Top Obama lawyers to track Trump administration’s ethics

Fearing the worst for America’s democracy, the group has already raised a US$1.5m operating budget

Top Obama lawyers to track Trump administration’s ethics
A group of top lawyers in service during the Obama administration has formed an organisation that will track possible ethics breaches of President Donald Trump’s administration. Called Unite to Protect Democracy, a nod to a line in President Barrack Obama’s farewell address, the group has already hired five staffers and is looking for knowledgeable and well-connected former government lawyers.

“When people hear concerns about democracies declining into authoritarianism, they expect that moment to come in a singular thunderclap where everyone can see that this is the time,” Ian Bassin, a former associate White House counsel and the leader of the group, told Politico. “In reality, often times, democracies decline over a period of years that happen through a series of much smaller steps.”

The group will focus on those small steps, and they have been busy despite being a new organisation. They have already raised a $1.5m operating budget and filed 50 Freedom of Information Act requests just this week. In the coming months, the plan to double their headcount.

Bassin said the group, which incorporated as both a 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) to allow them to operate as a not-for-profit organisation while participating in some political advocacy, is looking for other former White House and Justice Department lawyers. These are the people who have insider knowledge of areas in government where ethics breaches often arise, Bassin said.

“As people who had the privilege of serving at the highest level of our government, we understand those guardrails, where people might come up against them and what the tools are that we have as private citizens to hold our government accountable,” he said.

Tom Pirrelli, a former associate attorney general who is also with the group, said that they need former government lawyers because these people know how the government operates and how to make sure the government stays within ethical bounds.

Other members of the group are Jesse Lee, a former Obama administration rapid response director who is now communications director of the group, and Caroline McKay, a former legal assistant in the White House Counsel’s office. The group plans to hire a campaign director soon.

The group will be looking into issues that are not making the headlines, including potential intimidation of agencies by Trump administration staff. They also hope to disseminate information they cull to the media, act as a support organisation to government employees who are worried about ethics violations, including those who want to be whistle-blowers, and build their website ( into a resource to keep the government in check.

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