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U.S. Office of Government Ethics Director Walter M. Shaub personally ordered an OGE official to post a series of controversial tweets praising President-elect Donald Trump for his claimed efforts to reduce conflicts of interest, the Daily Dot has learned.
Emails obtained by the Daily Dot through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show Shaub approved the exact wording of the tweets and asked for them to be posted to the official OGE Twitter account.
The out-of-character wording of the tweets, which included words like “Bravo!” and “Brilliant!” sparked an uproar in the political press for an enthusiasm that some interpreted as mocking Trump’s signature bravado and, in particular, his use of “Sad!” in his own tweets.
Reporters from NBC News, USA Today, and up to 32 other media outlets immediately requested information from OGE about whether its account had been hacked. Twitter also reached out to OGE a few hours after the tweets were posted out of concern that the account might’ve been breached by hackers.
“Hello can you explain the tweets on your account praising President-Elect Donald Trump for divesting his business interests?” an evening news producer at CBS News wrote in an email to OGE. “Was your account hacked?”
In a statement to the Daily Dot and other media outlets, Seth Jaffe, who heads the agency’s ethics law and policy department, assured that the tweets were intentional.
“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,” Jaffe said. “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 records show that on Nov. 30, Director Shaub emailed OGE Chief of Staff Shelley Finlayson requesting the nine tweets. “I would like them posted first thing—8:30 if possible or as soon as possible thereafter,” Shaub told Finlayson. “Post them all at once.”
The tweets were posted a few hours later, between 12:55pm and 12:57pm ET.
It is unclear from the emails whether Shaub, who was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as OGE director in 2012, crafted the tweets himself; however, all were sent in the single email above from what appears to be Shaub’s personal BlackBerry device.
OGE received mixed responses to the tweets, with some complaining about “bias” against Trump, while others saw the posts as evidence that the agency had a positive opinion of the incoming president.
Other letters lament what the authors see as Trump’s conflicts of interest due to his global business dealings.
Trump has at times appeared dismissive of concerns regarding the widespread conflicts of interest arising from his vast business empire. In late November, he told the New York Times, “The law’s totally on my side, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
In an effort to assuage concerns, Trump spokesperson Jason Miller announced on Dec. 6 that Trump has sold off all his investments in the stock market more than five months ago. The Trump Organization also quit a hotel project in Rio de Janeiro roughly two weeks ago that had been the subject of a federal prosecutor’s bribery investigation.
Trump originally said he would hold a press conference on Dec. 15 to announce his plans to eliminate conflicts of interest before he takes office on Jan. 20. That press conference was delayed. The announcement was eventually made on Dec. 21.
Politico reports that Trump aides are now discussing an arrangement known as a “discretionary trust” to govern the Trump family assets while he serves as president. Whereas a “blind trust” would require Trump to transfer his assets to an independent financial manager, who would then sells off the assets that risk a conflict of interest, a discretionary trust would ostensibly allow a Trump family member to oversee the investments. Under this arrangement, Trump could still legally collect revenue from the assets and coordinate with the family member overseeing them, according to Politico.
Update 3pm CT, Dec. 30: A closer review of the documents shows that 34 media agencies requested information on the tweets, more than double the “dozen” we originally reported.
Andrew Couts is the former editor of Layer 8, a section dedicated to the intersection of the Internet and the state—and the gaps in between. Prior to the Daily Dot, Couts served as features editor and features writer for Digital Trends, associate editor of TheWeek.com, and associate editor at Maxim magazine. When he’s not working, Couts can be found hiking with his German shepherds or blasting around on motorcycles.
Dell Cameron was a reporter at the Daily Dot who covered security and politics. In 2015, he revealed the existence of an American hacker on the U.S. government's terrorist watchlist. He is a co-author of the Sabu Files, an award-nominated investigation into the FBI's use of cyber-informants. He became a staff writer at Gizmodo in 2017.