Norm Eisen

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Norm Eisen
United States Ambassador to the Czech Republic
In office
January 28, 2011 – August 12, 2014
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byJoseph Pennington (Acting)
Succeeded byAndrew H. Schapiro
Personal details
Born (1960-11-11) November 11, 1960 (age 63)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseLindsay Kaplan
EducationBrown University (BA)
Harvard University (JD)

Norman L. Eisen (born November 11, 1960)[1] is an American attorney, author, and former diplomat. He is a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, a CNN legal analyst, and the co-founder and executive chair of the States United Democracy Center.[2][3] He was co-counsel for the House Judiciary Committee during the first impeachment and trial of President Donald Trump in 2020. He served as White House Special Counsel for Ethics and Government Reform, United States Ambassador to the Czech Republic, and board chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).[4] He is the author of four books, including The Last Palace: Europe's Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House (2018).[5] In 2022, he co-authored Overcoming Trumpery: How to Restore Ethics, the Rule of Law, and Democracy.[6][7]

Early life and education[edit]

Eisen's parents were immigrants to the United States of Jewish ancestry[8] and he was educated at Hollywood High School in Los Angeles,[9] growing up working in his family's hamburger stand in the city. He received his B.A. degree from Brown University in 1985 and his J.D. degree from Harvard Law School in 1991, both with honors. While at Harvard, he met future president Barack Obama, then also a first-year law student.[10][11]

Professional career[edit]

From 1985 to 1988, between college and law school, Eisen worked as the assistant director of the Los Angeles office of the Anti-Defamation League. He investigated antisemitism and other civil rights violations, promoted Holocaust education and advanced U.S.–Israel relations.

After graduation from Harvard in 1991, Eisen practiced law in Washington, D.C. for more than 18 years with the Zuckerman Spaeder law firm. He was named as one of Washington's top lawyers by Washingtonian magazine.[12] He specialized in investigations of complex financial fraud, including Enron, Refco, the ADM antitrust case, and the subprime financial collapse.[13]

In 2003, Eisen co-founded Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a government watchdog organization.[14] From 2016 until February 11, 2019, he was chair of the board and co-counsel on litigation matters, including emoluments cases in New York and Maryland federal courts[4] (CREW v. Trump and D.C. and Maryland v. Trump, respectively).

From 2007 to 2009, Eisen was active in the presidential campaign of his law school classmate Barack Obama before joining the transition team of then-President-elect Obama as deputy counsel. On January 20, 2009, Obama named him special counsel for ethics and government reform in the White House.[15]

He earned the nickname "Dr. No" for his stringent ethics and anti-corruption efforts and became known for limiting registered lobbyists from taking positions in the administration. President Obama recalls in his autobiography that when asked once what sorts of out-of-town conferences were okay for administration officials to attend, his response was short and to the point: “If it sounds fun, you can’t go.” [16] He is credited for helping compile President Obama's ethics-related campaign promises into an Executive Order the president signed on his first day in office.[10]

During 2009 and 2010, Eisen also contributed to the administration's open government effort, including putting the White House visitor logs on the internet; its response to the campaign finance decision in Citizens United v. FEC; and its financial regulatory plan, which is the basis for Dodd–Frank. His other activities included reviewing the background of potential administration officials, and expanding the application of the Freedom of Information Act.[13][15][17]

Eisen became the first Ambassador to the Czech Republic nominated by President Obama.[18] As ambassador, he developed a "three pillars" approach to the U.S.–Czech relationship, emphasizing (1) strategic and defense cooperation; (2) commercial and economic ties; and (3) shared values. During his time as ambassador, he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars per year out of his own pocket to maintain the ambassador's residence and entertain dignitaries.[19][20]

Eisen visited Czech and U.S. troops serving side by side in Afghanistan. He advocated for U.S. business, and saw bilateral trade increases with the Czech Republic during his tenure of 50 percent (more than three times the average for U.S. embassies in Europe at the time).[original research?] He also spoke out against corruption and in defense of civil rights.[21] Eisen has been credited with helping to deepen U.S.-Czech relations.[22] He also supported the Middle East peace process, including posting the first investment conference on the "Kerry Plan" in Prague together with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright."[23]

Eisen's ambassadorship was also noteworthy because his mother was a Czechoslovak Holocaust survivor who had been deported by the Nazis from that country to Auschwitz.[24] As Senator Joseph Lieberman noted in introducing Eisen at a Senate hearing: "It is indeed a profound historical justice... that the Ambassador's residence in Prague, which was originally built by a Jewish family that was forced to flee Prague by the Nazis, who... took over that house as their headquarters, now 70 years later, is occupied by Norman and his family... The story of Norm Eisen and his family and their path back to Europe is a classic American story, a reflection of what our country is about at its very best. And that is also precisely why the Ambassador has proven such an effective representative of our Nation, our interests, and our values."[22]

President Obama initially gave Eisen a recess appointment. The appointment was good for only one year, until the end of 2011, unless the full U.S. Senate confirmed him. The recess appointment was required because of a hold on Eisen's nomination.[25][26] The leaders of several Washington good-government groups authored a letter in support of Eisen's appointment.[27] Eisen's nomination received bipartisan support, including from Republican senators and conservative foreign policy scholars. The Senate ultimately confirmed Eisen on December 12, 2011.[28][29]

He joined the Brookings Institution as a visiting fellow in September 2014.[30] He is now a senior fellow in their Governance Studies program and is the project chair of a research initiative on reducing corruption.[2] At Brookings he has contributed to reports on open government,[31][32] the emoluments clause,[33] presidential obstruction of justice,[34] and anti-corruption efforts in the natural resource sector.[35] A prolific writer, he often contributes op-ed pieces to The New York Times,[36][37] The Washington Post,[38] Politico,[39] USA Today,[40] and other national publications.

In September 2018, Crown published Eisen's The Last Palace: Europe's Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House.[41] It is a sweeping history of 1918 to 2018 as seen through the windows of the Villa Petschek, a Prague palace built by Jewish businessman Otto Petschek after World War I, occupied by the Nazis later, and now the American ambassador's residence in Prague.[42] He has also authored "Democracy's Defenders: U.S. Embassy Prague, the Fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia, and Its Aftermath" and "A Case for the American People: The United States v. Donald J. Trump."[2][43]

In February 2019, Eisen was appointed consultant to the United States House Committee on the Judiciary. He assisted the committee on oversight matters related to the Department of Justice, including impeachment, and other oversight and policy issues within the committee's jurisdiction.[44] A columnist at The Washington Post called Eisen a "critical force in building the case for impeachment."[45] Eisen later wrote a book about his time as special counsel.[46]

With Colby Galliher, Eisen co-authored a book entitled, Overcoming Trumpery, which was published by Brookings Institution Press in 2022.[47][7]

Eisen was a co-founder of the States United Democracy Center in 2021[48] and serves today as its executive chair.[49] In his States United capacity, he signed a bar complaint against John C. Eastman[50] and an ethics complaint filed against Jenna Ellis[51] for their roles in undermining the 2020 election results. He served as co-counsel on an amicus brief filed in opposition to Lindsey Graham's motion to quash a subpoena in the Fulton County Special Grand Jury investigation of attempts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.[52] Eisen has co-written reports for States United including a guide to the Electoral College vote count and the January 6, 2021, meeting of Congress.[53] With his States United co-founders, Joanna Lydgate and Christine Todd Whitman, Eisen was a winner of the 2022 Brown Democracy Medal, given by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Pennsylvania State University.

In popular culture[edit]

Director Wes Anderson has credited Ambassador Eisen as an inspiration for the character of Deputy Kovacs in his 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anderson told Jeff Goldblum, who played Deputy Kovacs, "that he should go to Prague and see Norm; this is your man… The character of the lawyer Kovacs in the film maintains the awareness of law and justice… the character is actually a kind of ethics czar for the whole film."[54] This is a reference to another one of Eisen's White House nicknames: The Ethics Czar.[55] Anderson again referred to Eisen in the closing scene of Isle of Dogs, captioning a character as ethics czar in the new government of Megasaki.

In 2017, Eisen was named number 11 on the Politico 50 list of thinkers shaping American politics.[56] Eisen has also been named to the Forward 50 list of American Jews.[57]


  1. ^ "New U.S. ambassador Eisen takes up office in Prague". Czech News Agency. January 28, 2011. Retrieved January 28, 2011.
  2. ^ a b c "Norman Eisen". Brookings. March 31, 2016. Retrieved July 16, 2017.
  3. ^ "Our Team--SUDC". SUDC. 2021. Retrieved June 11, 2021.
  4. ^ a b "Our Board - CREW". CREW. Retrieved July 16, 2017.
  5. ^ "Amazon Books". Brookings. n.d. Retrieved June 15, 2021.
  6. ^ Eisen, Norman, and Galliher, Colby, Opinion: Once defeated, 'Trumpery' returns to the ballot in 2022, CNN, May 10, 2022, with video link
  7. ^ a b Eisen, Norman; et al. (March 22, 2022). Eisen, Norman (ed.). Overcoming Trumpery: How to Restore Ethics, the Rule of Law, and Democracy. Brookings Institution Press. ISBN 978-0-8157-3967-8.
  8. ^ "Norman Eisen, an old friend of Obama's from Harvard Law School, is bolstering the forces of liberalism as ambassador to the Czech Republic". Retrieved June 15, 2018.
  9. ^ "Will Norman Eisen be the Next Ambassador to Czech Republic?". All Gov. June 28, 2010. Retrieved February 12, 2021.
  10. ^ a b Saslow, Eli (March 13, 2009). "When White House Has Queries About Ethics Rules, Adviser Norm Eisen Answers the Call". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 15, 2012.
  11. ^ Goldman, T.R. (October 14, 2013). "The world of Norm Eisen, U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 21, 2014.
  12. ^ [1][dead link]
  13. ^ a b "Norman Eisen". The Washington Post. July 25, 2012. Archived from the original on July 30, 2013.
  14. ^ "President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts, 6/28/10". White House. June 28, 2010. Archived from the original on February 16, 2017. Retrieved December 15, 2012 – via National Archives.
  15. ^ a b Greenberg, Richard (January 12, 2011). "An appointment with history Bootstraps and all, diplomat comes full circle". Washington Jewish Week. Archived from the original on January 15, 2011. Retrieved December 15, 2012.
  16. ^ Obama, Barack (November 17, 2020). A Promised Land. New York: Crown. p. 534. ISBN 9781524763169.
  17. ^ "'Dr. No' Becomes Diplomat, Continues A Family Story". NPR. Retrieved June 15, 2018.
  18. ^ "Czech Republic - Chiefs of Mission - People - Department History - Office of the Historian". Retrieved July 16, 2017.
  19. ^ Norm Eisen [@NormEisen] (September 14, 2018). "I paid for my own damn curtains when I was an ambassador". Archived from the original on September 15, 2018. Retrieved October 30, 2018 – via Twitter.
  20. ^ "Norm Eisen on Twitter". Retrieved October 30, 2018.
  21. ^ Shapiro, Ari (February 18, 2014). "For U.S. Ambassador, Ties To Prague That Transcend Diplomacy". NPR. Retrieved May 23, 2014.
  22. ^ a b "Nominations [Eisen, Ricciardone, Ford]" (PDF). US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. August 2, 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 23, 2014. Retrieved May 30, 2022.
  23. ^ Johnson, Raymond (March 8, 2014). "Blair, Albright see stronger Palestinian economy as path to peace". The Prague Post. Retrieved May 22, 2014.
  24. ^ Fairclough, Gordon (December 27, 2012). "Transforming a Home's Dark History". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved May 23, 2014.
  25. ^ Rogin, Josh (October 6, 2010). "Another Obama ambassadorial nominee held up indefinitely". Foreign Policy. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  26. ^ Ornstein, Norman J (December 12, 2011). "The Senate Vote on Norm Eisen". American Enterprise Institute. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  27. ^ Bass, Gary; et al. (December 7, 2010). "Dear Senator Kerry," (PDF). Retrieved May 30, 2022.
  28. ^ O'Sullivan and Weinstein, John and Kenneth (December 8, 2011). "Confirm Eisen Now". The National Review. Archived from the original on May 22, 2014. Retrieved December 15, 2012.
  29. ^ "United States Senate Periodical Press Gallery".
  30. ^ "Ambassador (Ret.) Normal L. Eisen" (PDF). Brookings Institution. February 5, 2019.
  31. ^ "Why Critics of Transparency are Wrong". Brookings Institution. February 5, 2019.
  32. ^ "The Impact of Open Government: Assessing the Evidence". Brookings Institution. February 5, 2019.
  33. ^ "The Emoluments Clause: Its Text, Meaning, and Application to Donald J. Trump". Brookings Institution. February 5, 2019.
  34. ^ "Presidential Obstruction of Justice: The Case of Donald J. Trump". Brookings Institution. February 5, 2019.
  35. ^ "Annotated Bibliography: Transparency, Accountability, and Participation along the Natural Resource Value Chain". Brookings Institution. February 5, 2019.
  36. ^ Berke, Barry; Bookbinder, Noah; Eisen, Norman (December 7, 2018). "Is This the Beginning of the End for Trump?". The New York Times. Retrieved February 5, 2019.
  37. ^ Eisen, Norman, "A History Lesson in Optimism," The New York Times, September 30, 2018, p.2
  38. ^ Schaub Jr., Walter M.; Painter, Richard; Eisen, Norman (December 21, 2018). "In a normal administration, Whitaker would listen to government ethics experts". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 5, 2019.
  39. ^ Eisen, Norman; Wertheimer, Fred (January 7, 2019). "How to Fix America's Broken Political System". Politico. Retrieved February 5, 2019.
  40. ^ Wertheimer, Fred; Eisen, Norman (January 2, 2019). "Trump illegally asked Russia to help him win in 2016. He shouldn't get away with it". USA Today. Retrieved February 5, 2019.
  41. ^ "The Last Palace Official Website". Crown Group. February 5, 2019.
  42. ^ Moorehead, Caroline (August 30, 2018). "History Happened Here". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 5, 2019.
  43. ^ "Norm Eisen on Amazon". n.d.
  44. ^ "Chairman Nadler Announces Special Oversight Counsels to House Judiciary Committee Staff". U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary. February 12, 2019. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
  45. ^ "An unassuming mover in impeachment departs the House". Washington Post. February 25, 2020. Retrieved June 14, 2021.
  46. ^ "A Case for the American People". Amazon. n.d. Retrieved June 14, 2021.
  47. ^ Eisen, Norman, and Galliher, Colby, Opinion: Once defeated, 'Trumpery' returns to the ballot in 2022, CNN, May 10, 2022, with video
  48. ^ Jenna Spinelle, “McCourtney Institute names recipients of 2022 Brown Democracy Medal,” The Pennsylvania State University (Mar. 21, 2022),
  49. ^ "NORM EISEN". States United Democracy Center. Retrieved September 20, 2022.
  50. ^ States United Democracy Center and Lawyers Defending American Democracy, Re: Request for Investigation of John Charles Eastman (August 11, 2022),
  51. ^ States United Democracy Center, Re: Request for Investigation of Jenna L. Ellis (also known as Jenna Lynn Rives), Colorado Registration Number 44026 (May 4, 2022),
  52. ^ In re Subpoena to Non-Party Lindsey O. Graham in his official capacity as United States Senator, No. 1:22-cv-03027-LMM, ECF No. 8, (N.D. Ga. Aug. 4, 2022),
  53. ^ Joshua Matz, Norman Eisen, and Harmann Singh, Guide to Counting Electoral College Votes and The January 6, 2021 Meeting of Congress (States United Democracy Center, Jan. 2021):
  54. ^ Anyz, Daniel (March 14, 2014). "Wes Anderson and Norman Eisen: Two Americans In Prague". Archived from the original on July 25, 2014. Retrieved May 22, 2014.
  55. ^ Bogardus, Kevin (January 13, 2011). "Departing White House ethics czar sees no let-up in drive for transparency". The Hill. Retrieved May 23, 2014.
  56. ^ Samuelson, Darren (September 8, 2017). "Politico 50: Norm Eisen". Politico. Retrieved February 5, 2019.
  57. ^ "Norman Eisen". Brookings. March 31, 2016. Retrieved June 15, 2021.

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by United States Ambassador to the Czech Republic
Succeeded by