House oversight chair sends threatening letter to government ethics office

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, seems to have threatened the Office of Government Ethics.

On Thursday, he sent a letter to Walter Shaub Jr., the director of the office, requesting information and an interview. The oversight committee seems concerned the office has blurred "the line between public relations and official ethics guidance."

The letter stems from a series of tweets the office sent from its official Twitter account in November urging President-elect Donald Trump to divest his businesses.

Shaub has said he sent those tweets to "use the vernacular of the president-elect's favorite social media platform to encourage him to divest."

He also said, "My thinking was that more pointed language would have been too strong at a time when he was still making up his mind. I reiterated my view in a written response to questions from the Senate, which is posted on OGE's website."

SEE MORE: House GOP Backtracks On Changes To Independent Ethics Review Office

Chaffetz said the office's mission "is to provide clear ethics guidance, not engage in public relations." He also expressed concern the tweets confirmed private conversations the ethics office had with Trump's lawyers.

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UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 29: Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, becomes emotional during an opening statement at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Rayburn Building on whether Planned Parenthood Federation of America should be federally funded, September 29, 2015. In the statement, he recalled his mother's battle with cancer and his wife's work with the disease. PPFA President Cecile Richards, testified. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 29: Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, becomes emotional during an opening statement at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Rayburn Building on whether Planned Parenthood Federation of America should be federally funded, September 29, 2015. In the statement, he recalled his mother's battle with cancer and his wife's work with the disease. PPFA President Cecile Richards, testified. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 29: Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, greets Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Rayburn Building on whether PPFA should be federally funded, September 29, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) takes his seat for a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill June 16, 2015 in Washington, DC. Following disclosures of devastating breaches of US government computer networks, officials told lawmakers Tuesday even more intrusions may be discovered with investigations and deployment of new security tools. At a congressional hearing where lawmakers voiced outrage over the hacking incidents, the head of the Office of Personnel Management warned that more bad news may be coming. OPM chief Katherine Archuleta did not mention China -- which has been widely blamed for the incidents -- but told the hearing that 'these adversaries are sophisticated, well funded and focused. These attacks will not stop. If anything, they will increase.' AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, speaks before a hearing on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) data breach in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, June 24, 2015. U.S. senators said yesterday they doubt the government's personnel office understands the breadth of a computer hack that exposed the records of more than 4 million federal workers, or that the agency can stop another breach. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, left, talks to Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from Ohio, before a House Oversight hearing on Planned Parenthood's taxpayer funding in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015. Conservative House Republicans have demanded a government shutdown if lawmakers don't defund Planned Parenthood, the women's reproductive health-care provider whose services include abortion. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 9: U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) makes his way to a House GOP caucus meeting, on Capitol Hill, July 9, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Republican leadership discussed the immigration bill and the Obama administration's decision to delay a portion of the Affordable Care Act, which will extend the deadline for employer mandated health care to 2015. At right, Trey Radel (R-FL) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) look on. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 3: Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on 'Inspectors General: Independence, Access and Authority' on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28: Jason Chaffetz speaks during a House of Representatives Judiciary subcommitte on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet titled 'Music Licensing Part One: Legislation in the 112th Congress' in the Rayburn House Office Building at U.S. House of Representatives on November 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kris Connor/WireImage for NARAS)
UNITED STATES â JULY 25: Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, arrives for a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the basement of the U.S. Capitol on Monday, July 25, 2011. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC-March 9: In his fifth term in the US House of Reprentatives, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) works a 24/7 schedule as works in his office on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, March 9, 2011. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 8: Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, left, speaks with Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., before the start of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on 'Benghazi: Exposing Failure and Recognizing Courage' on Wednesday, May 8, 2013. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
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The letter came a few days after Shaub responded to questions posed by two Senate Democrats. In it, Shaub said he was concerned about several of Trump's Cabinet nominees having confirmation hearings before they completed the ethics review process.

Just one day before Chaffetz sent the letter, Shaub criticized Trump's plan to distance himself from his businesses.

"Stepping back from running his business is meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective. ... The idea of setting up a trust to hold his operating businesses adds nothing to the equation. This is not a blind trust — it's not even close," Shaub said at a press conference at the Brookings Institution. His remarks followed Trump's press conference regarding how he'll handle his business dealings once in the White House.

In the letter, Chaffetz reminded Shaub the oversight committee "may at 'any time' investigate 'any matter,'" and it has the power to potentially shut down the ethics office.

The letter sent Thursday follows one Chaffetz sent to Shaub in December 2015.

The subject of that letter centered around a statement the office released when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came under fire. She hadn't disclosed donations paid to the Clinton Foundation in exchange for speeches given by her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, during her tenure as secretary of state. The office said Clinton was not required to disclose those speaking fees.

In the letter sent on Thursday, Chaffetz mentioned the 2015 statement and cited it as one of the occasions the department blurred the line between "official OGE policy and informal commentary."

According to Politico, Chaffetz said he'd consider subpoenaing Shaub if needed.

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