Wednesday, July 26, 2017
New Ethics Chief has very flexible ethics
And while he may be very good at working within government processes, he does seem rather shaky on the purpose of his position.
David J. Apol, named by President Trump last week as the new head of the Office of Government Ethics, has repeatedly clashed with colleagues over his career at the agency as he sought to roll back or loosen ethics requirements on federal employees, including those in the White House, three former senior officials at the agency said.He sounds as flexible as a Hindu Nautch dancer and his OK of Jared Kushner shows he is aware of which side of the bread is buttered. Besides, who needs ethics when we have Trump in the White House?
But the tension has been building for at least a decade, during two stints Mr. Apol served at the Office of Government Ethics, his former colleagues said. Mr. Apol has argued that the agency is often too rigid in interpreting conflict-of-interest laws, they said.
As recently as this spring, Mr. Apol had a disagreement with Walter M. Shaub Jr., the departing director, when Mr. Apol suggested that Derek T. Kan, then a general manager at Lyft, the car-sharing service, should not be required to sell his vested stock options in the company before he accepted a job at the Department of Transportation as the head of policy.
Mr. Shaub said he overruled Mr. Apol, who has served as general counsel of the agency since 2014, arguing that many policy matters now before the Department of Transportation could affect Lyft’s financial fate — including possible actions related to self-driving cars and the car-sharing industry.
“It was so immediately obviously crazy,” Mr. Shaub said. He said Mr. Apol’s general approach to government ethics was “loosey-goosey.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Apol conceded that he had at first questioned whether a divestment was necessary in this case, although he added that he ultimately agreed with Mr. Shaub. But he proudly acknowledged that he had frequently raised questions about how the agency interprets federal ethics laws that govern the activity of 2.7 million federal employees in more than 130 executive agencies, including the White House.
“As an attorney in the office, I thought it was useful to ask if all the assumptions we made and practices we had were necessarily the best way to do things,” Mr. Apol said. “I would oppose changing the rules in any way that did not protect the public’s trust.”
One early test for Mr. Apol could be a decision he must make on Anthony Scaramucci, recently named as Mr. Trump’s communications director. Mr. Scaramucci seeks a tax break that will help him save tens of millions of dollars when he sells his stake in the investment firm SkyBridge Capital.
So-called certificates of divestiture are offered to incoming federal employees as a way to make it easier for the wealthy to take government jobs without major tax consequences. But Mr. Shaub has questioned if Mr. Scaramucci is entitled to such a benefit because he had entered into a deal to sell his stake in SkyBridge before he was hired for the White House communications job.
Mr. Apol said he had not yet decided if Mr. Scaramucci should get the tax benefit.
In the past seven months, Mr. Apol has played a central role in making major ethics decisions related to the Trump administration, including reviewing the financial disclosure report and issuing certificates of divestiture for Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and for other senior appointees.
Already, according to staff members at the Office of Government Ethics, Mr. Apol has advocated consulting with the White House before he issues certain policies — like one establishing rules related to legal defense funds that some Trump administration officials are setting up. He also wants to check with the White House before the office sends letters to members of Congress who have raised questions about White House ethics matters.
“Moves like this jeopardize O.G.E.’s independence,” Mr. Shaub said.
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