Whatever you think of President Donald Trump, the near daily shattering of legal and ethical norms that have characterized his presidency has certainly elevated the prominence of certain lawyers. Case in point: Richard Painter, the University of Minnesota Law School professor and former ethics czar in the George W. Bush White House.
Prior to the election, Painter and Norm Eisen, his counterpart from the Obama White House, were quoted regularly in stories about the potential for unprecedented number of conflicts of interest. After the election, the duo made headlines when they teamed up with a bevy of legal heavyweights (Laurence Tribe, Erwin Chemerinsky, Zephyr Teachout) to bring a lawsuit against Trump over his alleged violation of the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Although Painter once characterized himself as an “obscure government lawyer,” his recent ubiquity in the news cycle makes it clear that description is outdated. A Google News search for “Richard Painter” turns up over 12,300 hits.
Increasingly, Painter has made use of Trump’s favorite social media platform to express his views on the outrages-du-jour.
To be sure, the law prof’s 18,000 Twitter followers pale in comparison to Trump’s cohort (23 million strong and counting). Then again, Painter only joined Twitter in 2014 and he didn’t really find his mojo until last year, when Trump emerged as the front-runner for the GOP nomination. “He could sing Deutschland uber alles in the middle of Fifth Avenue and people would still vote for him? He’s getting there,” Painter said in one of his first Trump-related tweets last February.
Since then, virtually all of Painter’s tweets have been Trump-centric, much more frequent and ever more caustic. Trump’s recent accusation that President Obama “wire tapped” Trump Tower during the campaign elicited an especially arch retort. “False accusations made on Twitter or to the press are usually not a crime. Lying to Congress or executive branch officials is. 18 USC 1001,” Painter tweeted on Wednesday.