CREW Exposed

Is Richard Painter An Ethics Lawyer Or An Anti-Trump CREW Surrogate?

Given his experience as the Bush Administration’s chief ethics lawyer, one would think Richard Painter is a voice of reason with regards to government ethics. That’s certainly how he’s treated in the press: A Google News search going back to December turns up hundreds of media hits listing him as a “former White House ethics lawyer.” A much smaller number of stories identify Painter by his more relevant title: Vice Chair of the David Brock-affiliated left-wing attack dog, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).


As we’ve documented extensively on this site, CREW has for years been operating as an ethics watchdog in name only, focusing most of its firepower on Republicans. In the Trump era, the Washington Free Beacon reports that CREW is now an “integral” part of Brock’s network of organizations designed to attack the President:
Documents obtained by the Washington Free Beacon at that conference show that CREW’s complaints are just one part of a larger strategy to take down Trump using opposition research, media pressure, and the court system. Those documents spell out efforts to defeat Trump if he runs for reelection in 2020. But they also state that Brock’s network will seek impeachment in addition to its political efforts. … “CREW will relentlessly probe [Trump’s] global conflicts of interest and administration ethics problems through aggressive use of research, open records requests, legal action, and [Freedom of Information Act] litigation,” the documents state.
Of course, these complaints have far less merit if they’re directly associated with Brock. So in December, Brock left CREW’s board, and the organization brought on a new chairman (Norman Eisen, who co-founded CREW), and a new vice-chairman (Painter).


Painter was a prominent voice during the 2016 campaign, defending the Clinton Foundation (here in the New York Times), while criticizing Trump’s own ethical conflicts. These might be standard positions for a partisan Democrat to take, but they’re pretty unusual position coming from a supposedly-neutral party. After the election, Painter’s anti-Trump advocacy took an even sharper edge. Politico reported that he and Eisen were “actively working to shape the outcome of an election that most voters think has already been decided,” arguing that “Trump’s business conflicts are so big it should affect how the Electoral College votes.” Painter, either on his own or with his co-signer Eisen, signed at least a dozen op-eds since December criticizing Trump or his nominees. and gave dozens of interviews on the same theme. (A few example op-eds are included below.) 
Painter has used his Twitter account to fuel and promote these attacks. The account didn’t see much action until December, when he began sharing a series of his own anti-Trump op-eds along with those from other authors. In fact, a search on his Twitter feed shows that the vast majority of his comments have focused on ethical concerns about President Trump (or related topics) since December.
In only a small numbers of these op-eds and stories was Painter identified as Vice-Chair of CREW–an organization that’s an “integral” part of a coordinated attack on President Trump. In op-eds where Painter and Eisen were identified by their CREW affiliation, no indication was given as to the organization’s key role in David Brock’s anti-GOP empire. (The earlier Politico report also noted that Painter has a leadership role in an alliance of lefty anti-Trump organizations, including Common Cause and the Center for American Progress.)   


Earlier this year, Painter and CREW filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration for supposed ethics violations related to his business interests. He’s also made wild partisan accusations about the Trump administration, claiming on CNN that he’s “worried about KGB agents running around the west wing or the national security council.” Yet even after all of this, Painter is still identified most often as a neutral third party. Painter is entitled to his critical opinions about President Trump. But in that capacity, he should be accurately identified in his current title as a partisan lawyer and spokesperson for the left-wing attack dog CREW.

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