Imagine working as a top White House ethics lawyer. Even overseeing the administration of the most above-board commander in chief would be an enormous job, presumably involving mountains of paperwork, floods of details, and hordes of personnel to keep track of.
Now imagine working as the attorney responsible for policing ethics in Donald Trump’s administration, arguably the most corrupt in modern history, with the rot coming right from the top. Allow the anxiety, the hopelessness, and the sheer enormity of the task at hand to wash over you. Now, you have an idea of what Stefan Passantino’s life has been like for the past year and a half, and why he’s reportedly packing up his desk and getting ready to make a break for it.
Politico reports that Passantino, one of the top lawyers in the White House, has plans to quit the administration by the end of the summer, leaving “a huge hole in the White House’s legal operation.” Despite the blow his loss will represent, it’s unlikely anyone will be able to convince him to stay and take one for the team, given he’s been working in what Passantino allies see as an “impossible” job.
To recap: Passantino’s primary charge—the president—has refused to follow precedent and release his tax returns, and has held onto his business assets while in office. His son Eric, who runs said business along with Don Jr., says he gives his dad quarterly financial updates. He’s got a hotel down the road from the White House where foreign governments regularly stay as a way to kiss the ring.
Two of his top advisers—his daughter and son-in-law—earned at least $82 million in outside income last year while serving in government. His Cabinet secretaries regularly compete with each other for the title of Most Blatantly Corrupt Trump Official. And Passantino is supposed to be “the clean-up guy” for all of it, a close adviser to the White House joked to Politico, which they can do because they’re not the one with a gig that would make even the most hardened Washington veteran cry.
“I am amazed he made it as long as he did,” Norm Eisen, the ethics czar during the Obama administration, told Politico. “His client was the White House, but its head, the president, is as difficult an ethics subject as has ever occupied the Oval. No ethicist could thrive in that environment.”