ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – Richard Painter, a former ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush administration, said Monday he will switch parties and run as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Al Franken in the wake of sexual-misconduct accusations.
Painter, 56, served as the chief White House ethics attorney for Republican President George W. Bush and has become a vocal critic of President Donald Trump.
He held a press conference at the Minnesota State Capitol on Monday morning, saying he will bring a primary challenge against Democratic U.S. Senator Tina Smith, who was appointed to fill Franken’s seat on an interim basis late last year.
Franken, a Democrat who held the seat since 2009, formally resigned in January amid multiple accusations of touching women’s buttocks and breasts without consent.
Smith said she plans to run to keep the seat in November. Minnesota State Senator Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point, has announced her candidacy on the GOP side.
The candidate who wins November’s election will serve the remainder of Franken’s term until 2020.
Painter was a longtime Republican and indicated prior to Monday’s announcement that he was unsure if he’d run as a Republican, Independent or Democrat.
“I have been with the Republican Party for a long time. I’ve tried to salvage the situation for the Republican Party for a long time,” he said at the press conference.
He said he was concerned about the current state of the Republican Party both in Minnesota and across the country, specifically the “departure from the fundamental values of the Republican Party and of America.”
Painter has publicly criticized President Trump, leading Republicans in Washington to describe him as a “Trump-hating impeachment advocate.”
But Painter said during Monday’s press conference that he has been told he’d be rejected by the Republican Party if he was not supportive of Trump.
“Donald Trump during the campaign demonstrated that he was a threat to our Constitution,” Painter said.
He said Trump’s “fake news” attacks on the press haven’t been heard in a campaign since 1932 – not the U.S. presidential race between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover, but the 1932 election in Germany that saw the rise of the Nazi Party.
Painter said Republicans have shown they are “not willing to participate in our democratic system. The Republicans insist that if you run for a national office, you must be loyal to President Donald Trump.”
Two Republican Senators have been pressured to step down because they would not support Donald Trump, Painter said.
“This is wrong. This not the America I want to live in. This is not the America I want my children to live in. So I’m going to seek the nomination for the Democratic Farmer Labor Party for this seat,” he said, referring to Minnesota’s branch of the Democratic Party.
Painter reiterated that he had no interest in accepting donations from super PACs or “dark money,” but would instead take donations directly from voters and individual supporters.
He dodged questions about his Democratic opponent, Smith.
“She will be my opponent in the primary. I will not spend my time in this race trashing on Senator Smith. That’s not the way to do it. I’m going to discuss what I can bring to the table,” he said.