jason chaffetz
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has threatened the head of the Office of Government Ethics for calling inadequate President-elect Donald Trump's plan for avoiding conflicts of interest. Above, Chaffetz in Washington, Sept. 13, 2016. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

President-elect Donald Trump learned at the knee of Roy Cohn, the ruthless New York lawyer who gained notoriety as chief counsel for Sen. Joseph McCarthy, leader of the witch hunt for communist infiltrators in the 1950s.

Perhaps the most important lesson Trump learned from Cohn was how to exploit power and instill fear: attack, counterattack and never apologize.

And that’s what we’ve been seeing since Trump first announced his candidacy, vilifying anyone who dared oppose him on the way, aiming his Twitter account at his targets.

Ellen Schrecker, who wrote “Many are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America,” predicted in the Nation the Trump administration likely will take a page from McCarthyism in trying to repress opposition, making Islamic extremism,  racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants and left-wing professors the bogeymen. She pointed out he already has suggested taking away citizenship from flag-burners.

The right-wing student organization Turning Point USA has put together a watchlist of 200 academics who “advance a radical agenda in lecture halls,” criticizing the Republican party, the National Rifle Association and the Israeli regime.

Then there’s Walter Shaub, director of the nonpartisan U.S. Office of Government Ethics. Shaub last week criticized Trump’s plan for avoiding conflicts of interest while in office as inadequate. Trump told a news conference he would turn over his day-to-day business operation to this sons and tuck his holdings away in a trust. Shaub, who joined the ethics office during the Bush-Cheney years, said Trump’s plan would not allay fears of conflicts of interest.

As a result, Republicans now are threatening Shaub. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, sent Shaub a letter, demanding he appear before the House Oversight Committee and accusing him of “blurring the line between public relations and official ethics guidance.” The letter also noted Congress has the power to shut down Shaub’s office since its authorization lapsed 10 years ago (it’s been funded by continuing resolution since then).

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean sees the threat as “McCarthyism at its worst.

The Office of Government Ethics has urged Trump to sell off his businesses and place his assets in a blind trust.

“I think Politico called this a ‘half-blind’ trust, but it’s not even halfway blind,” Shaub said of Trump’s plan in an appearance at the Brookings Institute.

“It’s important to understand that the president is now entering the world of public service. He’s going to be asking his own appointees to make sacrifices. He’s going to be asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives in conflicts around the world. So, no, I don’t think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be president of the United States of America.”

ThinkProgress reported Chaffetz wants Shaub to submit to a closed-door “transcribed interview,” Republicans-only present. That would give Republicans the ability to release bits and pieces of the questioning.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the Oversight committee, accused Chaffetz of abandoning his duty as committee chairman.

“The Oversight Committee is supposed to protect whistleblowers and independent government watchdogs like the Office of Government Ethics instead of retaliating against them for political reasons,” Cummings said.

Cummings has asked Chaffetz to hold a public hearing on Trump’s conflicts of interest.

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