TRUMP’S CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Our questions about what open government would mean in the White House of President Donald J. Trump have been answered: this is a secretive administration, allergic to transparency and hostile to the essential role journalism plays in a democracy.
In the days and months since Election Day and Inauguration Day, this president has continued to mix the business interests of the Trump Organization with those of the American people, whom he represents.
On November 28, Sunlight began maintaining a list of reported conflicts of interest, where Trump business had mixed with public business, and unconfirmed reports of conflicts of interest, where more reporting is needed to clarify, and resolved instances.
On May 9th, we relaunched our list as a spreadsheet, expanded from a list of dozens to hundreds of entities. On July 7, we updated our list again, incorporating President Trump’s financial disclosure to the Office of Government Ethics on June 14th and media reports from around the world.
We’ll continue to update our list of Trump’s conflicts of interest, embedded 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, and publishing investigative journalism based upon it. If you have ideas for a story or visualization, please pitch us.
Our history of advocacy for disclosure and divestment
What we call for in response to the list of conflicts we’ve documented remains the same: disclosure, divestment, and the use of a blind trust with an independent overseer.
Why? The ethics loophole presented by a president who did not divest was clear in late 2015: 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.
That’s why presidents divest and the public has expectations that candidates for high office will disclose any conflicts, to avoid even the appearance of corruption.
In the video embedded below, former White House ethics counsels Norm Eisen and Richard Painter explain the constitutional issues involved in these conflicts.
After Election Day, Sunlight chose to stand with over a dozen other transparency, anti-corruption and ethics advocates and sent a letter calling on President 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 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 would cause serious problems for both his presidency and the country unless he divested and disclosed.
On January 2nd, after Trump postponed a December 15th press conference to announce a plan to address these issues — or any press conference at all after the election in 2016 — Sunlight signed a third letter.
While we and the bipartisan list of signatories acknowledged and expressed appreciation for steps the President had taken to resolve a few conflicts of interest, the fundamental dynamic remained 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 would address the fundamental issues these conflicts pose to the presidency.
On January 15, after Trump held his first press conference since July 27, 2016, engaging in transparency theater next to piles of folders, 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.”
So long as President Trump does embrace transparency and disclose his tax returns and take meaningful steps to divest himself from his complex foreign and domestic business interests, both real and rumored corruption will cast a shadow over everything he and the American government tries to do in this presidency around the globe, whether right or wrong.
Given the White House’s failure to take action, the potential for the most corrupt administration in history unfortunately remains clear.