As if they were so bound

The Office of Government Ethics has been joining Trump in the Twitter game.

It started Wednesday morning, when President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter to address concerns about his ability to lead the U.S. government while also holding massive business interests around the world.

“While I am not mandated to do this under the law, I feel it is visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses,” Trump tweeted, adding that “legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations” and that he will be leaving his “great business in total.”

More than “visually.” Much more. The “visual” part flows from the substantive part. Conflicts of interest are a problem for very clear, substantive reasons. Public servants are supposed to work for the public good, not their personal profit. That’s not a mere image issue.

What exactly that means remains unclear. But the verified Twitter account of the typically decorous federal ethics office chimed in with statements that appeared to goad Trump about divesting his businesses — something he hasn’t specifically promised to do.

“Bravo! Only way to resolve these conflicts of interest is to divest . Good call!” the agency tweeted, mimicking Trump’s own tweeting style. And: “OGE is delighted that you’ve decided to divest your businesses. Right decision!”

Then the tweets disappeared for awhile, and there was speculation they were a hack, or a tease, or who knows what.

But then they all came back, and a spokes sent NPR a statement:

An OGE spokesman, Seth Jaffe, who is the chief of the agency’s ethics law and policy branch, emailed a statement to NPR:

“Like everyone else, we were excited this morning to read the President-elect’s twitter feed indicating that he wants to be free of conflicts of interest. OGE applauds that goal, which is consistent with an opinion OGE issued in 1983. Divestiture resolves conflicts of interest in a way that transferring control does not. We don’t know the details of their plan, but we are willing and eager to help them with it.”

The statement suggested that the tweets have been deliberate all along. And, in fact, the OGE later confirmed to NPR that this was not a hack.

So then people wondered if the OGE had insider information about what Trump meant by his bizarro tweets.

Almost two hours after the first statement, the OGE issued another one:

“The tweets that OGE posted today were responding only to the public statement that the President-elect made on his Twitter feed about his plans regarding conflicts of interest. OGE’s tweets were not based on any information about the President-elect’s plans beyond what was shared on his Twitter feed. OGE is non-partisan and does not endorse any individual.”

The tweets are all there to see: here is their Twitter.

I followed the link on this one:

I found a letter from the OGE from October 1983:

You have requested us to confirm our oral advice of
October 18, 1983 regarding whether or not the conflict of
interest laws (18 U.S.C. §§ 202-209) and the standards of conduct
regulations (see 3 C.F.R. Part 100) would prohibit the President
from taking part in official matters relating to the
entertainment industry which may from time to time arise.
In brief, the Department of Justice’s views, with which we
agree, are that the President and the Vice President are not
legally subject to the restrictions of (1) the conflict of
interest laws, Title 18 U.S.C. §§ 202-209, and (2) the standards
of conduct as set forth in Executive Order No. 11222 of
May 8, 1965 and the regulations thereunder, 5 C.F.R Part 735
(pertaining to the whole executive branch) and 3 C.F.R. Part 100
(pertaining specifically to the Executive Office of the
President), but as a matter of policy, the President and the Vice
President should conduct themselves as if they were so bound.

Emphasis added. Yes they should. Please start now.

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