Rep. Jason Chaffetz just warned the Office of Government Ethics about its tweets about Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest. The office’s response was, apparently, to subtweet Trump instead:
All executive branch employees must refrain from misuse of position, including endorsements. See Dir Shaub's note at https://t.co/kRLCLFeVlB— U.S. OGE (@OfficeGovEthics) January 13, 2017
In more normal times, this tweet might be read as a boring, “the more you know”–style fact. In January 2017, it seems like a sly, pointed criticism from a federal agency to the incoming president.
That’s because on Tuesday morning, Trump endorsed L.L. Bean:
Thank you to Linda Bean of L.L.Bean for your great support and courage. People will support you even more now. Buy L.L.Bean. @LBPerfectMaine— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2017
Federal law prevents government employees from endorsing “any product, service, or enterprise.” Like other conflict-of-interest laws, it doesn’t apply to the president. But Walter Shaub, the director of the Office of Government Ethics, argued in a speech at the Brookings Institution on Wednesday that Trump should follow the law even if it doesn’t legally apply to him in order to set an example.
Shaub has apparently decided that Twitter is the best way to reach the president-elect. In November, he sent a rapid-fire series of tweets “congratulating” Trump for divesting totally from his businesses, something Trump hadn’t yet done.
“I was trying to use the vernacular of the president-elect’s favorite social media platform to encourage him,” Shaub explained on Wednesday.
His Twitter vernacular now appears to have expanded to include the subtweet. It was sent in the face of criticism from Chaffetz, who said the office’s tweets were “public relations” and strayed from its duty of negotiating ethical concerns in private. Shaub has been much more outspoken than previous directors, even as his office works to eliminate conflicts of interest for Trump’s Cabinet.
Chaffetz’s committee has jurisdiction over the Office of Government Ethics, and his letter implicitly reminded Shaub that Congress could defund the ethics office or alter its mission. Shaub is, clearly, undaunted.