TRUMP’S CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Sunlight and the public are still waiting for answers on what open government will look like in the White House of President-Elect Donald J. Trump. What we do know is that the President-elect has not only failed to set up a true blind trust for his assets, but in the weeks since Election Day has mixed the business interests of the Trump Organization with those of the American people, whom he represents. On November 28, Sunlight began maintaining an ongoing list of confirmed reports of conflicts of interest, where Trump business has clearly mixed with public business, and unconfirmed reports of conflicts of interest, where more reporting is needed. We’ll continue to update the embedded documents, below, as more relevant news stories, court filings and legislation enter the public record, including noting when or if a given conflict has been resolved.
There is no way for a President of United States to recuse himself from making domestic or foreign policy decisions which would have an impact upon his business holdings. If the transition does not take action, the potential for the most corrupt administration in history is clear. The President of the United States is not above the law, as former White House ethics counsels Norm Eisen and Richard Painter explain the serious conflicts of interest, appearance of conflicts, and Emoluments Clause problems that exist in the video embedded below.
So long as President-elect Trump does not divest himself from his complex foreign and domestic business interests, both real and rumored corruption will cast a shadow over his presidency and everything he tries to do in government, whether right or wrong.
President-elect Trump’s global conflicts of interest matter, as does his continued lack of disclosure, without which we cannot assess nor identity all of the potential foreign or domestic entanglements that exist.
As Sunlight’s Executive Director John Wonderlich noted, “the risks of a president who asserts the right to continue business activities outside the presidency stretch well-beyond Americans’ typical conception of corruption. The way Trump uses corporate control to affect his political power may present a bigger risk than the way he uses political power to affect his personal finances.”
After Election Day, Sunlight stood with over a dozen other transparency, anti-corruption and ethics advocates and sent a letter calling on President-elect Trump to liquidate his holdings and put them in a blind trust controlled by an independent overseer to remove the unprecedented conflicts of interest between the presidency and a global business empire.
On December 9th, after President-elect Trump did not take any action, Sunlight signed on to a second letter, joining a bipartisan group of dozens of governance experts arguing that his continued ownership of business enterprises will cause serious problems for both his presidency and the country unless he divests and discloses.
On January 2nd, after Trump postponed a December 15th press conference to announce a plan to address these issues, Sunlight signed a third letter.
While we and bipartisan list of signatories have acknowledged and expressed appreciation some steps the President-elect has taken to resolve some conflicts of interest, the situation remains unchanged: the only ethical way for him to solve the problems he faces remains divesting from his business enterprises, and placing the proceeds into a blind trust managed by an independent trustee or the equivalent.
No other remedy will address the fundamental issues these conflicts pose to the presidency.
On January 15, after Trump held his first press conference as President-elect since July 27, 2016, Sunlight issued the following statement, attributable to John Wonderlich:
“Today’s announcement by President-elect Donald J. Trump failed to address the unprecedented conflicts of interest he brings to Presidency. Trump is putting his business interests ahead of the interests of the country by failing to live up to well-established practices for addressing financial conflicts.
Trump’s plan leaves the Presidency vulnerable to self-dealing, constitutional crisis, the appearance of corruption, and other abuses of power. Trump’s approach to governance and ethics repudiates decades of accepted norms for modern democratic accountability.
Trump’s trust is not blind. His brand will conflict with his Presidency. His taxes remain secret, despite decades of precedent. The Trump Presidency will be mired in litigation, doubt, scandal, and crisis.”