Before “fake news” there was CREW — the ridiculously self-proclaimed Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. This supposed government ethics watchdog has always been more of a partisan lapdog to left-leaning politicians. But now — according to a leaked document authored by Democratic hit man David Brock — CREW is set to dramatically expand its size and scope to be a key player in pursuit of impeaching President Trump and disrupting Republican priorities.
Here’s CREW’s playbook: Under the guise of supposed objectivity, it lodges complaints and demands investigations of Republicans and conservative groups, which then feeds a friendly media. It is suspiciously labeled as “non-partisan” because of its token complaints against Democrats. CREW has historically lodged ethics complaints against Republican vs. Democratic members of Congress at a rate of 9-to-1.
And when it does go after a Democrat, it does so with puppy dog ferocity. When former New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez was caught in a bribery scandal, CREW put out a milquetoast statement saying he “deserves a fair trial” and should just step down from his Senate leadership positions. In contrast, when former Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign had an affair with the wife of his co-chief of staff, CREW was relentless, stating his affair “shocks the conscience,” demanding unconditional resignation, and spending months asking for investigations from the FEC, DOJ and the Senate Ethics Committee.
Since Jan. 1, 2015, CREW leadership has published 25 original op-eds all attacking Republicans. (Disclosure: I have also been attacked by this crowd.)
CREW’s employees are mostly veterans of Democratic campaigns and causes. Of the 22 employees listed on its website, at least 18 have previously worked for Democratic campaigns, administrations, or left-wing groups.
It’s true that CREW’s vice chair, and go-to anti-Trump spokesman, Richard Painter, worked for the Bush administration. This often repeated fact gives Mr. Painter’s — and CREW’s — positions more credibility and more visibility. (There’s nothing the media loves more than Republicans who disparage other Republicans.) What goes unmentioned is that Mr. Painter supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election campaign and is virulently anti-Trump. He implored members of the Electoral College pledged to Mr. Trump to block his election.
CREW’s partisan agenda became even more obvious in 2014 when Mr. Brock took the helm as part of his preparation for a coordinated 2016 attack on the right and the ultimate Republican nominee. He spent over a decade building left-wing Media Matters and American Bridge to defeat Republicans and help put Hillary Clinton in the White House. It’s no wonder that CREW, which spent years harassing government agencies over email retention during the Bush administration, went silent on the most famous email ethics case of all-time.
How bad is it? Hillary Clinton had exactly one mention on CREW’s website prior to the election. And it was about her treatment at the Benghazi hearings. Mr. Trump received far more scrutiny during the campaign. And since his election, White House officials, for the first time, have been the targets of CREW complaints. (Nine, for those keeping score at home.)
So it made perfect sense that Mr. Brock would move CREW under his umbrella. It adds to his fake news echo chamber. When CREW’s liberal allies in the media and the blogosphere report on its activities, it gives CREW more airtime. When election season approaches, Mr. Brock’s other organizations — or Democratic campaigns — use CREW complaints to reveal a candidate or organization “is facing an ethics investigation from a non-partisan group” in talking points and advertising.
In the wake of the 2016 election and its repudiation of Clintonism by the American public, the man who built an empire of groups to get Hillary Clinton elected had to rebrand and readjust in a hurry. Mr. Brock decided to reposition CREW as a tool to fight the Trump administration and the Republican Congress. He has bragged that he plans on raising more than $40 million dollars to disrupt Republican efforts.
Mr. Brock’s leaked memo — originally intended for high-dollar donors — revealed a coordinated effort across several left-wing groups to attack Republicans and disrupt their plans. Media Matters would attack the conservative media establishment. American Bridge would focus election-oriented attacks and research. Shareblue would focus on social media and act as the nexus for the progressive media. And CREW would wage attacks as a “nonprofit, non-partisan” ethics watchdog.
Here are CREW’s top two desired outcomes revealed in the memo: 1) “Trump will be afflicted by a steady flow of damaging information, new revelations, and an inability to avoid conflicts issues,” and 2) “The Trump administration will be forced to defend illegal conduct in court.”
This blatantly partisan political agenda should be grounds for loss of 501(c)3 status, which forbids political missions. (It’s also ironic given that CREW loves to file complaints against 501(c)3 organizations.) But under the protection of a clearly anti-Trump media, Mr. Brock has been given carte blanche to launch a partisan attack against Republicans from a “non-partisan” footing.
What’s worse is that CREW is only growing, with plans to double its budget and triple its communications team.
CREW is Washington at its worst — a special interest group peddling its wares with impunity as a “neutral” arbiter. It’s everything that people outside of the Beltway despise about Washington. Two-faced operatives preaching ethics in government while deep in their own ethics morass.
• Richard Berman is the president of Berman and Company, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C.