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Rep. Jason Chaffetz has no plans to dig into President-elect Donald Trump's business dealings, including potential ties with Russia, saying to do so would be a "fishing expedition" pushed for by Democrats. Though, in a Sunday appearance on ABC News' "This Week," the Utah Republican stood by his call to investigate a federal ethics official who he believes was "unethical" in criticizing the way Trump plans to handle his sprawling business interests while serving as president.
Walter Shaub Jr., the director of the Office of Government Ethics, says Trump should divest completely, while the president-elect plans to turn over his company assets to two of his sons and limit new foreign investments.
Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has previously applauded the president-elect's actions saying in an interview with Politico that Trump is "going to great lengths to be as responsible as possible."
On Sunday, Chaffetz argued an investigation into Trump isn't necessary because as president he is "exempt from most of these [ethics] laws" and Trump has complied with the appropriate financial disclosures.
"Until we see something that is actual wrongdoing, we're probably not going to go on a fishing trip to go see," Chaffetz said, one of three times he described an investigation into Trump's business dealings as either a "fishing trip" or "fishing expedition". "We're just not going to do that. That's not what we do in this committee."
His committee, though, will proceed with a threatened probe of Shaub. In a letter sent to the ethics official Thursday, Chaffetz requests an interview and questions whether the office has blurred "the line between public relations and official ethics guidance," according to a copy published by The New York Times.
Chaffetz includes in the message a list of tweets posted on Nov. 30 from the official OGE account that appeared sarcastic. They celebrated Trump's plan to divest, when there was no plan to do that.
"Is he acting ethically when he sent out nine tweets praising Donald Trump saying that his plan was brilliant. How did he come to that conclusion? And how does come to his current conclusions having never done an investigation and never looked at the paperwork in the point where he can actually come to a reasonable conclusion?" Chaffetz said Sunday. "I think that's unethical."
If Shaub refuses to participate in an interview with the oversight committee, Chaffetz has threatened to subpoena him.
The Office of Government Ethics has advised the executive branch on ethics and potential conflicts of interest since 1978, serving both Republicans and Democrats. President Barack Obama appointed Shaub as director in January 2013 with a term set to expire in January 2018.
Shaub publicly criticized Trump's business plans during a Brookings Institution news conference Wednesday.
"Stepping back from running his business is meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective," Shaub said. "The presidency is a full-time job and he would've had to step back anyway. The idea of setting up a trust to hold his operating businesses adds nothing to the equation."
Shaub later added: "The media covered some messages I sent the president-elect through Twitter. While some people got what I was doing, I think some others may have missed the point. I was trying to use the vernacular of the president-elect's favorite social media platform to encourage him to divest."
Chaffetz wasn't the only guest on "This Week" to criticize Shaub. Reince Priebus, slated to be Trump's chief of staff, said: "The head of government ethics ought to be careful because that person is becoming extremely political."
Priebus welcomed Chaffetz's investigation, saying it's unclear what "standing [Shaub] has anymore in giving these opinions."
But Shaub has plenty of supporters as well. Two ethics lawyers slammed calls for investigating the ethics official.
"Mr. Chaffetz should be investigating the president-elect's impending violation of the Constitution, not this poor government official who is just trying to do his job," said Norm Eisen, former ethics chief for President Barack Obama.
Eisen said Shaub has been "a true ethics hero for speaking out."
Richard Painter, ethics chief for former President George W. Bush, said the Office of Government Ethics "has taken the right position" on Trump's business plans.
"Merely taking the profits from the hotels and putting those aside is not enough," Painter added. "They need to look at bank loans. They need to look at foreign banks leasing space in Trump Tower. There are a broad range of issues that need to be dealt with. We've got the president's name up on buildings in places where there could be a terrorist attack. This is a very precarious situation."
In a prepared statement, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee piggybacked on the lawyers' interpretations and admonished Chaffetz's "fawning devotion" to Trump, saying it has caused the Utah Republican to ignore "very serious conflicts of interest" with the president-elect.
"Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz's blind partisanship could not be more apparent as he continues threatening the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics," the statement continues.
The tweets aren't the first time Chaffetz has taken issue with Shaub's actions. In 2015, Chaffetz disagreed with the Office of Government Ethics' dismissal of Hillary Clinton's failure to disclose speaking fees garnered by her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, because they were paid to the Clinton Foundation.
Chaffetz has doggedly vowed to keep at an investigation of Clinton for her use of a private email server and handling of classified information, saying in November that he's "not out to get her," but is "here to find the truth and make sure that it never happens again."
Chaffetz argued that there's a big difference in launching a probe against a president in waiting and continuing one against a former public official. "I didn't investigate Hillary Clinton before she was in office."
And yet there is one topic on which Chaffetz has asked for information about a Trump business interest. He has requested details on the lease of a hotel Trump owns in Washington, D.C., just a few blocks from the White House. The agreement with the government's General Services Administration seems to preclude any government official to own that building. Trump is slated to become a government official on Friday when he officially takes the oath of office.