News & Politics

DC’s Nerd Resistance

Four unlikely celebs in Trump-era Washington.

To explore more of “Our Year of Trump,” a look at how our city has dealt with 12 exhausting months, click here.

Benjamin Wittes

Editor, Lawfare blog

Photograph by Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine.
Photograph by Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine.

A friend of ousted FBI director James Comey, Wittes blogs about law and national security. Before the Comey controversy, he was generally known as a supporter of executive power.

“I understand that a lot of people who use phrases like #resistance have found my work valuable. But my job is to look at difficult problems of national security in ways that may be useful to policymakers and the public. What the President called the ‘deep state’ we call our readership. The day we go back to normal government, I personally will go back to defending the prerogatives of that government to exercise appropriate powers under the rule of law.”

Richard Painter

White House chief ethics lawyer, 2005–07

Photograph by Rau & Barber.
Photograph by Rau & Barber.

The former ethics czar for George W. Bush, Painter is now vice chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which is suing Trump for violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

“Whether I’m in DC, sitting around the Cosmos Club, or in the street in Saint Paul, people walk up and say, ‘Hey, I saw you on the television.’ A lot of people who walk up to me are happy and supportive of what I’m doing and not too happy about Trump. Maybe the others just avoid me.”

Walter Shaub

Former director, Office of Government Ethics

Photograph by Jeff Elkins.
Photograph by Jeff Elkins

Shaub was critical of Trump’s ability to behave ethically before the inauguration. He resigned in July.

“I miss being an obscure senior official in a counsel’s office just moving forms and negotiating deals. I haven’t tried to go back and do that because I feel I have a responsibility to use this platform to pursue a particular mission, but when this particular period of time is over, people should look for me to disappear. Or they should not look. Please don’t come looking.”

Norman Eisen

White House special counsel for ethics, 2009–11

Photograph by Jeff Elkins.
Photograph by Jeff Elkins

President Obama’s former ethics watchdog is now chairman of CREW and, with Richard Painter, is suing Trump over the Emoluments Clause.

“I would hardly describe it as celebrity or fame—more like attention. But I am surprised at the level of attention. It’s commensurate with the level of unconstitutional and illegal and unethical and anti-normative behavior of President Trump and his administration.”

This article appears in the December 2017 issue of Washingtonian.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.