President-Elect Donald Trump’s plan to separate himself from his many business interests “falls short in every respect,” according to two ethics lawyers who served under George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
“Mr. Trump did not make a clean break with his business ownership interests as his predecessors for four decades have done; did not establish a blind trust or the equivalent as bipartisan experts and OGE called for; entrusted trust responsibility in his family and a current employee, rather than in an independent trustee; did not screen all ‘emoluments … of any kind whatever,’ as required by the Constitution, but only some revenues, and only from his hotels; and offered an inadequate and scantily-detailed ethics wall,” Richard Painter and Norman Eisen, who served for Bush and Obama, respectively, told TheWrap in an email on Wednesday.
“Tragically, the Trump plan to deal with his business conflicts announced today falls short in every respect,” they concluded.
“Mr. Trump’s ill-advised course will precipitate scandal and corruption,” Painter said. “I and many others will respond strongly in defense of ethics and our Constitution.”
During a press conference Wednesday at Trump Tower, the president-elect spent significant time responding to jaw-dropping allegations in a BuzzFeed news report and largely avoided questions about the main subject of his first press conference since the election: how he’ll avoid business conflicts of interest as president.
Reading a prepared statement, Trump attorney Sheri Dillon said that Trump will be fully isolated “from the management of the company.” The president-elect will turn over day-to-day operations of the private Trump Organization to his sons Donald Jr. and Eric, she said, adding that Trump will not divest or form a blind trust to disentangle himself from potential conflicts of interest.
“President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built,” she said.
But ethics experts say Trump’s answer to his many conflicts of interest is “a failure on all those points.” At issue: Trump will not create what’s called a “blind trust” or divest himself of his business and stock holdings, the only solution that ethics experts say could eliminate any risk that the president’s assets could lead to corruption — or the appearance of corruption.
“His sons are involved in the trust,” Lisa Gilbert, an ethics expert at Public Citizen, an independent ethics watchdog, told TheWrap. “That is the opposite of creating a space where he will not know [about his business interests].”
Dillon also said Trump plans to give profits from any foreign governments spending in his hotels to the U.S. Treasury as part of the plan to avoid conflicts of interest.
But ethics experts insist that too is tricky, as it would be hard to determine exactly which of those profits do or do not constitute a conflict of interest.
“This does not address the emoluments clause concerns,” Gilbert said, referring to the clause in the U.S. Constitution that prohibits members of the federal government from receiving gifts.
“The problem is not that he has money,” Gilbert said. “The problem is that if he is approached by those business interests while president, he might be inclined to put their interests above those of the American people.”