John Wonderlich, Sunlight’s executive director, went on Democracy Now yesterday to discuss President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to ignore ethics experts urging him to divest from his businesses. Sunlight has been tracking Trump’s conflicts of interest for months, calling on him to disclose, divest and place the assets in a blind trust, as American presidents have done for decades. The plan Trump announced this week utterly fails to address these issues, which means the President-elect will enter the White House with unprecedented conflicts of interest.
Why does it matter? As John told Democracy now, one of the concerns is self-enrichment:
So the president is involved in every decision that gets made about how the country functions, involved at every level of government. And so, his knowledge of his vast business empire and of his debt means that any decision that gets made about taxes or about healthcare or about finance, about bank regulation—all the issues facing the country—have a direct and material impact on businesses that he owns. So that’s one concern, is that he’s going to make decisions not on behalf of what’s best for the country, but with an eye to his business interests.
There are other concerns, too. It undermines the presidency to have even the appearance of corruption. And we now can be confident that everything that happens to President-elect Trump is going to be tinged with an appearance of corruption, because we don’t even know the full extent of his business connections, because he refuses to release his tax returns. So the appearance of corruption is going to be ubiquitous within a Trump presidency.
And then a third level of concern is that by maintaining his business ties, Trump has levers that are not typically available to the presidency, so whether that is paying a private security force, like we know Trump is doing that is displacing the Secret Service’s role, which allows him to do things like eject protesters in a way that maybe the Secret Service wouldn’t do, or who knows what else? Trump is availing himself of levers to power that other presidents don’t have.
You can watch the entire appearance on Democracy Now in the video embedded below: