During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump made a lot of noise about Hillary Clinton’s “pay for play” corruption while she was Secretary of State. So far, the President-elect hasn’t made any moves to prevent his presidency from being equally corrupted by conflicts of interest.
Despite his obvious popularity with voters, many of Trump’s promises and policy plans are still pretty half-baked. His approach to potential conflicts of interest seems no different.
Other Trump companies are partially indebted to banks in Germany and China. On financial disclosure filings, Trump listed involvements in more than 500 companies, some in countries where the U.S. has sensitive diplomatic or financial relationships, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and China.
Those entanglements are unprecedented, unavoidable and “troubling,” said Ken Gross, a former elections enforcement official and lawyer who has advised presidential candidates from both parties, after the election. “He has investments in businesses in unfriendly countries and the businesses are often tied to those unfriendly governments.”
“The obvious solution is to sell those interests,” Gross said, but many holdings may not be easily sold, or are still tied to debts personally guaranteed by Trump. “Removing himself or his family from the perception of self or family interest may prove difficult,” he added.
Traditionally, presidents who hold a lot of financial or business assets place those assets in a blind trust. So far, Trump has only gone as far as saying he will place his companies under the control of his children and executives. In the same way he refused to release his tax returns, Trump has so far refused to seriously address potential conflicts of interest either for himself or his family.
Trump has refused to make such a pledge, saying only that he would give companies to his children and executives to run. Attorneys said that would put little distance between a President Trump and the businesses he spent a lifetime grooming and profiting from.
Placing the company in his children’s hands seems like a very weak effort to prevent Trump from acting in his own financial self interest as president.
“Now we are faced with the possibility that a son or daughter of the president will turn up in Moscow or Uzbekistan or somewhere else negotiating a deal on a new property that will bear the name of the president, and the full knowledge that the president really has been an owner of the company,” said Trevor Potter, a former Federal Election Commission chairman and general counsel for George H.W. Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “That presents problems of a dimension we have never seen before. “
There is no law forcing presidents to sever themselves from their personal financial interests while in office, though members of Congress are bound by ethics regulations preventing them from acting in an official government capacity in areas that might benefit them financially. Trump would not be breaking any law by not separating himself from his companies, but the candidate who won on the refrain of “Crooked Hillary” and “Drain the swamp” doesn’t seem interested in draining his own swamp.
In the run-up to the election, Trump said he would take little interest in his businesses if he won the Oval Office. “If I become president, I couldn’t care less about my company. It’s peanuts,” he said during a January debate. “Run the company, kids. Have a good time.”
Basically Donald Trump is just telling America, “Trust me.” Given everything we’ve seen him say and do over the course of the primary and general elections, trust is one thing he doesn’t deserve.