This was supposed to be the week when President-elect Donald Trump held a news conference to address his conflict-of-interest problems. Instead, his meeting on Wednesday with the nation’s tech elite at Trump Tower exemplified how the Trump family continues to blur lines between their business interests and the the Trump administration.
Seated around the table at Wednesday’s meeting were Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Tim Cook, and Peter Thiel, among other heavy hitters in the tech world. But at the head of it were three of Trump’s adult children — Ivanka, Donald Jr., and Eric.
On Monday, Trump tweeted that Donald Jr. and Eric will “manage” his business while he’s president (Ivanka is reportedly considering taking an official role in her father’s administration). The president-elect hasn’t indicated any willingness to divest himself of ownership of his company — an arrangement that means he’ll be accepting money from foreign governments and hence violating the Constitution on his first day in office. But even that wholly inadequate level of separation between Trump’s business and his role as president-elect was neglected during the Trump Tower tech summit.
Instead, Donald Jr. and Eric sat at the head of a table they shared with some of the most wealthy and powerful entrepreneurs in the country. What would an everyday businessperson do for that type of access?
Honored to have sat in on this meeting. The most impressive group of minds I've seen assembled all looking to fight for America and US jobs. https://t.co/e2si8Kb9Au
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) December 14, 2016
Trump also made sure cameras were rolling during the meeting. The message broadcast to the public? When you deal with Donald Jr. and Eric — the people who will run my business while I’m president — you’re dealing with people who have my ear.
Trump’s disregard for combining his business interests with his officials duties is unique. Every modern president has either placed their assets in a blind trust or divested — Jimmy Carter even went as far as to sell his peanut farm.
During a Thursday appearance on Morning Joe, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway wouldn’t even rule out the possibility that Eric and Donald Jr. might work in the West Wing for their father.
“They have assured everyone… that there will be a complete distinction and separation — no ambiguity about business holdings,” Conway said. “They will have to separate themselves completely from these vast business holdings. These young men and women are at the top of their earning game. The sacrifice that they will all make to go in and serve, if that is what they choose ultimately, is really unprecedented and extraordinary.”
Indeed, there is no ambiguity about Trump’s business holdings, but not in the way Conway would have you believe. So long as Trump maintains ownership, the only thing “extraordinary” about the situation is the ability he will have to use the presidency to enrich himself and his family.
Even members of Trump’s transition team aren’t blind to the problem. Last week, the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Jo Becker reported that “some on the transition team have privately expressed concern over how foreign and domestic interests could seek to curry influence with the president by doing business with his adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, that ultimately accrues to Mr. Trump’s financial benefit.”