President-elect Donald Trump, in his first news conference in six months, laid out plans Wednesday for how he'd avoid conflicts of interest while maintaining a far-flung business empire. He will place his company in a trust to be managed by two of his sons.
Count us unimpressed. The word “trust” in this case is an artifice. Trump is not actually divesting himself of anything. He, and the rest of the world, would know that patronizing a Trump property or contracting to use the Trump name would benefit the Trump family.
What’s more, this trust is to be managed by Donald Jr. and Eric, who would be in close contact with Trump during his presidency and continue to have close emotional and financial ties to their father.
The president is the nation’s chief executive and has therefore been exempted from conflict-of-interest laws, so he doesn't have to recuse himself from matters he needs to decide.
But the president is also the nation’s top public servant. And Trump is saying his wealth is of such importance that he is willing to vastly complicate his job, even undermine his credibility, to keep his business empire intact and in the family.
His message is a simple one: “Trust me.” That didn’t work for Hillary Clinton, whose task of keeping the Clinton Foundation separate from State Department business was far simpler but did not succeed.
And it won’t work for Trump. Now that he is about to become president, the world is out to cut a deal with him. One businessman from Dubai even made a pitch last weekend, Trump acknowledged.
Avoiding conflicts is clearly difficult for someone with a global business like Trump’s. But Trump could do a lot better than his plan.
For starters, he could turn the management over to people besides his own sons. He could also divest at least some of his properties, which include numerous office and residential buildings. Their value is based purely on metrics such as size and location and would not be that difficult to unload at a fair price.
If he’s serious about being successful, Trump needs to ensure that his presidency doesn't get bogged down in an endless series of ethical controversies. The self-serving plan he outlined Wednesday falls well short of that.
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