WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers from both parties on Monday admonished a federal ethics official who sent a series of tweets commenting on President Donald Trump's potential conflicts of interest.
Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said the tweets by Walter Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, were inappropriate and could compromise the agency's objectivity.
In tweets sent in November, Shaub congratulated Trump for agreeing to divest from his business — an agreement Trump had not yet made. Shaub later issued a scathing review of Trump's plan to turn over control of his business to his sons.
Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah called Shaub's Jan. 11 comments "highly unethical" and summoned Shaub to a closed-door meeting. Chaffetz and committee Democrats met with Shaub for more than an hour Monday, an unusual meeting prompted by Republicans' frustration with the ethics office and its operations — rather than Trump.
The OGE is responsible for ensuring that members of the new administration are avoiding potential conflicts of interest.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the panel's senior Democrat, said lawmakers from both parties were troubled by Shaub's initial "bravo" tweets, sent soon after Trump was elected president.
"When he did that, it didn't seem professional," Cummings said.
Chaffetz said he and other lawmakers told Shaub they were frustrated by the tweets, calling them unproductive and distracting.
"I don't think it solves the challenge. It's not their role," Chaffetz said, adding that he believes Shaub received the bipartisan message at Monday's meeting.
Asked if he has confidence in Shaub, Chaffetz said: "I think we better understand each other."
Shaub called the meeting productive and said lawmakers were "candid" in their remarks. "I think it was extremely useful," he said.
Despite the bipartisan tone, Cummings said he remains concerned that Trump has not done enough to comply with ethics requirements. He noted that Shaub told lawmakers the ethics office has not yet received documents Trump brought to a Jan. 11 news conference announcing his plan to address possible conflict of interest.
Cummings also said Shaub described comments by Trump's chief of staff, Reince Priebus, as "chilling." Priebus said in a TV interview that Shaub "ought to be careful" in his criticism of Trump.
The comment by Priebus "is the very thing I'll fight against," Cumming said, adding that he assured Shaub the ethics office would be protected by the committee.
Cummings and Chaffetz also said they would work together to reauthorize the ethics office in the new Congress.
Monday's meeting came as a watchdog group filed a lawsuit alleging that Trump is violating the Constitution by allowing his business to accept payments from foreign governments. The lawsuit claims that a constitutional clause prohibits Trump from receiving money from diplomats for stays at his hotels or foreign governments for leases of office space in his buildings.
Trump called the lawsuit by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington "totally without merit."