The Trump administration was barely six months old when Walter Shaub decided that he could not abide its corruption any longer, that his job as the federal ethics watchdog had been neutered by the regime’s mockery of ethics. Then he did something exceedingly rare in Washington: He resigned in protest, and explained himself on national television. In an interview with ABC News, he said: “I really always thought that the ethics rules were strong enough to protect the integrity of the government’s operations … until now.”
Fourteen months later, the ex-director of the Office of Government Ethics tells me, “I felt it was important to be open and transparent about it. The Trump administration was failing to follow the ethics [rules], to follow the norms and traditions of our government. I felt that staying on the job would make me complicit. If I stayed, I feared that I would be window dressing for corruption.”
Shaub’s departure didn’t make a splash—in part because it was trumped by the news that the president’s eldest son had met during the campaign with a Russian who’d promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, in part because most Americans didn’t know who Shaub was—but he did join the tiny list of high- and middle-ranking public servants who have quit on principle throughout American history. The honor roll includes William Jennings Bryan in 1915 (protesting U.S. policy toward Germany); Anthony Lake, Roger Morris, and William Watts in 1970 (protesting the invasion of Cambodia); Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus in 1973 (refusing to fire the Watergate prosecutor); Jerald terHorst in 1974 (protesting Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon); Cyrus Vance in 1980 (protesting the ill-planned Iranian-hostage rescue); Peter Edelman, Mary Jo Bane, and Wendell Primus in 1996 (protesting Bill Clinton’s workfare law); and a smattering of diplomats who could no longer justify working for Trump. As Ruckelshaus said years ago, “there are lines” that cannot be crossed.