conflicts of interest perspective. he still has a full financial interest in it and it's not a blind trust. he just signed a financial disclosure report that lists his holdings. so not only he but everyone in the world knows what they are. and so there isn't really more to be said about it except what needs to be done is he needs to divest. he needs to sell those assets. the second question i just , forgot. >> second question is what
congressional avenue do you see picking up the mantle? walter: what congressional avenues do i see picking up the charge of reforming the ethics program? just this monday, i had an excellent bipartisan call with chairman gowdy and ranking member cummings from the house oversight committee. it's actually o.g.e.'s oversight committee and will be working on their re-authorization legislation. they both indicated they would be open to reading a letter from me to describe the kinds of things i'm talking about now , which i greatly appreciate. you can send letters to people all day until you're blue in the face or your hands are tired from signing them but it's , wonderful to have people say they would actually take the time to read it. so i was very enthusiastic about our call and so i'm hoping the two of them are interested. i'm hoping the senate oversight committee for o.g.e., the homeland security and governmental affairs committee will take this up as well.
if they pursue the re-authorization of o.g.e., of course, they will need to take a look at whether they're going to make changes to o.g.e. statute. and i hope that the senate will use any nomination hearing for any nominee to become the director of the office of government ethics to talk about the president's conflicts of interest, ask any new nominee what their position on it is and see if they can explore what some new nominee would endorse as a legislative proposal and whether they can count on that individual's support for strengthening this program. >> i from the center of public am integrity. you had mentioned earlier there was a crop of nominees for this administration that really pushed back against counsel to divest from a holding. what was the outcome of that?
was it that they wound up being instructed to divest, that the agreement called them to divest or was there a blunting of that? are they divesting less than you normally would see? what was the outcome of that? walter: so she asked about my comment about some of the nominees pushing back on the ethics process and what was the outcome? i'm happy to report the outcome is good. and to their credit, every one of them ultimately did what we asked. it's just that i saw people in my hallways when i was working there, literally walking out and flapping their forehead and the , refrain they would all say, why is everything a flight? -- a fight? and why are some questions being asked, never asked before? along the lines of, why do i have to do this? it's not all of them. some of them have been cooperative. so the good news is i feel confident saying during my time there all of the ethics agreements are consistent with what we did before and they're posted on o.g.e.'s website so it's all public knowledge. i am not talking inside baseball here.
but, you know, i hope they continue holding that line going forward. >> bob weiner. i'm a headliners member and an op ed writer. i would like to bring up to items that have been in the news, and if you are comfortable answering this that would be fantastic. you have an opinion on the president's financial history with russia, including bank loans, and to you think that with him and members of his white house family and team, that it has an impact on their attitudes towards sanctions and policy towards russia? the second question, is 200 members of congress led by , congressman john conyers, dean of the house, have filed a lawsuit on emoluments on violations that they believe that the president has, including profits from the trump
hotel, where he has foreign leaders and does fundraising. is that in your view a violation of the emoluments clause of the constitution? walter: ok. so the first question was whether while i was at o.g.e. we looked at financial interests of the president or his family related to russia and whether i , think that's interfering with their judgment on russia sanctions. i'm not keen on talking about individuals whose reports we may have looked at. i can't really get into that. what i can talk about is the fact the only information o.g.e. has access to is printed right there in the public financial disclosure reports that are now out in the public and have been circulated. and so that's part of why i'm interested in changing the statute to allow for the reporting or to require the reporting of certain business loans because the financial this closure form only lists the financial holdings that you
have. any liabilities are strictly personalo your own liabilities and do not extend to the liabilities of businesses, even if you're heavily intertwined with them through family control or past leadership and significant ownership interests now. so, without even having to go into the individuals, but i can tell you is that that kind of information just isn't available on the form, and of course, we don't have the president's tax forms. yet another departure from the ethical norms of our society, so there's even less information than in the past. as to what's in their heads, i try to refrain from speculating about people's intent. i don't know, but i think the real problem is that you have to itch -- do these financial you actually have to ask the question do these financial interests potentially influence , russia sanctions? to make him this gets back to talking about ethical principles, ethical norms and rules as three distinct components of the ethics
programs. right there we're already outside the realm of ethical norms if a president is , continuing to hold onto financial interests and we have to ask the questions about what affect it's having on them. so, the question itself is the answer. that we shouldn't have that level of uncertainty because it casts a cloud over all government decisionmaking. the second question was about the pending emoluments clause litigation. this isn't an intentional dodge i would defer to the folks who are involved in that litigation right now. i'm not an expert in the emoluments clause, and while i was in the government i avoided studying it closely because the department of justice speaks for the executive branch in matters of litigation and so i didn't want to be articulating a viewpoint that was distinct from the department of justice's viewpoint on that pending litigation. i've only been out for a week and i've been talking to a lot of you and getting settled into
my new office. so i'll take a look at that issue, but i think it would be premature. but again it goes back to the , question, we shouldn't be in the situation where we have to wonder, because if he didn't own these financial interests we wouldn't have a question about the emoluments clause. and so when people say the emoluments clause is an arcane area that hasn't been explored extensively and so it's very difficult for the litigants to cite precedence, it's because we haven't had to. presidents have resolved their conflicts of interest and so we've never been in this situation before to the extent that we are now. certainly. in modern times. and so, to that extent, i hope the courts, when they look at this case will look at it with an eye towards realizing that the president -- the precedence -- the precedent itself may not just be found in court cases but in the behavior of presidents
who have been careful not to have financial interests that could raise these questions. that is not traditionally an area of legal consideration in but here where we have such an important constitutional provision and so little precedent, the court has to go looking, and i hope the court will consider what past presidents have done with an emphasis on recent past presidents, because the norms of the society evolves over years. you have 40 years of history to look at right now. i'll let you pick it. >> the recommendations that you have obviously, would require action in congress. are there certain republican lawmakers that you will be going to and trying to press these issues? democrats have unveiled a number of ethics and other types of
overhaul but you see that is not being embraced by republicans, so are there certain lawmakers that you are going to look to take this up from the republican side of the aisle? walter: any legislative changes are going to need bipartisan essentially. folks in one party on the hill, a number of them made proposals, but a number haven't. i absolutely agree. again, it goes back to one of the first things i said, we have no party and where really going to need both major parties in congress to come together and make some of these changes. now as i said, except for the am talkinghen i about presidential concepts of interests, these should be no-brainers. this is the advice of an expert who has done this for years and years. and these rules will apply to future administrations and so far in our country, the white house has passed back and forth between different parties, and
assuming that continues, and it's a safe assumption isn't inductive logic congress should , want to have a set of rules that will apply to people because a majority can be in the minority tomorrow, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually. so, i'm hoping from there we build some support. i invite all members of congress to talk about it. i was greatly heartened by chairman gowdy's interest in it. senator grassley has been a great advocate for good government issues. in fact, i quoted him on waiver -- the waiver dispute with the white house, and somebody on his staff says that the senator stands by the quote of his that i had quoted. so i am confident that there are good people in both parties in congress, who care about government ethics. i got a letter from congressman walter jones from north carolina while i was in o.g.e. and my response is still on o.g.e.'s website, at least recently it
he was expressing concerns about some of the ethics issues. so, i am 100% sure that there are good people in both parties in congress that care about this, and the trick is going to be finding them. >> i just want to follow up on that. i recently attended a talk with a member of congress who said that when he is talking to his colleagues, they're surprised by just how fragile the government is, that in the last six months, they didn't know how much harm could be done within the law. you have been talking about norms. is that your sense? do you think that there is a growing sense for a need for more ethical reform on the hill for those reasons? walter: i feel like i'm perceiving that sense of surprise in a lot of corners of our society, including congress.
i can give you an example of fragility which goes back to the ethical principles, to components of the ethics program -- much has been written recently about o.g.e. having a lack of enforcement authority and how essentially weak it is in a lot of areas. first of all, let me thank the press for caring. when i was nominated for o.g.e.'s director position, i said my goal was public outreach and i pretty much stick out on a street corner doing jumping jacks saying, hey, look over here. and for the past six months, or eight months, people have been looking finally. so that's helpful. but those stories about how weak o.g.e. is, there is authority -- their only real source of power -- there is authority and there is power, and a court can issue an order, but it is the u.s. marshal showing up on your
doorstep that are going to make sure you do that. but o.g.e. has no u.s. marshal it gets its power from two sources. that it leverages. the whiteways been house, and because every presidential administration republican and democratic alike , have always been very supportive of o.g.e., for a teeny tiny micro agency, o.g.e. welded incredibly disproportionate access to the white house and could call up the white house counsel's office and say we are having a problem , with this person and the next day, we would get a call from them saying, what can we do for you, how can we help because the counsel's office had called them. that went out the window this year. and then the only other source of leverage at all that o.g.e. has is going public and talking to the public. and you'll see the incredible pushback that o.g.e. has received from that. i have personally been smeared and attacked by this