An Unethical CREW

Media ignores left-wing mission of Norm Eisen and Richard Painter's outfit

Norman Eisen / Getty Images

Mainstream media outlets rarely identify activists tied to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) as working for the leftwing activist organization that raises money from a secretive dark money network of liberal donors, according to a Washington Free Beacon analysis.

CREW bills itself as a nonpartisan organization looking at ethics violations on both sides of the aisle. However, the organization was once led by Clinton operative David Brock and is an approved funding group of the Democracy Alliance, which helps guide donations from wealthy liberals to anti-Republican activist organizations.

The Free Beacon's analysis, which examined footage from Nov. 1, 2017 to Feb. 1, found that Norman Eisen, the chairman of CREW who was previously an ethics "czar" for Barack Obama, appeared on CNN, where he is a contributor, and HLN at least 19 times. However, he was identified as leading CREW at the start of an interview just three times.

Eisen, who was mainly introduced as the former Obama White House ethics "czar," did not make any efforts to disclose his position with CREW when anchors had failed to mention them.

The statistics are worse when it comes to Richard Painter, the vice chairman of CREW.

Painter, a self-identified Republican who served as a White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, has been a vocal Trump critic since the 2016 Republican primary.

Painter, CREW's vice-chair, joined the organization in late 2016 when it was led by David Brock, the liberal operative and Clinton loyalist who founded Media Matters. Painter's political affiliation gave the organization a patina of bipartisanship as it ramped up efforts to oppose Trump in the media and in courts.

Painter conducted at least 68 interviews on MSNBC, CNN, and HLN and was only twice introduced as part of CREW during the same time period Eisen made his 19 appearances, the analysis found.

In nearly every other instance, he was only introduced as some variance of the former White House ethics lawyer for Bush, a position that he left nearly 11 years ago. Painter also failed to disclose his current position on air when his current title was not mentioned.

On Jan. 3, NBC reporter Peter Alexander on "Today" cited a Painter tweet that criticized Trump, where Painter was identified as "former George W. Bush chief White House ethics lawyer."

MSNBC's Ari Melber noted during Painter's appearance on Nov. 28 that Painter was "part of an organization that is suing Trump over alleged conflicts of interest in foreign income," and on Nov. 16, Melber said Painter "is suing Trump for accepting payments from foreign governments through his corporations."

CREW has filed a number of lawsuits against Trump since he entered the White House.

One such lawsuit against Trump was filed three days after he took office and focused on the foreign emoluments clause. A federal judge threw out the lawsuit in December.

Noah Bookbinder, CREW's executive director, has also appeared on at least one other lawsuit that was filed against Trump by a group of Democratic attorneys generals. The lawsuit mimicked the earlier lawsuit on the emoluments clause.

Eisen and Painter were picked to lead CREW as one of the final actions under the leadership of David Brock.

Brock chaired CREW from August 2014 until December 2016 when he stepped down from the position because he did not want the organization to appear too partisan as Donald Trump entered the White House.

"Due to my stepped up political activities in the American Bridge opposition research super PAC, I decided to step off CREW's board to ensure its public reputation for non-partisanship," Brock said at the time of his departure. "I'm very proud of the work CREW has accomplished during my two years on board, and its work is more relevant now than ever."

The organization targeted both Democrats and Republicans for alleged violations prior to Brock's arrival. CREW skewed towards pinpointing Republican politicians during Brock's time with the group.

The news that Eisen and Painter were joining CREW was contained in the same press release that announced Brock would be leaving his position.

In January 2017, just one month after leaving CREW, Brock held a donor retreat at a posh Florida resort where he huddled with more than 100 liberal donors in an effort to map out how they would "kick Donald Trump's ass."

The Free Beacon was present at the retreat and obtained a copy of his private and confidential memo that laid out his plans over the course of the next four years to fight Trump.

The memo contained sections for Media Matters, American Bridge, and Shareblue, all Brock-affiliated entities. It also contained an entire section on the work CREW would be doing against Trump, despite "officially leaving" the post one month prior to the gathering.

"CREW will be the leading nonpartisan ethics watchdog group in a period of crisis with a President and administration that present possible conflicts of interest and ethical problems on an unprecedented scale," the memo states.

"CREW will demand ethical conduct from the administration and all parts of government, expose improper influence from powerful interests, and ensure accountability when the administration and others shirk ethical standards, rules and laws."

Brock's memo mentions CREW using "cutting-edge litigation" and expanded legal team to file complaints and lawsuits.

"Already, top law firms and talented lawyers across the country, with specialties including civil litigation and FOIA, are volunteering to help with the effort."

The memo additionally talks of how CREW will partner with reporters to "move major stories forward."

Brock was also in attendance at the Democracy Alliance's fall investment conference held last November in Carlsbad, Calif. even though he was not listed in documents obtained by the Free Beacon at the gathering.