February 20, 2018

February 20, 2018 - The former White House lawyer and author on government ethics Richard Painter spoke at Cardozo on Presidents’ Day, February 19, 2018, as part of The Jacob Burns Center for Ethics in the Practice of Law speaker series. Painter was sharply critical of the Trump administration and gave a detailed description of issues he would have if he were in the counsel’s office today. The Burns Center lecture series has offered distinguished speakers on issues that probe the ethical challenges confronting government lawyers in the Trump era.

Painter served as chief White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007. He received his J.D. from Yale Law School, practiced law at Sullivan & Cromwell and is on the faculty at the University of Minnesota Law School.

Painter described serious conflict of interest issues with respect to Trump businesses and the Trump family members serving as representatives of the government while continuing their ongoing business relations around the globe. He also pointed out inconsistencies in dealings with members of the press and other problematic issues surrounding the Trump presidency.

President Trump’s continued interest in the Trump Organization and his stake in hundreds of other entities allow him to continue receiving a steady stream of monetary and other benefits from foreign powers. Painter believes this unusual setup violates the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution and could cause negative consequences for the U.S.

Painter also criticized President Trump’s controversial tweets attacking the judiciary and his use of the term “so-called judges” as unprecedented and dangerous, saying, “I can’t accept that in a country that I believe is committed to the rule of law.”

The Burns Center speaker series, called “Ethics and Government Lawyering in the Age of Trump” previously featured Bradley Wendel, dean of academic affairs at Cornell Law School and Michael Bosworth, former deputy counsel for the Obama White House.

Painter is also a board member and vice chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which recently filed suit against President Trump for violating the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. He narrated a picture of the Trump presidency as one filled with incompetence and Constitutional violations, starting with the January 2017 travel ban. “My reaction to Trump was visceral when he attacked Muslims,” Painter commented.

Painter said Trump’s relationship with the press is troubling and he said he is “concerned about actions taken to prevent freedom of the press in this administration.”