Personal commentary by Quin Hillyer;
At the Washington Post, moderate-conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin takes up the case of Robert Eitel, formerly the second-ranking lawyer in the GW Bush Education Department and now on the temporary “beachhead team” at the Ed Department for new Secretary Betsy DeVos. Eitel had been subject to one of those trademark New York Times “some people question the appearance of the ethics of” stories — reported in such a way as to touch all the journalistic bases showing “balance” and “reporting his side of the story” while couching everything, with exquisite subtlety (except for the headline, which of course was an open assault), in a way that cast aspersions on Eitel’s character.
Now the leftist, ambitious rabble-rousing U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has written a letter to Secretary DeVos, questioning Eitel’s hiring. Without actually doing anything to bother anybody, Bob Eitel has thus made the right enemies. He should wear Warren’s letter as a badge of honor.
The thumbnail version of the story is that Eitel is on leave from doing legal work for a for-profit college, and of course virtually all colleges, whether for-profit or not, come under the regulatory aegis of the Ed Department. Gee, what a surprise: The new Secretary of Education wants somebody who actually knows education law to advise her and her department on what education law entails! Sound the alarm! The situation must be virtually criminal, right?
As the Times dutifully reported (while burying its import), Eitel went out of his way to consult with official Ethics personnel to make sure he ran afoul of no conflict-of-interest strictures, and he even went so far as to recuse himself from matters — out of an abundance of caution — for which recusal is not technically required.
Anyway, again, Rubin has the whole run-down, explained brilliantly (and also with appropriate criticism of the overuse of the whole “beachhead team” practice). For purposes of wise public policy, Rubin encapsulates the central point forcibly and concisely:
What, then, is a public-spirited official to do? If someone with relevant experience and the right background wants to serve and goes above and beyond ethics requirements, they will soon learn there is no way to be hired without being accused of impropriety. As a result, qualified and ethical people won’t serve.
This is crucial. Ethics laws are important. But if ethics laws are being followed, then what’s the problem? Why is it news? Why run an entire story airing spurious “concerns” from people with an ideological ax to grind? Clearly, in this case, the left’s real problem is not with Eitel’s formal ethics, but with the fact that he dared to work for a for-profit entity in a realm they want profits eliminated and governments to control.
Every word above is one I could write (and express arguments I long and repeatedly have made) regardless of the person involved.
In this case, however, I must admit a serious bias. Bob Eitel was my college classmate and, one year, apartment mate at Georgetown; we both are from New Orleans; both worked on the same Louisiana gubernatorial campaign; and have remained (along with his wonderful wife Nan, also a Louisiana-Georgetown person) close friends for 35 years now.
Rather than having my bias discount my arguments, though, please allow my personal knowledge of Eitel to shed more light on this situation. (Here’s another reason not to discount my conclusion: specifically because the arguments above are also advanced by others like Rubin — a severe critic of Donald Trump, but coming to the defense of somebody who is technically a Trump appointee.)
The simple reality is that I have met few people in my life, in any capacity, who are so scrupulous about ethics — both formally and informally — as Bob Eitel. Honor, rectitude, and integrity are his lodestars. (He inherited those traits: I wrote about his father, who flew the presidential helicopter for Ike and JFK and led combat teams in Vietnam, here.) If he were in business instead of law, you would trust a deal made with his handshake more than one made with the most elaborate contract proffered by somebody else. He’s also kind and generous.
He’s also insightful: He sees things others miss — he certainly did about a certain long-shot gubernatorial candidate, as I wrote about in the first four paragraphs of another column.
And he is well respected: George Will positively cited Bob’s work in columns on education — specifically, in what should make both Trump and conservatives happy, in a column skeptical of Common Core.
In sum, Bob Eitel is exactly the sort of man — studious, thoughtful, accomplished, unselfish, honest — we should want as close advisers to Cabinet members.
I can write this with full confidence, because I know Bob. But any fair-minded person who doesn’t know him at all, but merely examines Bob’s public record, would conclude much the same. This man is solid.