Richard Painter served for two years as George W. Bush’s ethics counsel. Since Donald Trump took office however, he’s frequently spoken out about Trump’s ethical lapses on cable news shows. Painter, along with Norm Eisen, Obama’s ethics counsel, have made clear that this president is perhaps the most ethically conflicted of the past 100 years.
Last Sunday’s (July 1), New York Times magazine helped readers get to know Painter a little better, and reveal why, after being a lifelong Republican, he is switching parties.
At twelve years old, Painter got an early education into ethics while watching the Watergate hearings.
“I remember hearing a man named Archie Cox had been fired and asking, who fired him? The president. What was he doing? Investigating the president. You figure that out: There’s something wrong with that.”
Which of President Trump’s potential ethical violations bothers you the most?” Times writer Dan Amira asked.
“Well,” Painter said, “that depends on how broadly you define ethics. If ethics is limited to financial conflicts of interest — that’s really what I did in the Bush White House — that’s a huge problem for me because Trump refused to sell his businesses. We don’t know where he’s getting his financing. All we know is he won’t share his tax returns. Certainly, since he was elected, things have blown up in areas relevant to ethics. It’s a scary situation if you have a president obstructing justice, particularly when it’s about whether his political campaign was infiltrated by a foreign adversary.”
Painter and Eisen are both members of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a non-profit, non-partisan watchdog whose mission statement says it all:
“CREW uses aggressive legal action, in-depth research, and bold communications to reduce the influence of money in politics and help foster a government that is ethical and accountable. We highlight abuses, change behavior, and lay the groundwork for new policies and approaches that encourage public officials to work for the benefit of the people, not powerful interests.”
“Until his resignation last Thursday, [former EPA Director Scott] Pruitt faced up to 19 separate investigations,” CREW writes. Upon hearing of Pruitt’s departure, CREW’s executive director, Noah Bookbinder released this statement:
CREW “…filed [a] complaint with the National Archives and Records Administration (“NARA”) today requesting it investigate the reported actions of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) that appear to violate the Federal Records Act (“FRA”). The complaint was also sent to the departments’ respective inspectors general.
“This morning, The New York Times reported that “[r]ecords linking children to their parents have disappeared, and in some cases have been destroyed, according to two officials of the Department of Homeland Security, leaving the authorities struggling to identify connections between family members.” In hundreds of cases, Customs and Border Protection agents allegedly deleted the initial records in which parents and children were listed together as a family.
“This would be a blatant violation of the Federal Records Act (FRA), which ensures the documentation and preservation of government records.
“ ‘Rarely, if ever, has a potential violation of the FRA had such grave implications,’ CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. ‘The reportedly destroyed records bear directly on the lives of thousands of immigrants seeking entry to our country, threatening the permanent separation of parents from their children.’
“Given such high stakes, it is imperative that the actions of DHS and HHS are investigated immediately. The lives of thousands of families literally hang in the balance.”
Recently, Painter announced that he’s running to fill Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken’s seat after the former senator resigned due to sexual-misconduct allegations.
“Why not stay with the G.O.P. and try to save it from the inside?” The Times asked.
“When people are making up stories about Bob Mueller on Fox News and those get traction in congressional committees and in the White House,” Painter says, “at a certain point, I’ve got to say no. At what point are we moving from a situation where I’m in the moderate wing of the party that plays by essentially the same rules as the Democrats, to a party that really is behaving as if it does not want to function in a democracy?”
My hope is that citizens not only demand more ethical representation, but push for greater oversight and laws that will take direct action against any member of the government – regardless of party – who violates the ethical integrity of their elected position.
Without ethics and accountability, especially in leaders we are supposed to trust to do the right thing, we are lost.