Gingrich says Trump can’t be expected to follow ethics laws, so Congress should change them for him

Greenlighting kleptocracy.

CREDIT: AP Photo/John Minchillo
CREDIT: AP Photo/John Minchillo

During a Monday appearance on NPR, Trump adviser Newt Gingrich argued that Congress should consider changing ethics laws so President-elect Donald Trump could freely mix his administration and his business interests.

“We’ve never seen this kind of wealth in the White House, and so traditional rules don’t work,” Gingrich said during a panel discussion on “The Diane Rehm Show.” “We’re going to have to think up a whole new approach.”

The “new approach” Gingrich has in mind also involves Trump liberally using his pardon powers to extract his advisers — including, at least during the presidential transition, three of his adult children — from whatever legal troubles they might find themselves in.

“In the case of the president, he has a broad ability to organize the White House the way he wants to. He also has, frankly, the power of the pardon,” Gingrich said, in comments first covered by Politico. “It’s a totally open power. He could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers. I pardon them if anyone finds them to have behaved against the rules. Period.’ Technically, under the Constitution, he has that level of authority.”

Gingrich suggested Congress should consider changing ethics laws so Trump can freely intermingle his business interests and duties as president. He also floated the idea of a Trump-created “panel” led by former government officials that can help monitor his conflicts of interest.

“Congress can try to figure out how to do this,” he said. “I’ve suggested that people who are widely respected, like Attorney General [Michael] Mukasey, might — that the president-elect might want to form a panel who are sort of a review group, if that makes sense, and that the panel would monitor regularly what was going on and would offer warnings if they get too close to the edge.”

Trump reportedly plans to maintain ownership of his international business while president, though he hasn’t yet publicly disclosed any of the specifics. In a tweet published December 12, he said his adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, will manage the Trump Organization.

Donald Jr. and Eric later sat at the head of the table during their father’s meeting with the nation’s tech elite at Trump Tower two days later. That came weeks after Trump’s daughter Ivanka was photographed participating in her father’s first meeting with a head of state, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Trump’s message in those cases was clear — deal with my children, and you deal with people who have my ear. The interests of the Trump Organization are the interests of the Trump administration, regardless of whether or not Donald Jr. and Eric have official public roles.

Trump also hasn’t indicated any willingness to address the constitutional issue posed by his continued ownership of the Trump International hotel in Washington, D.C. Not divesting means Trump will be accepting money from foreign governments and hence violating the Constitution on his first day in office.

Gingrich acknowledged that Trump’s business entanglements are “a very real problem.” But he made a case that voters knew what they were getting and endorsed a businessman being in the White House during the election.

“I think there was a general sense that the president had the ability, that this was going to be a billionaire presidency,” he said. “I don’t think anyone who voted for him was not aware that he was a very, very successful businessman.”

But other guests who appeared with Gingrich on Rehm’s show were more troubled by Gingrich floating the idea of Trump pardoning his way out of trouble.

Richard Painter — a former George W. Bush White House ethics lawyer who told us last month he thought the Electoral College should reject Trump unless he sells his hotel, because continued ownership of it would violate the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause — disagreed with Gingrich’s interpretation of the president’s constitutional powers.

“If the pardon power allows that, the pardon power allows the president to become a dictator, and even Richard Nixon had the decency to wait for his successor to hand out the pardon that he received for his illegal conduct,” Painter said. “We’re going down a very, very treacherous path if we go with what Speaker Gingrich is saying, what he is suggesting.”