Trump’s con­flict-of-in­ter­est prob­lem isn’t go­ing away

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Aaron Blake Aaron Blake cov­ers na­tional pol­i­tics and writes reg­u­larly for The Wash­ing­ton Post’s The Fix blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @aaron­blake

For the first time since be­ing elected pres­i­dent three weeks ago, Don­ald Trump on Wed­nes­day ap­peared to ac­knowl­edge ma­jor con­cerns about po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est be­tween his pres­i­dency and his vast business em­pire.

In a se­ries of tweets, Trump didn’t pro­vide much de­tail about his plans ex­cept to say that he’ll hold a press con­fer­ence — with his chil­dren along­side him, im­por­tantly — on Dec. 15, and that “le­gal doc­u­ments are be­ing crafted which take me com­pletely out of business operations.”

But what could pos­si­bly be in those doc­u­ments that would put to rest the myr­iad con­cerns about con­flicts of in­ter­est mar­ring his ad­min­is­tra­tion?

Ex­perts I spoke to say any ar­range­ment in which Trump con­tin­ues to in­volve his chil­dren in his fi­nances — the plan pre­vi­ously put for­ward by Trump’s cam­paign — will fail to ac­com­plish that task. Trump has com­pounded con­flict con­cerns of late by mov­ing to put his chil­dren in charge his for­tune while still in­volv­ing them in his soon-to-be pres­i­dency in a sig­nif­i­cant — and even un­prece­dented — way.

Th­ese ex­perts com­mend Trump for rec­og­niz­ing how trou­bling the po­ten­tial con­flicts could be. But they say that short of a true blind trust and di­vest­ing his for­eign as­sets, th­ese “le­gal doc­u­ments” are un­likely to amount to much.

“On the bright side, at least he’s now ac­knowl­edged that his in­volve­ment in the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion cre­ates con­flicts of in­ter­est — or at the very least the ap­pear­ance of con­flicts,” said Paul S. Ryan, a po­lit­i­cal law ex­pert at the watch­dog group Com­mon Cause. “For now, we’ll just have to pop some pop­corn and wait for the De­cem­ber 15 episode of our na­tion’s most se­ri­ous and im­por­tant new re­al­ity show — the Trump Pres­i­dency — when we’re pro­vided with the de­tails re­gard­ing what his tweets this morn­ing meant.”

Trump still sounds de­fi­ant. He em­pha­sizes, after all, that he doesn’t have to do this. And the tweets fol­low on the heels of him telling The New York Times last week that “the pres­i­dent can’t have a con­flict of in­ter­est.” It sounds a lot like a guy who is pre­par­ing to make an ar­gu­ment that giv­ing the business to his kids is good enough.

But tak­ing him­self out of his “business operations” doesn’t mean there’s a fire­wall be­tween the pres­i­dency and his business. A true blind trust in­volves an in­de­pen­dent party mak­ing de­ci­sions about as­sets to which the sub­ject of the blind trust isn’t privy. If the sub­ject of the blind trust is speak­ing fre­quently with those run­ning his business and even in­volv­ing them in of­fi­cial U.S. gov­ern­ment business, that opens the door to all kinds of ques­tions about just how sep­a­rate Trump’s pres­i­den­tial business is from his pri­vate business.

Trump’s fi­nances and far­reach­ing for­eign in­ter­ests are prob­lem­atic in and of them­selves, given they are un­prece­dented for a U.S. pres­i­dent. The like­li­hood that any one de­ci­sion he makes will af­fect his own for­tune is ex­po­nen­tially higher than ba­si­cally any other pres­i­dent.

On top of that, Trump’s lawyer has said since his elec­tion that the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion will be put in the hands of Trump’s three old­est chil­dren — Don­ald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump. And on top of that, re­ports in­di­cate that Trump may try to shoe­horn Ivanka Trump’s hus­band, Jared Kush­ner, into the White House de­spite anti-ne­po­tism laws.

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­cently ran down other po­ten­tial con­flicts that have emerged in the last few weeks, in­clud­ing Trump projects in the coun­tries of Ge­or­gia and Ar­gentina mov­ing for­ward fol­low­ing his elec­tion and for­eign diplo­mats ap­par­ently us­ing the new Trump Ho­tel in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., as a way to curry fa­vor with the pres­i­dent-elect.

It re­mains to be seen what kind of ar­range­ment Trump will pro­duce on Dec. 15.

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