Richard Painter, a former White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush who has emerged as a prominent critic of President Donald Trump, announced that he is considering a run for Senate.
Painter, speaking at the Minnesota State Capitol on Wednesday, told reporters he is forming an exploratory committee that will look at what a campaign for the Minnesota US Senate seat vacated by Al Franken, and now held by Democrat Tina Smith, may look like.
“If I choose to enter this race, it will be to fix the problem of corruption in our government at the federal level,” Painter said during the afternoon news conference, before explaining that he sees “a lot of room for someone like me” in the race because, over his career, he has sought to eliminate government corruption on all levels.
During a conversation with CNN, Painter said he announced an exploratory committee because he wants to see if a path to victory is viable. “I want to talk about real issues instead of the attacks and petty stuff that usually dominates political races these days,” he said.
Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, went on to say he isn’t sure if he’ll run as a Republican. He said there are three options – running as a Democrat, Republican or independent – but that he needs to figure out which would best suit his candidacy.
“I need to think about whether there’s a place for me” in today’s Republican Party, he said. “I’ve been involved in the Republican Party for many years. If the Republican Party were the way it was in college or in the 1980s, that’s the route I’d probably choose. We’ve had a very dramatic shift to the right, particularly on social issues. I’m not sure that path will be viable, but we’ll find out.”
The former White House ethics lawyer has not kept quiet about his distaste for Trump. Painter’s Twitter presence consists of a long stream of insults directed at the President about everything from the Russia investigation to Trump’s faithfulness to his wife.
“Donald Trump is certainly not helping,” Painter told CNN. “We need to move beyond Donald Trump, and we need to have a Senate and a House of Representatives and hopefully a president who will deal with real issues.”
Smith, who previously served as lieutenant governor of Minnesota, was appointed to the seat Painter is eyeing in December 2017 by Gov. Mark Dayton, and her one-year term will expire in January 2019.
The appointment came following Franken’s December 7 decision to resign from office over allegations that he had touched women inappropriately.
Painter said the fact that Smith was appointed opens up an opportunity in 2018 for the people of Minnesota to weigh in after the Franken resignation.
“I think that’s a seat voters are going to want to have a say and debate on the issues and see who they prefer,” Painter said.
Minnesota’s other senator, Democrat Amy Klobuchar, is also up for re-election in 2018, meaning there will be two Senate races in the North Star State this year.