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