Executive Director, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
Washington’s ethics watchdog
Industry: Advocacy, law
Key previous position: Chief Counsel, Senate Judiciary Committee
Education: Stanford; Yale Law
Notable fact: Past Board, Temple Emanuel
While congressional Democrats have tried to police the Trump administration’s ethics issues from committee hearing rooms, another cadre of private citizens and interest groups have sought to address the issues via the courts. Leading the legal charge is Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, better known as CREW, led by executive director Noah Bookbinder.
Under Bookbinder’s leadership the group, previously best-known for its annual list of the most corrupt members of Congress, has aggressively pursued administration records through Freedom of Information Act filings and lawsuits on issues ranging from the Mueller investigation to the donation of fireworks for the National Park Service’s annual Fourth of July celebrations and conflicts of interest at the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.
“We’ve tried very hard to combine a very precise and specific knowledge of the laws and rules on corruption, ethics, and transparency with a bigger-picture sense of why this matters for the country and being able to take legal action,” said Bookbinder, who went on to say that the group was already shifting its focus away from looking exclusively at Congress before Trump was elected.
Bookbinder joined CREW in 2015 from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, where he worked as director of the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs. Before that, he was criminal-justice chief counsel to Sen. Patrick Leahy, then chairman of the Judiciary Committee, working on sentencing reform, reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and hate-crime legislation.
CREW has had a number of legal victories. Its complaints have led to 11 administration officials receiving reprimands for Hatch Act violations, including former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and White House social-media director Dan Scavino. Another recent lawsuit compelled the White House to preserve records of Trump’s calls with foreign leaders.
“We have had a real impact overall in raising the profile of the issue of conflict of interest to the point that the general population is concerned about it,” Bookbinder said, noting CREW’s success bringing suits against Trump under the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. “We now have federal district courts finding payments to businesses are emoluments.”