Today, after months of delay, Donald Trump finally described what his relationship would be with the Trump Organization after he becomes POTUS.
The steps Trump described fall well short of the steps recommended by the Office of Government Ethics and which every other modern president has employed.
Trump will retain full ownership of the Trump Organization, which will continue to accept payments from foreign governments. The company will continue to pursue new deals while he is president.
He made clear that he would not sell any of his business holdings because it would create a “fire sale.”
“President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built,” by selling it or placing it in a real blind trust, his lawyer, Sheri Dillon, announced.
Norm Eisen, Chief Ethics Counsel for Barack Obama and Richard Painter, Chief Ethics Counsel for George W. Bush released a joint statement:
Tragically, the Trump plan to deal with his business conflicts announced today falls short in every respect. Mr. Trump did not make a clean break with his business ownership interests as his predecessors for four decades have done; did not establish a blind trust or the equivalent as bipartisan experts and OGE called for; entrusted trust responsibility in his family and a current employee, rather than in an independent trustee; did not screen all “emoluments …of any kind whatever,” as required by the constitution, but only some revenues, and only from his hotels; and offered an inadequate and scantily-detailed ethics wall. Mr. Trump’s ill-advised course will precipitate scandal and corruption.
Larry Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, told ThinkProgress that the announcement “a totally fraudulent runaround.” Tribe added that the structure was “cleverly designed to dazzle and deceive, but it solves none of the serious ethical or legal issues. And his lawyer would flunk constitutional law at any halfway decent law school.”
Here are the most important aspects of Trump’s plan, which Dillon announced at today’s press conference.
Trump retains full ownership of his businesses
Trump announced plans to step away from “leadership and management” of his businesses, but he says he will retain full ownership.
His lawyer described this as a “trust” but didn’t provide basic details like identifying the trustees and the beneficiaries.
It is Trump’s ownership interest, however, that creates the conflict. Trump will still be able to personally profit from decisions he makes as president and, as his lawyer acknowledged, he knows what his assets are and how he could financially benefit from official acts.
He will receive regular statements on the profits and losses of the entire company, Dillon said.
His sons, not independent trustees, will manage the Trump businesses
Trump’s trust is neither blind nor independent. His two sons, who also serve on his transition team and speak regularly with their father, will run it.
“What I’m going to be doing is my two sons, who are right here, Don and Eric, are going to be running the company. They are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They are not going to discuss it with me,” Trump said.
Of course, there will be no way to verify that Trump and his sons abide by this restriction. Trump also noted he’d be able to follow his company’s activities through the media.
The other person managing the Trump Organization will be a longtime Trump executive whom Trump selected himself.
Trump Organization will pursue “new deals,” despite Trump’s promises
Trump repeatedly promised that the Trump Organization would not pursue any “new deals” while he was president.
Presidency. Two of my children, Don and Eric, plus executives, will manage them. No new deals will be done during my term(s) in office.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2016
At the press conference, he reneged on that commitment and announced that the Trump Organization would continue to pursue new deals domestically.
“New domestic deals will be allowed, but they will go through a vigorous vetting process,” said Dillon.
Trump’s representative said the Trump Organization would not pursue new foreign deals, but has not released any information about what foreign deals are ongoing or announce any plans to unwind existing foreign engagements.
Activities of the Trump Organization will be approved by an ethics adviser that Trump employs, not an independent third party
The activities of the Trump Organization, including new domestic deals, will be “approved” by an unnamed “ethics adviser” who is employed by the Trump Organization.
“[N]ew deals must be vetted with the ethics adviser, whose role will be to analyze any potential transactions for conflicts and ethics issues,” Dillon said.
Trump will also employ a Chief Compliance Council. These new positions seem to be geared toward rubber-stamping the activities of the Trump Organization, rather than truly providing independent oversight.
Trump will accept payments from foreign governments, which is in violation of the Constitution
Dillon also addressed the issue of emoluments, the constitutional restriction on the president receiving payments from a foreign government.
“Some people want to define emoluments to cover routine business transactions, like paying for hotel rooms. They suggest that the Constitution prohibits the businesses from even arm’s-length transactions at the president-elect has absolutely nothing to do with and isn’t even aware of. These people are wrong,” Dillon claimed.
But legal experts aligned with both Republicans and Democrats have rejected Dillon’s argument.
Trump plans to continue to accept payments from foreign governments but will donate “profits” from foreign governments to the federal treasury. “This way, it is the American people who will profit,” Dillon said.
This means Trump will simply be keeping most payments. Only a small percentage of the revenue, if any, will be “profit.” Trump also famously deducts previous loses against current profits, making any contribution to the treasury unlikely.
Even if Trump ends up donating money to the government, this does not solve the emoluments issue. If Trump generates enough revenue from foreign governments to turn a profit, he will benefit from the spectacle of donating additional money. It will still be a way for foreign governments to curry favor with Trump — precisely what the Constitution is trying to guard against.
Laurel Raymond contributed to this story.
UPDATE (1/11, 4:26PM): The Office of Government Ethics says Trump’s plan is not sufficient.
Trump must sell his assets to avoid troubling conflicts of interest. Plan today fails Shaub, U.S. Office of Government Ethics just said.
— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) January 11, 2017