In a chain of tweets on Wednesday, Donald Trump announced that he would be leaving his businesses before being inaugurated as President of The United States. Four tweets and a couple of unnecessary exclamation points later, Trump has claimed that this is a proactive measure to avoid any conflicts of interest, although he is not “mandated to do this under law.” Ethics experts have expressed concerns that the President-elect wouldn’t remove himself far enough from his private endeavors to ensure that he isn’t mixing business with governing.
“I will be holding a major news conference in New York City with my children on December 15 to discuss the fact that I will be leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country in order to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” Trump wrote in his first tweet.
“While I am not mandated to do this under the law, I feel it is visually important, as president, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses.”
“Hence, legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations. The presidency is a far more important task!”
Throughout his campaign, Trump promised to leave his empire to his grown children should he be elected, which has not eased the concerns of many. The President-elect could use his knowledge and power to cut deals for private gain, a major ethics violation that could lead to impeachment. According to a CNN analysis, Trump owns or holds a position in over 500 companies, including nearly 150 that have conducted business in 25 foreign countries.
Norm Eisen, a former White House ethics lawyer for President Obama, said Trump’s announcement via Twitter raises more questions about the shift in his private responsibility, suggesting that an ethics scandal is still possible:
“Although it is, of course, important that he have no involvement in Trump business operations, in order to avoid conflicts, he must also exit the ownership of his businesses through using a blind trust or equivalent. Otherwise, he will have a personal financial interest in his businesses that will sometimes conflict with the public interest, and constantly raise questions,” wrote Eisen in an email.
Presidential candidates in the past have placed their assets in a blind trust when elected, but Trump handing his empire over to his children isn’t going to cut it. The President-elect has yet to state the details of the arrangement, however, and I would imagine that his lawyers and ethics counselor (if he has one of course) is advising him on the details to ensure that no conflicts of interest are present.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R – S.C.), who has bashed Trump throughout the campaign, surprisingly told POLITICO on Wednesday that the President-elect is making moves in the right direction. “The fact that he’s going to have a news conference with his family and talk about how to avoid any appearance of conflicts of interest, it’s a good sign," Graham said. "Does it make sense to me? I’m just going to wait ... but I want to applaud him for recognizing the fact that it’s a problem."
The Democrats are up in arms as usual – they sent a letter to Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R- Va.) on Wednesday, suggesting that the panel immediately open up a hearing in order to investigate potential conflicts of interest. The letter doesn’t demand this hearing lightly, writing that Trump hasn’t been bashful about his private interests. It cites quotes from contributors of the New York Times, and from an interview held with Trump by the same publication:
“The issue is particularly important given the continued cascade of reports outlining President-Elect Donald Trump’s apparent disregard for conflicts of interest he may already face.”
“Just last week, Mr. Trump denied that it is even possible for a president to have a conflict of interest.”
Chairman of the RNC and selected White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday to assure the American people that it’s all going to work out. "You should know that he’s got the best people in America working on it. And I think what you see in those tweets is a person at the top that understands and is willing and showing the American people that he's working hard on it, and he’s taking it seriously." Priebus continued, saying that Trump’s success in private industry was well-known during the campaign, and it’s part of the reason that he was elected. "Here's the thing. He was elected by the American people with all of this knowledge in mind. I mean, there's nothing to be ashamed of.”
Priebus makes a fair point. The American people knew exactly who Donald Trump was when they elected him – a non-apologetic, rich businessman. He bragged about it incessantly and used these attributes successfully during his presidential campaign. The reason why a number of people voted for Trump was that he wasn’t a life-long politician, and would use his business savvy and knowledge for the benefit of the American people. During his run, Trump himself said: “We’re gonna be rich, so rich.” We would have to assume as a nation that there would be potential for conflicts of interest when a billionaire who owns and is involved in countless companies gets elected as Commander in Chief. With that being said, he’d better hope that he cuts ties to his private interests adequately, or we could be facing the fastest presidential impeachment in American history – immediately following the inauguration.
It wasn’t so long ago that Dick Cheney, former Vice President to George W. Bush, awarded military contractor Halliburton nearly a billion dollars worth of government contracts over the course of 15 years. Cheney was CEO of Halliburton for several years, but apparently cut ties with them once becoming Vice President. That, of course, didn’t stop Halliburton from continuing to be awarded countless military contracts. Many Americans were up in arms about it, but that didn’t stop it from happening, and Cheney certainly wasn’t kicked out of office.
Hopefully, Trump cuts ties in the correct manner and doesn’t show signs of using his newly-given Executive powers for personal gain. With a torn nation and over half of the United States having an unfavorable opinion of the President-elect, he should be walking on egg shells with this one. If he doesn’t tread lightly, Trump could be kicked out of office faster than he can say “WRONG!”