Tag Archives: government ethics

Rex T breaks his silence in a big way

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is now a private citizen. He isn’t a silent citizen, though.

Here is what he told graduating cadets at Virginia Military Institute: When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth even on what may seem the most trivial of matters, we go wobbly on America.”

Who in the world do you think Tillerson is referring to when he said we “go wobbly on the truth”?

He didn’t mention Donald J. Trump by name, but Tillerson appears to be unsheathing his rhetorical weaponry at the president.

He talked about accepting “alternate realities.” Which reminds me of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway’s priceless coining of the term “alternative facts.”

Tillerson’s tenure at State didn’t go well from the beginning. It ended when Trump fired him and then replaced him with CIA director Mike Pompeo. Tillerson left the agency quietly, but to his credit he is not remaining quiet.

“If we do not as Americans confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society and among our leaders in both private and public sector, and regrettably at times even the nonprofit sector, then American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years,” Tillerson said to the VMI cadets.

Yes, we are witnessing an epidemic of “crisis of ethics and integrity in our society.” I believe its source of late has been in the halls of power at the highest levels of our government. I also believe that Rex Tillerson knows that to be true as well.

I am glad his voice is being heard once again. The former chief diplomat has an important message to deliver.

Earth to POTUS: No ‘siege’ at EPA

Someone needs to explain to the president of the United States — in language a second-grader might understand — what a conflict of interest looks like.

It usually involves taking advantage of someone with a vested stake in a public policy, such as, oh, living for virtually free in a condo provided by a lobbyist whose interests might benefit from certain policies.

Such is the case with Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt, who rents a condo for $50 per night from an oil company lobbyist. The lobbyist is trying to curry favor with EPA on policies that would benefit the oil company.

Does one think that’s a conflict of interest? Yes! But if the answer is “no,” they need to look up the definition of the term.

Donald Trump says Pruitt is “totally under siege” by what he calls the “fake news media.”

Mr. President … ready my lips. No one is denying that the Pruitts are renting this condo from the lobbyist. The EPA director has offered some lame excuse that he pays that dirt-cheap rate only when he is staying there. How in the name of government ethics does that make it all right?

Pruitt was a bad choice to lead the EPA from the beginning, given his penchant for rolling back rules designed to, um, protect the environment. That he’s been revealed as someone who likes living high off the generosity of a lobbyist only makes matters worse.

So, Mr. President, stop with the “fake news” canard. It ain’t fake, sir. It’s true.

Meet one of POTUS’s ‘worst nightmares’

The list of Donald J. Trump’s “worst nightmares” seems to keep growing.

You have Robert Mueller, Stephen Bannon, James Comey, Sean Spicer, Michael Flynn and perhaps Don Trump Jr. standing by to give the Big Man a serious case of heartburn.

Walter Shaub is no slouch in the “worst nightmare” department, though. The former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, took part in a Texas Tribune discussion to talk about government ethics, which in Shaub’s mind is no oxymoron.

He quit his job at OGE out of frustration dealing with the Trump administration.

As the Tribune reports: The last straw for Shaub, who is now with an organization called the Campaign Legal Center, was having to fight for a month to get basic ethics records that did not even turn out to be useful.

In general, Shaub said, Trump’s actions represent a “significant departure” from “ethical norms.” He added that it will be on the next president to repair the damage that’s been done.

“I put up as good of a fight as I could,” said Schaub, who resigned in July.

I continue to believe that the president’s lack of understanding of government has contributed to the ethical morass he has helped create. Trump’s business background simply is not well-suited to adapt to the complexities associated with service in the massive federal government.

Another panelist at the Tribune event, Richard Painter, former ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, also has been a harsh critic of Trump. According to the Tribune: “People voted for Donald Trump to be a president … not to be a king,” he said. “He’s gotta respect the Constitution or he’s not gonna keep his job.”

There might lie the greatest problem facing Trump as he seeks to shake loose from the crises that are gripping his administration. He doesn’t know — or seemingly want to know — how the Constitution works, how it limits his power and how it sets forth “checks and balances” on presidential overreach.

One such overreach might involve Mueller, the special counsel assigned to investigate the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to the Russian government. As the Tribune reports: “The biggest threat we’re facing is any threat to Bob Mueller being fired,” Shaub said. Should that happen, Shaub said he would take to the streets and that others should too.

Ethics, Mr. President, really do matter. They matter a great deal. Just listen — for once, sir — to these fellows. They know of which they speak.

Ethics head quits amid serious questions about Trump

Walter Shaub isn’t exactly a household name. Until now. Maybe. Perhaps.

Shaub has just quit as the head of the Office of Government Ethics. He is leaving his post six months before the end of his term. Why the early out?

It appears that Shaub has grown tired of battling with the president of the United States over the myriad ethical questions surrounding the president and his business interests around the world.

Shaub has been battling with Donald Trump over the president’s refusal to divest himself of the business interests, handing it all over to his sons while remaining as CEO of the empire.

The Hill reported: “Shaub told CBS News on Thursday evening that he doesn’t know whether Trump is profiting from his businesses, but that’s not the point.

“‘I can’t know what their intention is. I know that the effect is that there’s an appearance that the businesses are profiting from his occupying the presidency,’ he told CBS News correspondent Julianna Goldman during the first televised interview following his resignation.

“‘And appearance matters as much as reality, so even aside from whether or not that’s actually happening, we need to send a message to the world that the United States is going to have the gold standard for an ethics program in government, which is what we’ve always had,’ he continued.

Read the whole Hill article here.

Appearance matters as much as reality. Yes, and that is what Donald Trump doesn’t even begin to comprehend.

Comedians joke that the term “government ethics” has become a major-league oxymoron. The vastness of Donald Trump’s business empire has created an ethical morass for anyone charged with the task of trying to guide a presidential administration down a straight-and-narrow path.

Trump team continues to ‘unify’ Congress

Donald Trump’s effort to “unify” Congress is continuing to produce a bumper harvest.

For instance, the U.S. House Oversight Committee chairman, Republican Jason Chaffetz of Utah, has called for an investigation into senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway’s apparent shilling for Ivanka Trump’s line of clothing. Ranking Democratic committee member Elijah Cummings of Maryland joined Chaffetz in seeking to know whether Conway violated federal ethics laws.

The lawmakers sent a letter to the head of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, Jr., suggesting that Conway’s appearance on “Fox and Friends” could have crossed the line that bans federal officials from promoting private business endeavors.

Chaffetz and Cummings have recommended punishment for Conway.

Trump, quite naturally, is standing by Conway, who has told the media that the president is “100 percent behind me.”

Ethics just keep getting in the way.

The president’s myriad business interests — along with those of his grown children — are likely to continue dogging the administration until all of the Trumps decide to divest themselves of all that lucrative activity.

Meanwhile, I will give the president a left-handed compliment. He vowed to “unify” the country. He is keeping that pledge by unifying some of our elected representatives — although clearly not in ways he envisioned.

Who needs congressional ethics oversight?

The late comic genius George Carlin used to poke fun at the English language and a favorite target of his was the use of what he considered to be oxymorons … you know, phrases that contain words that are mutually exclusive.

Jumbo shrimp? Military intelligence?

Let’s try “government ethics” on for size.

The House Ethics Committee is now going to take over the policing of alleged ethical breaches by members of Congress. It’s a goofy idea proposed by Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a leader in the Republican caucus. Given that the GOP controls the House of Representatives, it’s going to become a new rule for the 115th Congress, which convenes today.

This marks a departure from previous practices, which allowed an independent bipartisan oversight arm to examine complaints — not that it was as aggressive as it should have been always.

Now we’re going to have the proverbial fox guarding the proverbial chicken coop.

Sheesh!

Wherever he is, George Carlin is laughing out loud.

About that swamp-draining idea … try this

Donald J. Trump once pledged to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C., making it a better place to enact laws and to do the public’s business.

Let’s get away from that notion, say Republicans in Congress.

How? Oh, let’s just no longer have an independent ethics organization serving as a watchdog of congressional activities and then we’ll just have such activities overseen by, that’s it, Congress itself!

See how it works?

If there’s something suspicious being done by a member of Congress, why we’ll just have his or her pals in Congress do the investigating and then determine whether there should be any sanction delivered to the offending member.

Do you think that’s going to work?

Aww, me neither.

The House Republican caucus has adopted a new rule proposed by House Ethics Committee Chairman Bob Goodlate, R-Va., to let his panel handle all ethics investigations. It will disband the Office of Congressional Ethics this week.

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/house-gop-votes-to-rein-in-independent-ethics-watchdog/ar-BBxPwWL?li=BBmkt5R&ocid=spartandhp

Congress created the independent watchdog arm under the leadership of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in 2008.

According to The Hill, the new law “would bar the office from considering anonymous tips about potential ethics violations and prevent disclosures about investigations.”

Interesting, yes? I think so. You see, quite often tipsters with information to pass along need to remain anonymous to protect themselves against retribution.

Journalists, for instance, get tipped off anonymously all the time; the practice, though, is for the journalist to obtain the name of the tipster while pledging not to reveal his or her name publicly while developing a news story. What is so terrible about a congressional watchdog group operating under the same sort of ground rule?

Trump reportedly has advised his transition team to scrap the “drain the swamp” mantra as they talk about the incoming administration. I believe I am now understanding why the president-elect no longer is wedded to the idea.

His GOP pals are refilling that very swamp.

'Government ethics' takes another hit

Government ethics has taken another punch in the chops on Capitol Hill.

Imagine that.

It turns out several members of Congress went on a junket in 2013 paid for by the government of Azerbaijan. Four of them are from Texas: Democrats Ruben Hinojosa and Sheila Jackson Lee, and Republicans Ted Poe and Steve Stockman (who’s no longer in Congress).

http://www.texastribune.org/2015/05/13/four-texas-members-congress-took-trip-secretly-fun/

The Azerbaijanis showered the members with gifts, wined and dined them and apparently tried to purchase some influence regarding energy policy.

The Washington Post reported: “Lawmakers and their staff members received hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of travel expenses, silk scarves, crystal tea sets and Azerbaijani rugs valued at $2,500 to $10,000, according to the ethics report. Airfare for the lawmakers and some of their spouses cost $112,899, travel invoices show.”

The host government paid for every penny of it, according to the Post.

The ethics investigation is the most extensive since the congressional ethics office was created in response to the Jack Abramoff scandal involving payoffs, bribes and assorted influence-peddling deeds perpetrated by the one-time wheeler-dealer.

Most damning of all is that it was done under the radar. The Post reported: “The State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic, known as SOCAR, allegedly funneled $750,000 through nonprofit corporations based in the United States to conceal the source of the funding for the conference in the former Soviet nation, according to the 70-page report by the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent investigative arm of the House.”

Gosh. If it was OK to do this, why do you suppose the Azerbaijanis sought to hide it from congressional ethics investigators? Hey, maybe it was illegal. Right?

Here’s the question: Did the members of Congress who took the money know it was being hidden?

We have laws that prohibit foreign governments from trying to influence U.S. foreign policy. There well might have been more a few of those laws broken here, not to mention serious violations of congressional ethics rules.

Don’t these people get it?

Revolving door keeps spinning in Austin

The late comic genius George Carlin used to poke fun at words — for example, taking note of particularly amusing oxymorons.

“Military intelligence,” “jumbo shrimp” … that kind of thing.

“Government ethics”?

I know, it’s a tired cliché at times to make light of what some in government think of as ethical conduct. But here’s yet another example of why ethical reform needs government’s attention — but it’s not likely to get off the ground.

Former state Rep. John Davis, a Houston Republican, has just registered as a lobbyist immediately after ending his tenure in the Texas House of Representatives.

http://blog.mysanantonio.com/texas-politics/2015/02/ex-houston-state-lawmaker-becomes-lobbyist/

Why is that so bad? Simple. He’s now able to parlay his myriad connections within state government to fatten his own wallet and help the clients on whose behalf he is lobbying.

Davis is going to lobby for a Tomball-based residential contracting firm that works closely with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

Is that fair, say, for other contractors who might want to get in on the action provided by a state agency? Does former Rep. Davis have some inside knowledge that others might not be able to obtain as readily?

You figure it out.

Davis is doing not a single illegal thing here. He’s just taking advantage of a gigantic loophole in the state’s ethics-in-government code.

It stinks.

It’s also a tradition in Texas politics and government for lawmakers to move smoothly and seamlessly from legislating to lobbying. Former House Speaker Pete Laney, a Hale Center Democrat, did it when he left the House just a few years ago.

Two state legislators, both Republicans — Rep. Angie Chen Button of Garland and Sen. Van Taylor of Plano — have proposed putting a four-year waiting period on the time former lawmakers can register as lobbyists. Davis, according to the San Antonio Express-News, opposes the legislation. Imagine that.

Do you think they’ll find other opponents among their fellow legislators who might want to jump on that lobbyist gravy train once their days as public servants have ended?

Government ethics? Add it to that dubious list of nonsensical terms.

 

Public integrity takes hit from veto

Rick Perry won’t acknowledge this, of course, but I’ll say it anyway.

The former Texas governor’s veto of money for the Public Integrity Unit has stripped that office’s ability to do its job on behalf of Texans interested in preserving an ethical state government.

http://www.texastribune.org/2015/01/17/report-prosecutors-dropped-probe-after-perry-veto/

The Public Integrity Unit has been the subject of much controversy ever since Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s arrest on drunken driving charges, to which she pleaded guilty. Perry then entered the fray and sought her resignation. If she didn’t quit, he said he’d veto $7.5 million appropriated for the office. Lehmberg didn’t quit; Perry vetoed the money.

Now we find out that the office didn’t have the fund to pursue some important ethical investigations.

Thanks a lot, governor.

The PIU was going to examine some contract issues with the Department of Public Safety. No can do now, given the absence of money.

The Legislature now is likely to consider referring a constitutional amendment to voters this year that would call for placing the PIU in the hands of the Texas Attorney General’s Office, and removing it from the Travis County DA’s office.

I’m not at all sure that would be an improvement. Both offices are run by partisan politicians; Lehmberg is a Democrat, Attorney General Ken Paxton is a Republican. GOP officeholders long have accused Lehmberg of targeting Republicans; meanwhile, look for Democrats to make the same accusation in reverse if the office transfers to the AG’s authority.

The veto has rippled its way across the political landscape. A grand jury indicted Perry on abuse of power and coercion. The case has yet to be settled.

Still, the damage was done.

The Public Integrity Unit’s pursuit of ethical complaints has been derailed.

Thanks for nothing, Gov. Perry.