Norman L. Eisen

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Norm Eisen
U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic
In office
January 28, 2011 – August 12, 2014[1]
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byJoseph Pennington (Acting)
Succeeded byAndrew H. Schapiro
Personal details
Born (1960-11-11) November 11, 1960 (age 58)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Lindsay Kaplan
EducationBrown University (BA)
Harvard University (JD)

Norman L. Eisen (born November 11, 1960)[2] is an American attorney, author, and diplomat who is a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution.[3] He previously 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 The Last Palace: Europe's Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House (2018).

Early life and education[edit]

Eisen's parents were immigrants to the United States of Jewish[5] ancestry and he grew up working in his family's hamburger stand in Los Angeles. He received his B.A. degree in Philosophy from Brown University in 1985 and his J.D. degree from Harvard Law School in 1991, both with honors. While at Harvard, he first met future President Barack Obama, then also a first-year law student.[6][7]

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 graduating from Harvard in 1991, Eisen practiced law in Washington, D.C. for over 18 years with the Zuckerman Spaeder law firm. He was named as one of Washington's top lawyers by Washingtonian magazine.[8] He specialized in investigations of complex financial fraud, including Enron, Refco, the ADM antitrust case, and the subprime financial collapse.[9]

In 2003, Eisen co-founded Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a government watchdog organization.[10] 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.[11]

He earned the nickname "Mr. No" for his stringent ethics and anti-corruption efforts and became known for limiting registered lobbyists from taking positions in the administration. 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.[6]

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.[9][11][12]

Eisen became the first Ambassador to the Czech Republic nominated by President Obama. 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.[13][14]

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). He also spoke out against corruption and in defense of civil rights.[15] Eisen has been credited with helping to deepen U.S.-Czech relations.[16] 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."[17]

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.[18] 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."[16]

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.[19] Eisen's nomination received bipartisan support, including from Republican Senators and conservative foreign policy scholars. The Senate ultimately confirmed Eisen on December 12, 2011.[20][21]

He joined the Brookings Institution as a Visiting Fellow in September 2014.[22] He is now a Senior Fellow in their Governance Studies program.[3] At Brookings he has authored reports on open government,[23][24] the emoluments clause,[25] presidential obstruction of justice,[26] and anti-corruption efforts in the natural resource sector.[27] A prolific writer, he often contributes op-ed pieces to The New York Times,[28][29] The Washington Post,[30] Politico,[31] USA Today,[32] 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.[33] 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. The book was positively reviewed.[34][35]

In February 2019 Eisen was appointed Consultant to the United States House Committee on the Judiciary. He assists the Committee on oversight matters related to the Department of Justice, including the Department’s review of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and other oversight and policy issues within the Committee’s jurisdiction.[36]

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."[37] This is a reference to another one of Eisen's White House nicknames: The Ethics Czar.[38] 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.

Personal life[edit]

Eisen is married to Lindsay Kaplan, an associate professor at Georgetown University. The couple have one daughter, Tamar.

In 2017, Eisen was named #11 on the Politico 50 list of thinkers shaping American politics.[39]


  1. ^ "Czech Republic - Chiefs of Mission - People - Department History - Office of the Historian". Retrieved 2017-07-16.
  2. ^ "New U.S. ambassador Eisen takes up office in Prague". Czech News Agency. 28 January 2011. Retrieved 28 January 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Norman Eisen". Brookings. 2016-03-31. Retrieved 2017-07-16.
  4. ^ a b "Our Board - CREW". CREW. Retrieved 2017-07-16.
  5. ^ "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 2018-06-15.
  6. ^ a b Saslow, Eli (13 March 2009). "When White House Has Queries About Ethics Rules, Adviser Norm Eisen Answers the Call". The Washington Post. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
  7. ^ Goldman, T.R. (14 October 2013). "The world of Norm Eisen, U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic". The Washington Post. Retrieved 21 May 2014.
  8. ^ [1][dead link]
  9. ^ a b "Norman Eisen". The Washington Post. 25 July 2012.
  10. ^ "President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts, 6/28/10". White House. 28 June 2010. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
  11. ^ a b Greenberg, Richard (12 January 2011). "An appointment with history Bootstraps and all, diplomat comes full circle". Washington Jewish Week. Archived from the original on 2011-01-15. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
  12. ^ "'Dr. No' Becomes Diplomat, Continues A Family Story". NPR. Retrieved 15 June 2018.
  13. ^ "Norm Eisen on Twitter". Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  14. ^ "Norm Eisen on Twitter". Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  15. ^ Shapiro, Ari (18 February 2014). "For U.S. Ambassador, Ties To Prague That Transcend Diplomacy". NPR. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^ Johnson, Raymond (8 March 2014). "Blair, Albright see stronger Palestinian economy as path to peace". The Prague Post. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  18. ^ Fairclough, Gordon (27 December 2012). "Transforming a Home's Dark History". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  19. ^ Ornstein, Norman J (12 December 2011). "The Senate Vote on Norm Eisen". American Enterprise Institute. Retrieved 6 February 2019. The leaders of several Washington good government groups authored a letter in support of Eisen's appointment.
  20. ^ O'Sullivan and Weinstein, John and Kenneth (8 December 2011). "Confirm Eisen Now". The National Review. Archived from the original on 2014-05-22. Retrieved 15 December 2012.
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Ambassador (Ret.) Normal L. Eisen" (PDF). Brookings Institution. 2019-02-05.
  23. ^ "Why Critics of Transparency are Wrong". Brookings Institution. 2019-02-05.
  24. ^ "The Impact of Open Government: Assessing the Evidence". Brookings Institution. 2019-02-05.
  25. ^ "The Emoluments Clause: Its Text, Meaning, and Application to Donald J. Trump". Brookings Institution. 2019-02-05.
  26. ^ "Presidential Obstruction of Justice: The Case of Donald J. Trump". Brookings Institution. 2019-02-05.
  27. ^ "Annotated Bibliography: Transparency, Accountability, and Participation along the Natural Resource Value Chain". Brookings Institution. 2019-02-05.
  28. ^ Berke, Barry; Bookbinder, Noah; Eisen, Norman (7 December 2018). "Is This the Beginning of the End for Trump?". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  29. ^ Eisen, Norman, "A History Lesson in Optimism," The New York Times, Sept. 30, 2018, p.2
  30. ^ Schaub Jr., Walter M.; Painter, Richard; Eisen, Norman (21 December 2018). "In a normal administration, Whitaker would listen to government ethics experts". The Washington Post. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  31. ^ Eisen, Norman; Wertheimer, Fred (7 January 2019). "How to Fix America's Broken Political System". Politico. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  32. ^ Wertheimer, Fred; Eisen, Norman (2 January 2019). "Trump illegally asked Russia to help him win in 2016. He shouldn't get away with it". USA Today. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  33. ^ "The Last Palace Official Website". Crown Group. 2019-02-05.
  34. ^ Crites, Alice (13 September 2018). "The residents of this house in Prague are a who's who of history, for better and worse". Washington Post. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  35. ^ Hoffman, Eva (4 December 2018). "Defence against history". Times Literary Supplement. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  36. ^ "Chairman Nadler Announces Special Oversight Counsels to House Judiciary Committee Staff". U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary. 2019-02-12. Retrieved 2019-02-21.
  37. ^ Anyz, Daniel (14 March 2014). "Wes Anderson and Norman Eisen: Two Americans In Prague". Archived from the original on 2014-07-25. Retrieved 22 May 2014.
  38. ^ Bogardus, Kevin (13 January 2011). "Departing White House ethics czar sees no let-up in drive for transparency". The Hill. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  39. ^ Samuelson, Darren (8 September 2017). "Politico 50: Norm Eisen". Politico. Retrieved 5 February 2019.

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Joseph Pennington
United States Ambassador to the Czech Republic
Succeeded by
Andrew H. Schapiro