Morning breaks over the White House and the offices of the West Wing (R) in Washington January 20, 2015.
Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

When the jokes write themselves: Trump’s ‘ethics czar’ steps down

Given the number of ethics scandals surrounding Donald Trump and his team, it’s easy to feel some sympathy for the White House lawyer who’s responsible for policing ethics rules.

As it turns out, that person exists – and he’s quitting.

White House ethics lawyer Stefan Passantino is leaving the Trump administration, a senior White House official told NBC News on Thursday.

His last day is Friday.

Passantino – who had been in charge of making sure White House officials complied with government ethics rules – had helped several White House officials deal with a number of ethics controversies, including a notorious March 2017 incident in which Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to President Donald Trump, plugged the clothing line of the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, on national television.

This news, of course, comes just one day after the president announced that White House Counsel Don McGahn is also leaving his position – news that Trump failed to share with McGahn in advance,

As a result, fairly soon, the top two attorneys in the Trump White House will be gone, just as a series of scandals grow more serious, and just as the president and his team prepare for a possible avalanche of subpoenas in the event of possible Democratic control on Capitol Hill in January.

What’s more, as the Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig told Rachel on the show last night, four of McGahn’s top five deputies “will be gone by the end of the week.”

This coincided with a report from the Post that said, among other things, “Trump allies privately worry that the West Wing staff is barely equipped to handle basic crisis communications functions, such as distributing robust talking points to key surrogates, and question how the operation could handle an impeachment trial or other potential battles.”

As for Passantino, Politico  reported a few weeks ago on his likely departure, and noted:

A longtime lawyer to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and partner at the law firm Dentons, Passantino joined the administration in its infancy in January 2017 and took on what many Trump allies have viewed as the unenviable task of enforcing ethics rules, including educating his colleagues – many of them new to government – about the multitude of requirements governing public servants.

“He’s the clean-up guy,” joked one close adviser to the White House.

The list of people lining up to replace him is likely to be short. Call it a hunch.