Over the weekend Obama’s head of the Office of Government Ethics, this would be the agency that found nothing wrong whatsoever in Bill Clinton’s speeches or Hillary Clinton running a pay-to-play operation out of the State Department, has inserted itself squarely in the process underway to confirm Donald Trump’s cabinet officials. It has done so by asserting, contrary to the law, that the OGE has to clear nominees — it doesn’t have that ability or authority — and that it has to finish its bean-counting before the new government can actually start to work.
Viewed in the most charitable way possible, this is a tiny agency that is drunk on its own self-importance. It thinks of itself as the engineer in the locomotive of government rather than the porter back in the baggage car moving suitcases around. View for the standpoint of reality, you have an agency run by an Obama appointee trying every way it can to obstruct the Trump administration taking office. And while it doesn’t have the actual legal ability to do so, it is carrying on a guerrilla war in the media to discredit the confirmation process by attacking the integrity of the nominees and of Mitch McConnell and the committee chairmen conducting the confirmation hearings.
This week, for instance, the OGE decided that the ethics rules that worked perfectly well for the Obama administration suddenly just weren’t stringent enough:
The federal office overseeing ethics for executive branch employees is considering cracking down on a type of financial arrangement that allows some federal officials to avoid publicly reporting investments that could benefit them.
The Office of Government Ethics published a notice this week asking for public comment on whether it may have been too lax in its treatment of discretionary trusts — a holding method for investments where the beneficiary is not guaranteed any particular payment or income.
POLITICO reported last month that sources said President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team were exploring the discretionary trust arrangement, although it was not clear whether Trump aides were looking into the issue on behalf of Trump, his family members or other potential appointees. Outside ethics watchdogs warned that creating such trusts could amount to an end-run around conflict of interest laws.
The ethics office ruled in 2008 that, for the purpose of federal criminal conflict of interest laws, property and other investments held in discretionary trusts would not be considered to belong to the government employees who might receive payments from the trust. In 2013, the office expanded that ruling, declaring that officials in line to benefit from such trusts do not have to report the underlying investments on financial disclosure forms.
I don’t have the expertise to comment on this rule beyond noting that it is an amazing coincidence, eh? Just as a new, and a Republican, administration comes in the OGE decides that the old rules are too lax and they have to be changed. And guess what, those rules won’t be finalized until after Trump’s cabinet and sub-cabinet officials have been confirmed so OGE can complain about all the ethics violations in the new administration.