Conflict of interest troubles vex Trump
Disclosure, divestment are urgent
President- elect Donald Trump’s team insisted Wednesday that his sons aren’t involved in an inauguration-themed event that appeared to promise access in exchange for charitable donations — but even his allies are saying Mr. Trump needs to get a handle on potential conflicts of interest.
Fully divorcing from his vast real estate empire will be difficult for the billionaire businessman, said Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House and a Trump backer. But he said the Trump team must quickly figure out what steps it can take.
“The longer they wait, the greater the irritation will be and the more concerned people will be,” he said in an interview with NPR published Wednesday. “So it’s not to their advantage to get to the inaugural without having sorted this out.”
Mr. Trump won office without releasing his tax returns, leaving voters and analysts alike guessing at the extent of his business ties and the potential conflicts they could pose.
That has left Mr. Trump open to fierce attacks from liberal activists who say he duped voters when he campaigned to end backroom dealing in Washington.
“By not disclosing and divesting, Trump is betraying his own voters by prioritizing his own corporate interests at the expense of working families,” said Kait Sweeney, a spokeswoman for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “The framers of our Constitution did not intend for presidents to put their own interests and corporations ahead of the American people.”
Mr. Trump promised to hold a press conference on Dec. 15 to announce his business plans but canceled it. His team said it needed more time to figure out matters.
His transition team is reportedly testing several options for how to handle his holdings, including something that Politico, a political trade publication, termed a “half-blind” trust.
The complaints from Trump opponents grew this week after the Center for Public Integrity reported that the Opening Day Foundation was hawking inauguration-time meetings with Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump — who are set to take the reins of the Trump Organization — in exchange for donations of up to $1 million, with the money going to conservation charities.
But a spokesman for the transition team said Wednesday that the event and associated details are just initial concepts that the Trump family hadn’t approved or pursued.
“Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are avid outdoorsmen and supporters of conservation efforts, which align with the goals of this event; however, they are not involved in any capacity,” said transition spokesman Jason Miller.
Detractors have said the charity meet-and-greet and other examples are evidence that Mr. Trump plans to use the presidency to enrich himself and his family.
Other developments indicate that issues could go beyond personal enrichment and that Mr. Trump’s holdings are headed toward becoming intertwined with public policy.
The American Gaming Association said in a memo to Mr. Trump released this week that it has “serious concerns” about reviving the Yucca Mountain nuclear depository project in Nevada. The group said any potential mishaps could have devastating consequences for Las Vegas.
If the project does move forward, nuclear waste shipments that would theoretically get moved to a relaunched repository would pass within about a mile of one of Mr. Trump’s hotels in Las Vegas, the Pahrump Valley Times reported last month.
Mr. Trump sidestepped a question about the project a few months ago during an interview with a local television reporter, saying he would be sure to take a closer look at it. President Obama moved to effectively end the project during his first term, and outgoing Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has acted as something of a oneman blockade against the project for years.
On Wednesday, unions representing workers at Mr. Trump’s hotels in Las Vegas and the District of Columbia announced that they managed to strike new deals.
For the Las Vegas workers, that means a new contract starting Jan. 1. In the District, the parties struck an agreement to allow an orderly organizing campaign at the Trump International Hotel built out of the Old Post Office Building.
The labor policies Mr. Trump advocates and appointments he makes to various federal courts and the National Labor Relations Board also could have significant consequences for those unions and, ultimately, his company’s bottom line.
Mr. Trump’s hotel in the nation’s capital also has attracted attention because of a provision in the lease that says elected government officials cannot be party to the deal, in an attempt to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
The General Services Administration, which helped negotiate the deal, has said it is too early to determine whether Mr. Trump will be in violation of the deal upon entering office, but Democrats have highlighted it as one example of an array of potential conflicts.
Politico also reported Wednesday that Mr. Trump’s team is exploring what is called a discretionary trust for his assets, which could allow him to continue to monitor and reap revenue from his holdings even if he isn’t technically in charge of them anymore.
A Trump spokeswoman said no decisions had been made, but Trump opponents say anything short of a fully “blind” trust for his assets and a complete divorce from his business empire isn’t good enough.
“The longer they wait, the greater the irritation will be and the more concerned people will be. So it’s not to their advantage to get to the inaugural without having sorted this out.” — Newt Gingrich
Donald Trump Jr. (left) and his brother Eric reportedly were considered for involvement in a charity fundraiser, which didn’t sit well with opponents.