President-elect Donald Trump’s businesses provide an unprecedented opportunity for conflicts of interest and even corruption.
And he just canceled the news conference where he was supposed to tell Americans how he’d deal with them.
On November 30, Trump said that he’d announce his plans for the Trump Organization, his sprawling business empire, on December 15, promising he would be “leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country in order to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
Now that press conference has been canceled, according to Bloomberg Politics’ Kevin Cirilli, Caleb Melby, and Ben Brody. Unnamed officials in the Trump campaign told Bloomberg that the president-elect had been too busy picking his Cabinet and wanted more time.
Skipping the December 15 event, though, also means that Trump — who has given interviews to 60 Minutes, Fox News, and the New York Times, but hasn’t held a press conference since his election — won’t have to answer questions about the extent of his conflicts of interest before the members of the Electoral College are to cast the votes that will technically make him president on December 19.
Near the end of the election, Trump said he wanted to keep America in suspense about whether he’d concede if he lost. Now that he’s won, he seems to be applying that same philosophy to one of the most crucial questions of his presidency: Will he be looking out for the best interests of the country, or the best interests of the Trump Organization?
Trump’s conflicts of interests are massive
Right now, Trump is both president-elect of the United States and chair of the Trump Organization. He’s refused to release his tax returns to give a full picture of his income and debts. But just what we know about his businesses around the world suggests many potential conflicts of interest.
Diplomats have rushed to book rooms and hold events at Trump’s newly opened hotel in the Old Post Office Building in Washington, DC. Trump met with business partners from India after the election and asked UK politician Nigel Farage to intervene in a dispute about Scottish wind farms. Trump-branded projects in Argentina and the nation of Georgia announced that, after years of roadblocks, they were suddenly moving forward.
Trump also has the ability to make domestic policy in ways that could affect his businesses. The Justice Department is negotiating a giant settlement with Deutsche Bank, one of Trump’s biggest creditors. The National Labor Relations Board recently ruled on a unionization dispute at Trump’s Las Vegas hotel. Trump will appoint the next head of the Government Services Administration, which oversees the lease for the new hotel in Washington, DC. And while Trump claims he sold his stock portfolio back in June, he never provided proof.
Trump has said he wants to put his kids in charge — which won’t eliminate the conflicts of interest
Modern presidents have avoided these kind of conflicts by converting their assets into a “blind trust” — meaning that an independent official is in charge of their stock portfolio. (President Barack Obama dealt with the conflict another way, by selling his assets and buying Treasury bonds and index funds instead.)
Trump, on the other hand, said throughout the campaign that he would put his three oldest children — Ivanka, Don Jr., and Eric — in charge of the Trump Organization, and transition officials suggested that was the plan as recently as last week.
But there are two big problems with this plan.
First, handing your company over to your children isn’t the same as putting an independent official in charge. Ivanka Trump has been on phone calls and in meetings with foreign leaders, including the prime minister of Japan. Even if Ivanka is left out of the transfer of power, as recent reports suggested she might be, her siblings aren’t entirely separate from the executive branch, either: Eric Trump is on the executive committee for Donald Trump’s presidential transition.
Second, the purpose of a blind trust is that the president isn’t supposed to know where his business interests lie. Even if Trump handed over the reins of the Trump Organization to an unrelated third party, many of its businesses are branded with the Trump name. It’s hard to say you don’t know where your business interests lie when they’re easy to pick out because they’re labeled with your name.
Maybe Trump wants more time to figure out a better way to resolve these conflicts. Or maybe he just doesn’t want to have to answer questions about them.