President-elect Trump is a walking conflict of interest until he puts his assets in a blind trust.
DONALD Trump must choose: Be president, or be chairman of his company. He can’t do both without creating severe conflicts of interest, at the very least. At worst, Trump’s private holdings could undermine critical foreign policy and blatantly violate the Constitution.
Like so much with Trump, his position on this conflict is a muddle. He has dismissed longstanding ethics norms which would require him, like George W. Bush and other presidents, to put assets into a blind trust. His stubborn refusal to release his tax returns, as he has promised, further muddies the water.
He renegotiated that position with himself, and set a news conference for next week to disclose how he plans to leave his business “in total.” Turning the Trump empire over to his kids is not satisfactory since they’ve help set up his administration and are among those in his most-trusted-adviser circle.
He appears to believe the potential conflicts stop if he steps aside as CEO. Not so. Even without direct control of his empire, Trump knows where his asset are. If those assets increase in value because of a trade deal he strikes, or a warship he deploys or regulation he eliminates, Trump arguably is violating a clause in the Constitution which prohibits a president from personal gain from his public acts.
You don’t need to look hard to see potential conflicts or why they will corrode Trump’s ability to lead. In taking a protocol-breaching call from the Taiwanese president, Trump spotlights his business interest in a hotel project on the island. Was taking that telephone call in the best interests of the U.S., or his businesses?
As president-elect, he reportedly has already blended personal business with state business. In a congratulatory call from the Argentine president, Trump was reported to have brought up permits for a long-delayed project in Buenos Aires.
A few days later, the project was back on track. That is toxic for trust, and thus far, Trump has done nothing but confirm fears that he doesn’t care.
Doing the right thing would require Trump to put his assets in a blind trust controlled by an independent manager.
If Trump fails to do the right thing on his own, Congress must pressure him to do so. Disentangling his iconic business brand from the White House will be a difficult task. But Trump chose to run for president and must put the country’s interests first.