The Trump Organization has pledged to transfer control of its assets to Donald Trump’s children to reduce potential conflicts posed by the president-elect’s many business interests.
But ethics experts say the arrangement doesn’t go far enough to ensure that Trump’s presidential duties don’t clash with his money-making dealings.
“What is to stop his kids from discussing business affairs with him, and from him making decisions based on what they tell him they want for the Trump Organization, rather than the public interest?” said Norman Eisen, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Eisen led ethics initiatives in President Obama’s first term. He and other ethics experts, from both sides of the political aisle, say that no president has ever come into office with such potential entanglements. And that opens Trump to scrutiny and potential corruption allegations — even if he hands control to his children.
“He can do this legally, but he’s asking for trouble,” Eisen said. “Scandal awaits as people will try to influence him through the vehicle of the businesses.”
Trump supporters like former Georgia congressman Jack Kingston say the president-elect is taking the issue seriously.
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But even as Trump tried to distance himself from the issue by saying he’d put his family in charge of his real estate and branding empire, he announced that his children would also join the team of close advisers preparing to take over the executive branch of government from Obama on January 20.
“As hard as we hit Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, the last thing that the Trump administration would want to do is do a similar overlap between government duties and financial, personal gain,” Kingston said on CNN Saturday. “This may take some time to sort out.”
Rudy Giuliani, a top Trump adviser, said Sunday that it would be wrong to expect Trump family members to not run the businesses.
“It’s unrealistic to say you’re going to take away the business from the three people who are running it,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union,” referring to his daughter Ivanka and sons Eric and Donald Jr. “You’d be putting them out of work.”
Giuliani added that the Trump children should “get to run the business they know how to run.” He also suggested that Trump, as president, could recuse himself from decisions that pose conflicts the way lower-level governmental officials do.
To be sure, how the Trump Organization plans to keep Trump at arms-length remains to be seen. And the announcement on Friday didn’t provide many details.
But the framework of the plan breaks with presidential norms and traditions.
Ethics lawyers say Trump should follow predecessors Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and use a blind trust.
That would require Trump to sell his assets and put the proceeds in the hands of a trustee with “no preexisting business relationship” with him, said Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer for former President George W. Bush. “It certainly can’t be your own family members.”
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Painter said that Trump’s family plan won’t solve problems caused by a constitutional prohibition on federal office holders from accepting a “present, emolument, office or title” from a foreign country. Trump’s business holdings are complex and global in their reach.
“No matter what, they are going to have to unwind the business relationships with any foreign governments or company controlled by foreign governments,” said Painter. “That really needs to be done between now and January 20th.”