As soon as he was elected in November, the unprecedented conflicts of interest Donald Trump would bring to the White House generated significant concern from leading ethics lawyers, transparency experts, and even the head of the Office of Government Ethics.
After several delays, Trump unveiled his so-called plan to address the conflicts — which included him retaining full ownership of the Trump Organization. Ethics lawyers for Presidents Obama and Bush concluded it “falls short in every respect.”
That assessment is borne out by new reports. First, new records pertaining to Trump’s trust — which ThinkProgress’ Judd Legum initially pointed out was “neither blind nor independent” — show the president named two people very close to him, his son Donald Jr. and Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, as trustees. What’s more, Trump, “who will receive reports on any profit, or loss, on his company as a whole, can revoke their authority at any time,” the New York Times reported. The trust remains under Trump’s Social Security number.
“I don’t see how this in the slightest bit avoids a conflict of interest,” Frederick Tansill, a trust and estates lawyer, told the Times.
Despite the repeated claims that the Trump business empire, run by the president’s own children, would remain completely separate from the presidency, it’s clear those entanglements remain. Eric Trump’s business trip to Uruguay in early January cost U.S. taxpayers nearly $100,000 in hotel rooms for Secret Service and embassy staff, the Washington Post reported Friday evening.
A president’s immediate family members have long been given Secret Service protection; however, because of Trump’s refusal to completely remove himself from the business, Eric’s visit raises serious questions about taxpayer dollars funding operations that could directly benefit the president’s personal financial interests.
“There is a public benefit to providing Secret Service protection,” Kathleen Clark, an expert on government ethics and law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told the Post. “But what was the public benefit from State Department personnel participating in this private business trip to the coastal town? It raises the specter of the use of public resources for private gain.”
While Eric told Uruguayan media that he’s focused on the business rather than politics, and the two worlds would be completely separate, like “church and state,” the presence of Secret Service gives such a trip the patina of an official visit. And since the trip, Eric hasn’t made an effort to distance himself from the White House’s political dealings. He had a front row seat at his father’s announcement earlier this week that he was nominating Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, calling it “an amazing night and nomination” on Twitter. His brother Donald Jr., Trump’s handpicked trustee, was there with him; the two were reportedly congratulated by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) on the “great pick.”