Painter retouches self-portrait

The turmoil in the DFL in advance of the August 14 primary to sort out their candidates for statewide office is unprecedented. It both reflects and illuminates the churning crosscurrents in the Democratic party nationally. I don’t know that we can necessarily learn anything from close observation here — I think we can — but the scene certainly warrants attention in any event.

The contest between appointed incumbent Tina Smith and new Democrat Richard Painter for what was Al Franken’s Senate seat must top the marquee. Smith is an utterly vacuous metropolitan leftist who formerly served as Mark Dayton’s lieutenant governor. University of Minnesota Law School professor Richard Painter identified himself as a Republican when he served in the Bush (43) White House counsel’s office and when he endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in the 2016 election.

Painter continued to hold himself out as a Republican as he made a name for himself disparaging Trump on the cable channels after the election. As of this past April, however, Painter was unsure whether he would seek Smith’s seat as a Democrat, a Republican or an Independent. Once he found his identity as a Democrat, I posed 10 questions to Painter upon the announcement of his candidacy that month. (I never heard back from him.)

In his Star Tribune Hot Dish Politics email newsletter yesterday, state politics reporter Patrick Coolican noted that DFL knives have come out for Painter, “the former Bush White House ethics lawyer now running for U.S. Senate as a DFLer.” A DFL source had sent Patrick this New York Times op-ed that Painter wrote in 2016. Painter wrote in the opening sentence of the column (emphasis added): “As the chief ethics lawyer in the White House Counsel Office, I helped President George W. Bush with the nomination and confirmation of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court.” Coolican’s DFL source of course indicted Painter for this, noting that “Alito and Roberts voted with the conservative majority in Citizens United, Janus, gay marriage, Voting Rights Act, etc.”

I understood that Professor Painter had grossly inflated his role in the nomination and confirmation of Roberts and Alito for the purposes of his Times op-ed column. I contacted Painter via his campaign to seek comment and his spokesman confirmed my understanding: “Richard’s role was vetting those selections for financial conflicts of interest. He played no role in selecting the Justices he was just given their information to make sure they didn’t have financial conflicts of interest that would derail their Senate confirmation.” Based on my own reporting, I believe this comment to be true and am grateful to be able to place it on the record.

Incidentally, his colleagues from the Bush White House counsel’s office remember both that Professor Painter was a full-throated Republican partisan who spoke contemptuously of Democrats generally and of Hillary Clinton in particular. I also requested comment from Professor Painter’s campaign on this point. As of this morning, I have received none.

Now that Professor Painter seeks to present himself to crazed Democrats as the leftward most viable candidate in the race for Franken’s old Senate seat, he may occasionally be called on to confront his past in a way that observers of politics and the human comedy should find entertaining, if not inspiring.

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