Stefan Passantino serves as deputy counsel to President Donald Trump, and he advises the president on ethics issues. Passantino’s name is in the news this week because of his involvement in the case of Kellyanne Conway, who last month plugged Ivanka Trump’s merchandise on Fox News.
Passantino was hired to the Trump administration at the end of January, a few days after the inauguration. Unlike many members of the Trump administration, Passantino had no role in the presidential campaign.
Here’s what you need to know about Stefan Passantino, deputy counsel to the president.
1. He is a Former Partner of the Law Firm Dentons
Before coming to the White House, Passantino worked in Washington, D.C. for the law firm Dentons.
According to My AJC, Passantino headed the political law division at Dentos, and he would advise clients on issues like campaign contribution rules and disclosure guidelines. Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, is currently a senior advisor for Dentons, and Dean offered praise for Passantino when Passantino was brought onto the Trump administration.
“I have worked with Stefan (from the other side of the aisle) for eight years,” Dean said in a statement. “I have a lot of confidence that he will be clear about what the ethical and legal boundaries are in his advice to the White House, and I appreciate his willingness to serve the country.”
2. He Worked for Newt Gingrich During the 2012 Presidential Election
Passantino has counseled a number of Republican politicians over the years including Newt Gingrich during Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign.
“No one understands the ethics process better than Stefan,” Gingrich said in a statement in January. “He will stand firm for an administration that is above reproach. President Trump could not have picked a better professional for this job.”
Newt Gingrich later joined Dentons, the law firm where Passantino was working as a partner. Gingrich was hired as a senior advisor on the political law team headed by Passantino.
According to Passantino’s profile on the Republican National Lawyers Association’s website, some of his other clients have been Dennis Hastert, Roy Blunt, Michael Steele, Bob Barr and JC Watts.
3. He Graduated From Emory University School of Law School
Passantino graduated in 1991 from Emory University School of Law, according to his LinkedIn page.
While at Emory, Passantino served as the managing editor of the Emory Law Journal.
After graduating from Emory, Passantino served as a clerk for United States District Court Judge Herbert F. Murray.
4. He Has Dealt With Cases of Pay-to-Play Compliance
According to a White House press release, one of Passantino’s areas of specialties is pay-to-play compliance. He has written a number of articles for Pay to Pay Law Blog.
This is something that will almost certainly come up during Donald Trump’s presidency, as there have already been some concerns about the possibility about pay-to-play in the White House considering Trump’s business has not been placed into a blind trust.
Most recently, Democrats expressed concern about Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s resort in Palm Beach, Florida where he has spent several weekends since becoming president. According to Talking Points Memo, Mar-a-Lago’s club initiation fee was recently raised from $100,000 to $200,000, and Democrats believe that this will create a situation in which the wealthy can pay to have access to the president.
“Your Winter White House will provide an audience with you for those who can afford it, not to mention an increasing cash-flow into your family-run organization,” Senate Democrats Sheldon Whitehouse and Tom Udall recently said in a letter. “Instead of draining the swamp, it appears you’re bringing Washington right to the swamps of Mar-a-Lago.”
5. He Says Kellyanne Conway Will Not be Disciplined for Telling Viewers to ‘Buy Ivanka’s Stuff’
During an interview with Fox News in early February, Kellyanne Conway violated an ethics rule by telling viewers to go out and buy Ivanka Trump’s merchandise; White House employees are permitted from endorsing products.
In a letter to Senate Democrats today, Passantino said that he has personally met with Kellyanne Conway and briefed her on ethics rules, but he says that she will not be disciplined for her statement.
“Upon completion of our inquiry, we concluded that Ms. Conway acted inadvertently and is highly unlikely to do so again,” he said. “It is noted that Ms. Conway made the statement in question in a light, off-hand manner while attempting to stand up for a person she believed had been unfairly treated and did so without nefarious motive or intent to benefit personally.”