The Plunging Standards of Ethics

Before he took office, President Bush set a high standard for the ethical conduct he expected for officials in his administration. Since his commandment to his staff that he “[expects] every member of this administration to stay well within the boundaries (that) define legal and ethical conduct,” those standards have been plunging. The bar that was once set at “don’t come anywhere near violating the law” has now sadly become “don’t get convicted of violating the law.”

Resources for the President’s Team:“Ethics in Government starts with you, as a leader in your agency…The Government ethics rules are the minimum acceptable standard of conduct. In other words, the rules spell out what is wrong, not what is right. Truly ethical conduct means doing less than the law allows and more than the law requires. Being an ethical leader involves more than acting ethically Your employees will look to you as a role model for public integrity. In addition, as a leader in your agency, you are responsible for the ethical compliance of your employees. Take an active role in promoting the importance of ethical conduct in the Federal workplace. Your commitment to maintaining high ethical standards will help ensure that the employees in your agency exemplify the principle that public service is a public trust If you are faced with a situation in which you believe that the ethics rules are implicated, your first step should be to discuss the matter with one of your agency’s ethics officials.”

President Bush, 2/2/00:“I will return honor and dignity to the White House. The current President [President Bill Clinton] pledged the most ethical Administration in American history. As it turned out, he fell about 41 Presidents short. The President is the commander in chief of the armed forces. He is the leader of the Free World. He is the voice of the American people. I will return the highest standards of honor to the highest office in the land. This is my pledge. And it does not depend on what the meaning of the word is is.”

Presidential Memo, 1/20/01:“Everyone who enters into public service for the United States has a duty to the American people to maintain the highest standards of integrity in Government…Public service is a public trust…Employees shall endeavor to avoid any actions creating the appearance that they are violating applicable law or the ethical standards in applicable regulations.


White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, 4/24/01:“Any actions will be taken, as the President indicated on day one of this administration, if you will recall, at an event in the East Room, the President talked about the importance of all members of this administration following all ethics laws and all actions they take should be in accordance with those laws.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, 6/13/01:“As a general matter, it’s important for all White House officials to comply fully with all ethics rules.”

President Bush, 7/22/01:“We must remember the high standards that come with high office. This begins careful adherence with the rules. I expect every member of this administration to stay well within the boundaries (that) define legal and ethical conduct. No one in the White House should be afraid to confront the people they work for over ethical concerns, and no one should hesitate to confront me as well.

White House Chief of Staff Andy Card:“We have an awful lot to do for this country and the President understands that. He expects everyone who is working on his team, and all of you are on his team, to understand first of all the rules, regulations and the law with regard to ethics. But even beyond that, recognize that working on this administration means that you should have the courage to follow the rules, obviously, and stay within the law, obviously. But it’s actually to do more than that. Recognize that you do have a moral compass that tells you what to do and to do the right thing, and we’d like to see everyone do the right thing.

White House Press Secretary, 6/10/03: “I think to the President what [the corporate accounting scandal] indicates is a need to have a society of laws where the laws are vigorously enforced, no matter who violates them; and to have ethics that are followed at home and in the workplace and corporate boards. That’s how the President approaches it.”

White House Press Secretary, 9/29/03:“Because I made it very clear then what I’m making clear now, that there was no information that has come to our attention to suggest any White House involvement [in the leak]. So that’s where things stood. But I made it very clear that that is not the way this White House operates, that the President expects people to adhere to the highest standards of conduct and the highest ethics — and that he has made that very clear from day one of this administration.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, 10/7/03:“And the President expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct.”

Press Conference, 6/10/04:Q Given — given recent developments in the CIA leak case, particularly Vice President Cheney’s discussions with the investigators, do you still stand by what you said several months ago, a suggestion that it might be difficult to identify anybody who leaked the agent’s name?THE PRESIDENT: That’s up to — Q And, and, do you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have done so?THE PRESIDENT: Yes.

President Bush, 7/18/05:“I would like this to end as quickly as possible so we know the facts, and if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.