ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
One of the odder stories of the last month came from what is typically a quiet corner of the federal bureaucracy - the Office of Government Ethics. As debate heated up over the potential influence of Donald Trump's vast business empire over his decisions as president, the OGE took to Twitter with a series of Trump-style tweets congratulating him on the decision to divest, except he hadn't and still hasn't specifically promised that.
One thing we didn't know was who at the OGE was the author of these tweets until now, thanks to NPR's reporter Alina Selyukh. Alina, tell us about who it is and how you found that out.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: The tweets came from the director of the Office of Government Ethics. His name is Walter Shaub. He's an Obama appointee. His term expires in January 2018. And the way we found out that he's the author of the tweets is by filing a Freedom of Information Act request.
I requested emails and other communications related to the tweet storm that was really bizarre in November. And what we received was 365 pages of documents and requests and emails, some of which do indicate direct authorship of the tweets by the director.
SIEGEL: And can you tell us what sort of things you saw in all these records that you received?
SELYUKH: Well, so specifically on the authorship of the tweets, there are two emails from the director on the morning of the tweet storm, which was November 30. First, he sends a note to the chief of staff with all nine of the tweets that ended up taking internet by storm. And a few minutes later, he sends out a link to the chief of staff again. It's to the legal document that's referenced in one of the tweets. And then he writes (reading) get all of these tweets posted as soon as humanly possible.
I've reached out to the OGE today to see if they wanted to comment on this and also to clarify why the tweets were taken down later that day before they were reposted. They haven't commented.
SIEGEL: What else did you learn, if anything, from these 365 pages worth of emails and messages?
SELYUKH: Yeah, so the OGE redacted about 15 of 365 pages. And a big chunk of the disclosures that I got were media inquiries like mine for freedom of information requests but also comments about the tweets. There were a lot of concerns or worries that this was a hack of the OGE. And there's actually an email from a Twitter government affairs official in D.C. trying to figure out if OGE was in fact hacked.
And then there are dozens and dozens of messages from just members of the public. It was quite fascinating. People wrote emails, letters. One guy even mailed in a postcard of what looked like Alexander Hamilton with a black eye.
People have really strong opinions about Trump and conflicts of interest and the need to uphold ethics standards. Some of them were critical of OGE and the tweets, and others were really encouraged by the sort of candid conversation that the tweets started. Most of them encouraged OGE to hold up ethics standards for the Trump administration.
SIEGEL: And the reason that people suspected a hack of OGE was that these tweets were so unusual to be coming out of that office.
SELYUKH: Usually the OGE doesn't air its opinions publicly, and they were just really uncharacteristic in their style. They had lots of question marks. There was one bravo. There was a phrase - divestiture is good for America. And so that made people suspect that this was sort of a rogue employee or a hacker, and it was in fact the director of the OGE himself.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Alina Selyukh. Alina, thank you.
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