Email #58, Subject: ethics violation in your own office?

I have already written to you about my concerns over the Muslim ban. I’ve also written about your lack of oversight over your own staffers who helped the White House draft the executive order imposing it. Now I’ve found out that those staffers may have violated House ethics rules by working for the White House while taking a paycheck from you.

You have been asked whether those staffers signed non-disclosure agreements with the White House. To be honest, it’s not clear to me whether non-disclosures matter in this case, or whether the President can really be considered a “client” beyond the House and so someone House staffers are prohibited from consulting with. That’s why I’m confused by your repeated failure to answer what seems to be a straightforward question. Either your staffers signed such agreements with the White House or they didn’t. If they did, it’s still an open question whether that constitutes a conflict of interest or any other kind of ethics violation. But your avoiding and obscuring the fact doesn’t help. It creates the appearance of a cover-up or, arguably worse, that you don’t know and don’t have sufficient control of your own staffers to find out.

It is of course ironic that ethics complaints are being leveled at you and your staffers given your failed attempt last month to turn the Ethics Office into a Republican-controlled, behind-closed-doors system. You would look much better right now if you had a record of championing open, bipartisan approaches to ethics and governance in general. Instead, these new allegations add to the impression that you and your office required severe ethical supervision. To counter that, you should disclose everything and encourage a broad and thorough investigation. Anything less makes you look worse than you already do.

Chris Gavaler


Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University where he teaches creative writing, contemporary fiction, and comics. He has published two novels, Pretend I'm Not Here (HarperCollins 2002) and School For Tricksters (Southern Methodist University 2011), and two nonfictions, On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa University 2015) and Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury forthcoming 2017).

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