During a Fox News Sunday interview, President-elect Donald Trump confirmed that while he plans for his adult children to handle management of his sprawling business when he’s in office, he doesn’t plan to relinquish ownership.
“When I ran, everybody knew that I was a very big owner of real estate all over the world,” Trump said in an attempt to explain away the conflict of interest concerns surrounding his impending presidency. “I’m not going to have anything to do with management of the company.”
But that arrangement would put Trump in violation of Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution, which bars office holders from accepting “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.” Foreign governments are already booking events at Trump’s new D.C. hotel — a clear example of a foreign state providing Trump with an emolument (“a salary, fee, or profit from employment or office”) that could be intended to curry favor with the soon-to-be-president.
With regard to his plan for the Trump Organization, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace pushed back, asking Trump, “isn’t that a huge conflict of interest?” Trump responded with verbal somersaults.
“They’re going to run my company,” Trump said of his children. “But I’m not going to do deals. And I think — you know, I think that’s going to be good.”
He then appears to dismiss the idea that his direct involvement would even present a conflict at all. “I’m not going to be doing deals at all. I don’t even know if that’s a conflict. I mean, I have the right to do it. I just don’t want to do it.”
In a report about Trump’s intention to maintain ownership last Wednesday, the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Jo Becker wrote 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.” The Times reports that Trump’s daughter Ivanka is also considering taking “a leave of absence” from the Trump Organization.
But during the interview with Wallace, Trump insisted he won’t let his family’s business interests sway him.
“They’re not president,” Trump said of his kids.
He added that while his children are “going to run” the Trump Organization, “they’re not making deals either, for my company.” Wallace didn’t ask for clarification as to how Trump’s kids will be able to run his business and simultaneously not make deals.
Last month, Richard Painter, Chief Ethics Counsel for George W. Bush, told ThinkProgress that with regard to his conflict of interest problem, Trump’s “only good answer is to sell the hotel or give it to his kids (and pay the gift tax) by January 20.”
If Trump doesn’t signal a willingness to do that before the Electoral College meets on December 19, Painter and Norman Eisen, Chief Ethics Counsel for Barack Obama, think electors should reject Trump.
In an email to ThinkProgress, Eisen explained that “the founders did not want any foreign payments to the president. Period.”