Former Bush ethics lawyer nails Trump White House for 'getting their ethics advice by watching Fox News'
David Cay Johnston and Richard Painter (Photo: Screen capture)

During a panel discussion with CNN's Don Lemon, biographer David Cay Johnston noted that he wasn't surprised to see questionable business dealings from Jared Kushner and his family, because they're similar to President Donald Trump's own dealings. The sentiment was echoed by former ethics lawyer to George W. Bush, Richard Painter.

"I'm not the least bit surprised," he told Lemon about the revelations about Kushner. "You look at the Trumps and the Kushner family they've been intermarried with and everywhere you turn it's sort of squirrely money and squirrely deals and, of course, Donald, his entire life has been squirrely money and squirrely deals. So, not the least bit surprised there are questions being raised about this Vancouver operation."

He noted the biggest concern for him is that the foreign investors from China are concerning and raise further questions about foreign agents having an impact on America's government.

"It's just the top of the iceberg," Painter agreed. "The Kushner family has deals going on all over the place and financing from China. Apparently some discussions with Russian banks. Jared Kushner and his family owe money to a lot of people. A lot of people have been going into the White House apparently trying to get various favors from the United States government. So, this Vancouver operation is just a piece of a much larger puzzle."

Painter went on to say that the deal reeks of conflicts of interest.

"That's because they wouldn't sell the businesses upon entering government, as others do," he continued. "The ethics lawyers advised them to sell the businesses. They didn't want to do it. They want to run the business and collect money all over the world while they're working for the government. And of course that's a recipe for corruption. So, somebody is going to be offering payments and it's nothing but scandal. And meanwhile Jared Kushner can't get a security clearance because of (special counsel Robert) Mueller is hot on his tail. It's not a good situation for them. They don't belong in the White House."

Johnston noted that Citigroup is heavily regulated by the federal government because when it was created originally it wasn't in compliance with the federal government under the Glass Siegel Act. Thus, their interest is in relaxing regulations, he implied.

"They're trying to get the Consumer Financial Bureau paired back, if not destroyed to reduce regulation of banks," he continued. "And their CEO meets with Jared Kushner and they issue an enormous loan? I'm sorry, even if there was nothing wrong, this stinks to high heaven."

He recalled the questions raised about Dick Cheney's stock options with Halliburton when the company was chosen for a major contract during the Iraq war.

"This is just beyond belief that we are not in the streets saying, 'This in wrong!'" Johnston continued. "You know, you're there to do the government's business, not your business."

Lemon read the statement from Kushner's lawyer, which Johnston called a "non-denial denial." At the same time, the White House is implying there haven't been any red flags raised about Ivanka Trump.

"Well, excuse me, Don, if counterintelligence is asking questions about it, by definition that's a red flag," he said.

Painter called out the ethics concerns of the White House and the Trump family, but said that it was nothing more than business as usual for them.

"First of all, there is no ethics advice given in this White House," he said. "This is the ethics shop that wrote the Office of Government Ethics and said that the rules don't apply to the White House staff. They get their ethics advice by watching Fox News. And it's also accurate to say that this is nothing has change because this is how the White House has operated since January 20, 2017. The president came in with unprecedented conflicts of interest. And he has basically gave the middle finger to anybody who said he ought to divest assets."

He went on to note that such rules are "trickling down" throughout the rest of the staff. Those staffers are continuing to make money while having conflicts of interests and serving in the government. So, anyone who wants to curry favor can do so easily.

"It's obvious what's going on. Everybody knows what's going on," Painter said.

Watch the segment below: