Republicans smear opponents for giving clients a defense as attorneys

Unsavory clients are disqualifying -- but only if you are a Democrat.

Diane Harkey attack ad screenshot.
CREDIT: Diane Harkey (R-CA) attack ad screenshot.

Across the country, Republican midterm candidates are contending with a voting public that largely does not agree with their policy ideas. Rather than attempt to defend their efforts to take away people’s healthcare and extend tax cuts that mostly benefited wealthy corporations — deeply unpopular ideas — many candidates are simply trying to smear their Democratic opponents. One repeated refrain: Democratic candidates who are attorneys once provided the vigorous representation they are ethically bound to provide for a dangerous criminal or an unpopular company.

This line of attack is hypocritical but not entirely new. Four years ago, Senate Republicans tanked the nomination of Debo Adegbile, an experienced civil rights attorney who had once been part of a legal team that defended a man convicted of killing a police officer in the 1980s. Similar concerns did not dissuade many of the same people from confirming Chief Justice John Roberts to the Supreme Court despite his role in defending equally a man convicted of murder.  And it does not seem likely to derail GOP support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, whose clients once included companies like Morgan Stanley and General Motors.

Diane Harkey, a Republican running in California’s 49th House District, says she is “dedicated to making sure every citizen is treated fairly by government.” But in a campaign ad she is running, she attacks her Democratic opponent Mike Levin for having once represented a mortgage lender. The ad notes that the defunct Countrywide Financial was involved in “unethical business practices” and that Levin once represented the bank (in apparently unrelated matters). “He earned thousands defending Countrywide and evicting families from their homes,” the ad claims, asking, “How can we trust Mike Levin to fight for us?”

Endangered Republican Rep. Mike Coffman from Colorado’s 6th District launched a similar attack recently on his Democratic opponent, Jason Crow.


“Crow is a lawyer, specializing in corruption,” the spot warns. “He’s represented corporate con-men who stole from schools, pensions, and even defrauded veterans. Crooks and con-men, that’s who Jason Crow represents.”

This week, vulnerable GOP Rep. Mike Kelly from Pennsylvania’s 16th District got into the act. In a spot, he attacks Democratic nominee Ron DiNicola — the son of an immigrant bricklayer who grew up in Erie, Pa. —  as a “California lawyer” who represented “a Mexican drug lord,” “a man who illegally aided Iran,” “a Crips gang leader,” and “a murder.”

The spot notes that by defending accused criminals, “crime paid” for DiNicola, contrasting him with Kelly, whom the ad says is “one of us.” Presumably, there’s also no way to know whether “crime paid” for any cars consumers could have purchased from Kelly’s chain of automobile dealerships.