Trump fills top job at government ethics office with a temporary appointment

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - President Donald Trump picked a new leader for the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) on Friday (July 21), naming the agency's general counsel, David J. Apol, as the acting director.

By making the appointment temporary and avoiding Senate confirmation hearings, Trump is able, at least for now, to avoid an extended public debate before lawmakers about the role of the ethics office during the Trump administration.

Apol will replace Walter M. Shaub Jr., who resigned on Tuesday, six months short of the end of his five-year term as the agency's executive director. His resignation followed a period of intense criticism by Shaub of Trump and the administration's approach to managing government ethics.

Apol, who has worked on ethics issues in the federal government in various posts for three decades, said in a brief interview on Friday that he looked forward to the new assignment, in which he will be overseeing the agency charged with monitoring ethics compliance at federal agencies across the government, including the White House.

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"It is a great honour to serve," Apol said. "For over 30 years I have taken ethics seriously, and I am going to continue to do so."

By not nominating a permanent replacement for Shaub, the White House avoids public questions from lawmakers about how the agency should best monitor ethics questions at the White House, including about Trump's continued financial ties to businesses now run by his sons.

Apol can remain as acting director for 210 days, and then another 210 days if Trump nominates someone to the job permanently.

Apol, in his role as general counsel, had a much more cordial relationship with the White House over the last six months, White House officials have said. He argued the office should consult with officials there when addressing ethics questions raised by Democrats in Congress, while Shaub wanted to maintain more distance from the White House.

Apol on Friday did not want to discuss how he might manage the relationship with the White House differently.

"I am looking forward to focusing on OGE's mission of ensuring high ethical standards throughout the entire executive branch," he said.

Shaub has taken a job at the Campaign Legal Centre, a nonprofit group where he hopes to push for changes in federal law to give the Office of Government Ethics more power to police the White House.

He said he was disappointed that Trump did not name a permanent replacement, or pick the agency's chief of staff, Shelley K. Finlayson, who under vacancy rules adopted recently would normally become the acting director.

"It's unfortunate that the White House decided to play politics with the interim director role," Shaub said.

But historically, the general counsel at the agency has served in the acting role when the director has stepped down, and the president has the power to name whomever he wants to this position.