President Trump has tapped Maine attorney Emory A. Rounds III to serve as director of the Office of Government Ethics, an office within the White House.

Rounds will be the third person to head the office – responsible for preventing conflicts of interest within the executive branch – since Trump took office in January 2017.

The office’s former director, Walter Shaub, resigned in July after raising concerns about conflicts of interest involving the White House and Trump’s business empire. Schaub has since been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s handling of ethical issues.

The ethics office is an independent agency within the White House, and is responsible for directing executive branch policies relating to the prevention of conflicts of interest on the part of executive branch officers and employees, including the president.

Rounds’ appointment to a five-year term needs confirmation by the Senate. He has served as an associate counsel in the office since 2009. Rounds also has served as the special assistant to the office’s acting director and as acting head of its Internal Operations Division, according to a statement issued by the White House.

Before joining the office, Rounds was an ethics counsel on the White House counsel’s staff for six years during the administration of President George W. Bush. He owns a home in Arundel.

“His previous government experience includes service in the ethics office at the U.S. Department of Commerce as well as 22 years (of) active duty in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps,” the White House statement said.

TURBULENCE IN THE ETHICS OFFICE

Rounds earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and his law degree at the University of Akron School of Law. Records show he passed the Maine Bar exam in 1988. He now serves as a general attorney with the ethics office and is paid about $160,000 a year, according to an online database of federal salaries. Rounds did not respond to messages left for him Thursday at his office in Washington.

Shaub, the former ethics director, drew attention to Trump’s refusal to fully divest himself from his private business interests. When Trump decided his sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, would largely manage his business interests, Shaub called the president on it in a speech before the Brookings Institution. He noted that Trump was not setting his business interests into a truly blind trust as previous presidents had done.

“The only thing this has in common with a blind trust is the label, ‘trust’,” Shaub said, according to a transcript of the speech. “His sons are still running the businesses, and of course, he knows what he owns. His own attorney said today that he can’t “un-know” that he owns Trump Tower. The same is true of his other holdings. The idea of limiting direct communication about the business is wholly inadequate. That’s not how a blind trust works. There’s not supposed to be any information at all.”

PUBLIC THINKS CORRUPTION ON RISE

According to a Politico report, Trump’s selection of Rounds was greeted favorably by Shaub, who called Rounds “a good man” while noting that he worked with Rounds for years and never knew his political affiliation.

David Apol, a general counsel in the office who replaced Shaub as acting director, issued a dire warning to the ethics office’s employees in a blog post Sunday. Apol highlighted a recent Transparency International report that suggests Americans increasingly believe corruption is pervasive at the White House.

“The success of our constitution, the success of our government, depends on the trust of the people that we serve,” Apol wrote. “Today, our fellow citizens are suspicious of their government. A recent Transparency International report found that a clear majority of the American people think that corruption is getting worse.”

The report said 44 percent of the Americans surveyed now believe corruption is pervasive, compared with 36 percent in 2016. The report also said seven out of 10 Americans surveyed believe government is failing to fight corruption, compared with five out of 10 in 2016.

“We build their trust by telling the truth,” Apol wrote. “The good news is that most of you are carrying out the people’s business with honor and integrity. You’re keeping your oath. Thank you. Remember what is at stake and take pride in your service.

“On the other hand, those who are doing things that undermine the public’s trust, even if they don’t violate a rule, need to stop. Nothing you could gain economically or politically could possibly justify putting our democracy at risk. These are perilous times.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 713-6720 or at:

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