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Former White House lawyer says Trump’s ethics chief has work to do

President Donald Trump’s new ethics lawyer has a tough job, made tougher by the president’s own example, according to the man who held the same job under President George W. Bush.

“If he can’t persuade the president to divest his holdings, then he is in a situation of convincing everybody else they have to divest their holdings or recuse from official matters in order to comply with the criminal conflict of interest laws,” said University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter. “I think it sets a very bad example. It’s going to make it very hard to get other people to comply.”

Last week, the White House announced that Atlanta attorney Stefan Passantino had been appointed deputy White House counsel for ethics and compliance . Passantino, 50, is a renowned expert in campaign finance law and was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s attorney during his 2012 presidential bid.

Painter is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed last month against the president that claims Trump’s continued interests overseas violate the Constitution. Trump’s decision to transfer control of his businesses to his sons, rather than sell them off, makes it hard for Passantino to pressure cabinet appointees to cut ties with their private business interests , he said.

“He’s going to have to persuade people to do the right thing,” he said. “And he’s going to have to persuade people to be careful and he’s going to have to spot as many issues as he can up front.”

Those who know Passantino praised the Emory University law graduate’s expertise and temperament, which they said would serve him well in the coming administration.

Read more about Passantino and the challenges before him in this week’s AJC Watchdog column here.

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