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George W. Bush's former ethics attorney wants to help Trump with his conflicts of interest

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George W. Bush's former ethics attorney wants to help Trump with his conflicts of interest

WATCH  | The former chief ethics attorney to president George W. Bush told Circa he wants to help president-elect Donald Trump deal with the numerous conflicts Trump faces between his personal business interests and the demands of his new job as the nation's chief executive.

'Unprecedented' conflicts

Richard Painter, now a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, was the chief White House ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007. 

He told Circa that Trump faces "unprecedented" ethical challenges -- “more financial conflicts of interest than any other president we’ve had in recent memory," he said.

This is not a job for someone who is just an establishment Washington D.C. lawyer who is used to dealing with the usual types of things in the White House.
Richard Painter

Trump needs a lawyer

Because of that, Painter said one of the most important appointments Trump makes during his White House transition will be White House Counsel -- basically, the president's chief ethics attorney.


'New challenges'

"Trump needs a really good White House counsel," Painter said, "because this is going to involve a lot of new challenges."

Chief among those challenges is Trump's hundreds of businesses and properties.

Critics like Painter worry about two things: That Trump  could use the power of the presidency to enrich his businesses, and that outside interests could seek political favors from Trump after staying at his hotels or purchasing his products.

Red flags already raised

According to The Washington Post, 100  foreign diplomats recently gathered at Trump's new hotel in Washington, D.C., to become "better acquainted" with Trump's business holdings.

Some diplomats told the Post they would stay at Trump's hotel when they visited the United States as a way to curry favor with the new president. 

Painter said this type of activity could violate the Constitution if it continues while Trump is in office.

Emolument Clause violations?

"The Emoluments Clause prohibits anyone having a position with the U.S. government from accepting any money from a foreign government," Painter explained.

"If diplomats are checking into Trump hotels -- and that’s of course paid for by foreign governments -- we’re going to get very close scrutiny of that under the Emoluments Clause to make sure there are not payments coming in to President Trump from foreign governments."

Avoiding conflicts

Trump has said he'd avoid conflicts of interest like these by putting his businesses into a blind trust, and handing control of those businesses over to his children.

But Painter said that would only work to erase conflicts if Trump's children aren't involved in government -- and so far, it appears Trump's children will  be involved in his administration. Trump's daughter Ivanka, for example, recently attended one of Trump's political meetings with the Prime Minister of Japan.

 Trump has also requested special security clearances for his children.

Trump: We take conflicts seriously

Trump's advisers have said Trump is taking concerns about conflicts of interest seriously, and is meeting with ethics advisers to figure out next steps. 

"I can assure the American people that there wouldn't be any wrongdoing or any sort of undue influence over any decision-making," Trump's incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus said earlier this week.

'I want him to be a successful president'

Painter, for his part, said he hasn't been contacted by Trump but is more than willing to advise him.

"I would give my advice and do everything I could do help any part of the U.S. government work through these problems," he said.

"I did not support Mr. Trump in the election, but he is going to be our president, and I want him to be a successful president.”

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WATCH  | For the news you need, check out our 60 Second Circa.

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