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Outgoing Ethics Director: Appearances Count on Trump Financial Conflicts

The outgoing head of the government’s ethics watchdog said he's leaving his post still unsure whether President Trump is using the presidency to enrich himself.
Image: White House
The exterior view of the south side of the White House is seen in May 2005 in Washington, DC.Alex Wong / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The outgoing head of the federal government’s ethics watchdog agency said he is leaving his post still unsure whether President Donald Trump is using the White House to enrich his businesses and himself.

"I can't know what their intention is," Walter Shaub Jr., the director of the independent Office of Government Ethics, said in an interview with CBS News that aired Friday. "I know that the effect is that there's an appearance that the businesses are profiting from his occupying the presidency. And appearance matters as much as reality.”

Shaub wrote Trump on Thursday to inform him he would be resigning later this month. The government ethics director clashed with the White House even before Trump was sworn in, especially when it came to how the real estate mogul handled his business interests after his election victory.

Related: Office of Government Ethics Director Announces Resignation

The normally under-the-radar government agency drew headlines with tweets encouraging the president-elect to completely divest from his financial interests. Shaub called Trump’s eventual decision to hand control of his business empire to his sons “wholly inadequate.”

"You can't be sure, and so it almost doesn't matter whether they are profiting or not," Shaub said in the interview. "America should have the right to know what the motivations of its leaders are, and they need to know that financial interests, personal financial interests, aren't among them."

Trump’s arguments that completely divesting himself would cost him money did not hold merit with Shaub, who said the United States has always had the “gold standard for an ethics program in government.”

“He's in a position where he's going to have to send young men and women to die in combat potentially, or risk their lives at least,” he said. “They're paying a much higher price. So, no, it's not too much to ask for somebody to incur a bit of a financial loss if they have to sell things off."

Shaub also clashed with Trump’s lawyers after White House aide Kellyanne Conway went unpunished for promoting Ivanka Trump’s clothing line during an interview in the White House briefing room.

“My current experience with this administration has taught me that the ethics program needs to be stronger than it is,” Shaub told CBS.

He leaves his post nearly six months before his term was about to expire to take a new job at The Campaign Legal Center, a group focused on government accountability.