After a monumentally messy start to their relationship, Donald Trump’s incoming presidential administration has reached a détente — more or less — with an independent government agency in charge of preventing executive branch conflicts of interest.
In the weeks leading up to inauguration, White House Counsel Don McGahn — then leading the legal efforts of Trump’s presidential transition team — met several times prior with officials from the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, according to emails and calendar entries obtained by the Center for Public Integrity through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The meetings began only after ethics office director Walter Shaub Jr. in November warned McGahn of imminent danger to Trump and his cabinet nominees, writing: “I am not sure whether you are aware that announcing the cabinet without first coordinating with OGE is unprecedented and creates unnecessary risk for both the President-elect and the prospective nominees … [M]y goal here is to protect the President-elect, the prospective nominees and the executive branch ethics program by preventing real and apparent ethics issues.
Then-President Barack Obama nominated Shaub in 2012, and the U.S. Senate, after a confirmation hearing, confirmed him on a voice vote in January 2013. Shaub, a veteran private sector and government lawyer who contributed $500 to Obama’s re-election campaign, is in the final year of a five-year term.
The Trump transition-Office of Government Ethics meetings — mostly by phone — took place in December and January and were scheduled for “every Monday and Thursday for 45 minutes” during the presidential transition period, an email from Matthew Marinec, confidential assistant to Shaub, indicates.