During a news conference on January 11, then-President elect Donald Trump jousted with reporters while standing next to a table stacked with piles of folders of paper. Trump said the folders contained documents detailing preparations he had made to turn “complete and total control” of his business over to his sons, though it’s unclear whether they really included anything more detailed than blank pieces of paper.
Sheri Dillon, the Trump attorney who presented the plan, said during the news conference that Trump’s “investments and business assets” would be conveyed to a trust controlled by his two adults sons and a financial adviser before inauguration day. Though Trump would retain ownership of his assets, transferring them to a trust would at least mean he wouldn’t be managing them at the same time as he’s managing the affairs of the United States.
That plan fell far short of what the Office of Government Ethics recommended, primarily because of Trump’s plan to stay on as owner of his business. But according to a new ProPublica report, there’s no evidence President Trump has yet done anything at all to address his conflicts of interest.
“To transfer ownership of his biggest companies, Trump has to file a long list of documents in Florida, Delaware and New York,” ProPublica reports. “We asked officials in each of those states whether they have received the paperwork. As of 3:15 p.m. [Friday], the officials said they have not.”
No paperwork has been filed indicating that the ownership or management structure of Trump’s business has changed whatsoever. According to ProPublica, that’s true even of the much-maligned Trump Foundation, which Trump announced he was closing on Christmas Eve.
“Documents on The Donald J. Trump Foundation, which Trump has said he would dissolve, haven’t been updated,” ProPublica reported. And “business filings for Trump Organization LLC, Trump’s primary holding company, had not been changed, according to New York’s Department of State.”
Richard Painter, chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, told ProPublica that Trump and his associates “are not doing what they said they would do… and even that was completely inadequate.”
Trump argues that as president, he’s exempt from conflict of interest laws. But he’s not exempt from the Constitution, and as long as he continues to own a company that accepts payments from foreign governments, he’ll violate the emoluments clause.
It’s up to Congress to hold Trump accountable for that. His staff and close advisers certainly won’t.
During a radio interview last month, 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. And on the eve of the inauguration, Press Secretary Sean Spicer turned a press conference into an infomercial for Trump’s Washington, D.C. hotel, which has flaunted the Constitution by soliciting business from foreign governments.