Trump: Ethics office 'unfair' to House, but GOP should focus on more important things

Kudlow on gutting ethics office: There's bigger fish to fry

Donald Trump said Tuesday that House Republicans should focus on more important policy than their surprise effort to weaken an independent ethics office.

But in his tweeted statement, Trump held back any serious criticism of their action, calling the ethics watchdog "unfair" to lawmakers.

In a closed-door meeting Monday, a day before the start of the 115th Congress, the House GOP adopted a rules package amendment to put the Office of Congressional Ethics under the jurisdiction of the House Ethics Committee. The move effectively gives the lawmakers themselves oversight over investigations into misconduct by lawmakers and staff. It will also prevent more information from being released to the public.

The plan sparked immediate outrage, with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi calling ethics "the first casualty of the new Republican Congress." Some Democrats tied Trump to the move and said that it showed his campaign pledges to rid Washington of corruption were already getting abandoned.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who introduced the amendment, argued that it would increase due process protection for House members. The GOP will vote on the package later Tuesday.

Trump's statement also pits him against GOP lawmakers on only the first day of a new Congress.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who helped to craft the Office of Congressional Ethics while a congressman, slammed Trump for calling it "unfair" to lawmakers.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, who initially opposed the amendment, defended it on Tuesday. He argued in a statement that "this House will hold its members to the highest ethical standards and the office will continue to operate independently to provide public accountability to Congress."

"The Office will continue to be governed by a bipartisan independent outside board with ultimate decision-making authority. The Office is still expected to take in complaints of wrongdoing from the public," Ryan said. "It will still investigate them thoroughly and independently. And the outside board will still decide whether or not evidence exists to warrant a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee."

Under the GOP move, ethics complaints from anonymous accusers would no longer be accepted. The proposed rule also says that "the office shall be subject to the authority and direction of the Committee on Ethics."

Top Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway also defended the House GOP's action. In a CNBC interview Tuesday, she said Americans should not get "the impression, somehow, that ethics is gone now."