The preferred method of attack on President Trump is to use the statements of someone who at some time in the past was an official in a Republican administration in some capacity to rebuke Trump for something. These people aren’t hard to find. But few have chosen to make a career out of it. One of them is a guy named Richard Painter or, as he’s referred to affectionately in the press and in never Trump circles, a “former Bush ethics official.”
Here are some highlights.
Proclaimed meeting with Russian officials would require Jeff Sessions to resign.
Said Donald Trump, Jr.’s meeting with
Fusion GPS contractors Russians bordered on treason
And there is the garden variety psycho-babble that has masqueraded for political analysis over the past year. Trump, he says, has no empathy for slain soldiers. Trump, he warns, could use the military for a coup.
Just a couple of days ago Painter claimed that President Trump doing a happy dance on the news that FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe was retiring was “intimidation of a witness.” A witness to what? We don’t know. How was McCabe intimidated by the president cheering his departure? He wasn’t. But none of that matters because all that matters is that he’s feeding the preconceptions of anti-Trumpers and never-Trumpers.
Two important points about who Painter WAS and who Painter IS.
The Weekly Standard does a great synopsis of what Painter’s role was in the Bush White House.
But according to people familiar with how White Houses operate, Painter’s high profile is based on a popular misconception about what, exactly, the White House ethics counsel does. The person in that position is not a moral arbiter or even someone with a large remit over the presidential administration’s behavior. Rather, the job mostly consists of helping cabinet appointees and other administration officials “fill out disclosure forms and sort out conflicts of interest,” says one former White House lawyer. The role is “important but quite limited in responsibilities,” he says. An official might ask the counsel “Can I go to dinner with this lobbyist?” and other mundane questions—hardly the stuff of “treason.”
In a phone interview, Painter confirms the rote nature of his role as White House ethics counsel, which he held from 2005 to 2007. Day to day, Painter says, he “helped people deal with financial conflicts of interest.” He might, for example, “work with people selling real estate.” By all accounts, he was stellar at this job, probably owing to his work in corporate ethics law prior to his appointment. That background, in addition to the fact that he was a registered Republican, led to his appointment, Painter says. But the recent “rise in my profile doesn’t have to do with my legal expertise,” he allows.
This has led to persistent complaints that in issuing such bold and brash statements, Painter is straying outside of his legal lane and, in so doing, hurting the academic legal profession. One prominent liberal law professor, New York University’s Stephen Gillers, who has worked with and respects Painter, worries that he has “hurt his credibility” by simply “asserting that everything the White House does is wrong. He appears too partisan.” Gillers continues, “We law professors carry a certain level of credibility by virtue of our titles,” but by “going outside his expertise on social media, and especially television,” Painter puts that at risk.
In short, there was absolutely nothing in Painter’s portfolio in the Bush White House that gives him any more insight into the workings of government, in general, or the Trump White House, in particular, than anyone else.
Who Painter IS, though, is important.
Painter is vice-chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. There are people who either out of dishonesty or stupidity portray CREW as some kind of a good government group. It isn’t. Until January, the chairman of the Board for CREW was David Brock. CREW is just another Brock-run AstroTurf group funded to target Republicans:
The constellation of political groups in Democratic strategist David Brock’s network are aiming to raise roughly $40 million in 2017, the Clinton antagonist-turned-top ally told roughly 120 donors gathered here on Saturday.
Speaking shortly before a forum of the candidates for Democratic National Committee chair on the third day of his weekend conference at the Turnberry Isle golf resort, Brock told the wealthy party members that approximately half of the money would go into 501(c)(3) arms of the organizations, and the rest would be for the 501(c)(4) or super PAC sides.
Brock’s groups include Media Matters, a liberal news media watchdog; ShareBlue, a liberal news site; American Bridge, the party’s primary opposition research organization; and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which carries out legal actions. CREW will be a particular locus of activity this year, according to donors briefed on the plans.
To date, as far as I can tell, CREW has targeted exactly one Democrat since its founding.
Painter is using a position he held in the Bush White House to aid Brock’s jihad against Trump. Whenever you see Painter or CREW quoted approvingly, you need to know who Painter is and ask why anyone knowing his history would reference him? Or, worse yet, why anyone would quote him and not know his history.