On Wednesday, Donald Trump Jr. told Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he doesn’t think the Trump Organization’s international operations would be problematic if his dad were elected president.
“My father is going to be a government official, and he’s going to separate himself” from the Trump Organization’s business interests, Trump Jr., executive vice president of the Trump Organization, asserted. He added that “he and other family members involved in the company would not be part of their father’s would-be administration and would not do business directly with foreign governments that might be inclined to give the company preferential treatment to curry favor with a Trump White House,” according to the Tribune-Review’s report.
Trump Jr. went on to add that creating a “blind trust” to manage the organization’s assets would insulate his dad from potential conflicts of interest. But his dad has indicated that’s not his plan.
Earlier this year, Trump said that if he’s elected, he’ll merely turn over day-to-day control of the Trump Organization to his “executives” and his three oldest children — Trump Jr., Eric, and Ivanka. But turning over control to his kids isn’t at all the same as creating a blind trust, which involves giving “administration of private business interests to an independent trust in order to prevent conflict of interest,” the goal being that “the owner does not know how the assets are managed.” If Trump simply gave the keys of the Trump Organization operation to his kids, he would still know what assets are in his portfolio and be able to impact how they’re managed by communicating with them.
Questions about the potential conflicts of interest Trump would face as president are in the news once again thanks to a Kurt Eichenwald feature published Wednesday by Newsweek entitled, “How The Trump Organization’s Foreign Business Ties Could Upend U.S. National Security.” In addition to buildings with the Trump name emblazoned on them that already exist in the Philippines, Panama, Turkey, and Uruguay, the piece details how Trump family members are interested in striking new deals that would expand the organization’s footprint in India, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and Ukraine, among other countries.
“If Trump moves into the White House and his family continues to receive any benefit from the company, during or even after his presidency, almost every foreign policy decision he makes will raise serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires,” Eichenwald writes.
Not only that, but there’s no conceivable way for a would-be President Trump to disentangle himself from the Trump Organization.
“Trump’s business conflicts with America’s national security interests cannot be resolved so long as he or any member of his family maintains a financial interest in the Trump Organization during a Trump administration, or even if they leave open the possibility of returning to the company later,” Eichenwald writes. “The Trump Organization cannot be placed into a blind trust, an arrangement used by many politicians to prevent them from knowing their financial interests; the Trump family is already aware of who their overseas partners are and could easily learn about any new ones.”
The University of Minnesota Law School’s Richard Painter told ThinkProgress that even a blind trust wouldn’t be enough. Instead, for Trump to be truly in the dark about how policies he supports as president impact his personal financial interests, he’d have to “get rid of the real estate holdings, put them in a holding company, do an IPO of that company, and get rid of it all, covert it to cash, pay the capital gains tax, and maybe get a certificate of divestiture which lets [him] postpone the capital gains tax,” Painter said.
As ThinkProgress has previously detailed, there’s a number of ways Trump could use the presidency to enrich himself, including directing the IRS to stop auditing people like him, unilaterally repealing environmental regulations that affect his businesses and investments, and dismantling the post-meltdown Wall Street banking reforms to aid his own real estate financing.
For instance, Trump’s personal disclosure statement notes he holds at least $50,001 in the Boeing Company, which has received billions of dollars in government contracts — a state of affairs Trump will likely remain aware of even if the Trump Organization were placed in a blind trust.
Now, consider a situation where the government awards a contract to Boeing instead of a competitor. As Stuart C. Gilman, a longtime employee at the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) who now advises countries around the globe on anti-corruption efforts, told ThinkProgress, “If I were [competitor] Lockheed [Martin], I’d sue the hell out of them.”
As long as Trump has knowledge of the Trump Organizations’ holdings, every contracting decision could be subject to court challenge. And the plan he’s outlined for the Trump Organization if he’s elected — “I’ll have my children and my executives run the company” — means he would still have that knowledge.
In sum, despite what Trump Jr. says, there’s no way around the conflict of interest problems a Trump presidency would present.