clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Vox Sentences: Trump’s plan to avoid conflicts of interest is either useless or actively bad

Vox Sentences is your daily digest for what's happening in the world, curated by Dara Lind and Dylan Matthews. Sign up for the Vox Sentences newsletter, delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday, or view the Vox Sentences archive for past editions.

Donald Trump's plan* to separate business and the presidency; Trump and Rex Tillerson are having a hard time answering questions about Russia.


A business firewall so shoddy even Trump wouldn't put his name on it

Trump Getty / Spencer Platt
  • At a long-awaited press conference Wednesday, Donald Trump unveiled his similarly long-awaited plan to address the conflicts of interest posed by his business holdings. Suffice to say that if this plan to build a wall between Trump's business and politics were a plan for a border wall, President-elect Trump would not be satisfied. [Vox / Libby Nelson]
  • Trump is planning to have his sons run the Trump Organization (and says he won't talk to them about it), will stop making new foreign deals, and will appoint an "ethics adviser" to the Trump Organization to approve new domestic deals. [Politico / Josh Dawsey and Darren Samuelsohn]
  • Instead of selling his hotels or prohibiting foreign diplomats from booking there, meanwhile, Trump is going to donate the proceeds of such visits to the US Treasury — which poses new ethical conflicts by removing even the semblance of a firewall between Trump's money and the US government's money. [Huffington Post / Christina Wilkie and Paul Blumenthal]
  • (This is just one of many axes on which Trump's business empire could have an impact on his policy preferences.) [Bloomberg / Michael Keller, Blacki Migliozzi, Caleb Melby, and Mira Rojanasakul]
  • The Office of Government Ethics — which is supposed to help the executive branch avoid conflicts of interest — is extremely underwhelmed. In a speech Wednesday at Brookings, the office's head warned that Trump's plan would increase the risk of corruption in the US government, and all but implied that Trump simply wasn't patriotic enough to suck it up and divest as previous presidents have done. [Vox / Libby Nelson]
  • But this simply isn't how the Trumps understand conflict of interest. Trump (as well as daughter Ivanka, who announced a "leave of absence" from the Trump Organization and her brand) appears to think the only problem with mixing business and government is that you don't have time for both. [TPM / Matt Shuham]
  • Peter Thiel offers a more straightforward defense: If you have a conflict of interest, it means you're more informed than someone who doesn't have financial investments operating at potential cross-purposes with your duties as a public official. [NYT / Maureen Dowd]
  • Ultimately, the best defense Trump can argue is that he's not taking literally every single bribe that comes along. [Slate / Jeremy Stahl]

Dossier days

Rex Tillerson Getty / Alex Wong
  • In the past 24 hours, we've begun to piece together the story of the instantly famous "dossier" alleging cooperation and potential blackmail between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The dossier was produced by a private British intelligence firm, and circulated around the intelligence community (and the press) for several months before the election. [The Guardian / Julian Borger]
  • But when BuzzFeed News decided, last night, to publish the dossier (after CNN reported that President Obama and Trump had been briefed on it), it raised legitimate questions about whether BuzzFeed had done the right thing. [Washington Post / Margaret Sullivan]
  • Trump is livid. And he's taking his anger out on the intelligence community, with whom he already had a rocky relationship (even though it wasn't an official intelligence document and was totally unclassified). [The Guardian / Spencer Ackerman]
  • Some of the claims in the dossier have already been debunked (such as a claim that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen met a Russian agent in Prague). [Mediaite / Alex Griswold]
  • All told, it's simply not clear whether the Trump campaign cooperated with Russia. We know that it's something the FBI suspected in 2016, but couldn't get surveillance authorization to prove. [The Week / Peter Weber]
  • But we also know that Trump's response — that he has no financial relationship with Russia — is not true. [Washington Post / Rosalind S. Helderman]
  • Maybe, as Trump continues to deal with the allegations, he might want to talk to his nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, about Russia — something that, according to Tillerson, he hasn't done yet. [Vox / Dara Lind]
  • Then again, that might not help. Tillerson himself kind of crashed and burned before the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday when asked about Russia, tanking a confirmation hearing that had previously been going okay. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • How badly did Tillerson do? Well, he might have perjured himself about whether he'd ever lobbied against anti-Russia sanctions while an Exxon Mobil exec. That badly. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]

The DOJ puts a boot on Volkswagen

Volkswagen car AFP / Philippe Lopez via Getty
  • The US Department of Justice indicted six current and former Volkswagen employees Wednesday on charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and violation of the Clean Air Act. [WSJ / Aruna Viswanatha, William Boston, and Mike Spector]
  • The indictments stem from Volkswagen's use of deceptive technology to lie about the carbon emissions made by its diesel vehicles, which came to light in 2015. [Vox / Brad Plumer]
  • It's extremely rare for individual employees to be charged in cases like this. Usually the company just agrees to criminal wrongdoing and pays criminal or civil fines. [Washington Post / Steven Overly]
  • (Volkswagen did that, too, to the tune of $4.3 billion.) [Reuters / David Shepardson]
  • The Volkswagen case might be an outlier because executives reportedly found out about the deceptive technology in early 2015, and decided to lie about it rather than fixing it. Or it could be because five of the six indicted employees live in Germany — so it's unclear whether they'll ever make it to the US for trial. [WSJ / Ruth Bender]
  • The company itself is already looking forward. It's shifting toward electric cars and away from diesel ones. [Vox / Brad Plumer]
  • (Arguably, this would have happened much sooner — with the effort that went toward deceptive fuel technology getting channeled more productively — if European tax subsidies didn't continue to incentivize diesel vehicles even after it became clear that they were bad for the environment.) [FT]



  • "Instead of being bad parents, many of the titans of European existentialism – Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, Jean-Paul Sartre – remained childless." [Aeon / John Kaag and Clancy Martin]
  • "We almost lost our house before I sold Wild. I think we had about $85,000 in credit card debt by the time I sold that book." [Cheryl Strayed to NY Mag / Manjula Martin]
  • "'Does it fart?' is one of most frequent questions zoologists receive from kids, said Dani Rabaiotti of the Zoological Society of London." [Washington Post / Jason Bittel]
  • "I find myself in a medical twilight zone where distrust outweighs care, where doctors fear censure and pass me off to another office." [Washington Post / Nick Selby]
  • "That phrase — check your privilege — exasperates Ms. Willis. She asked a reporter: 'Can you please tell me what that means?'" [NYT / Farah Stockman]

Watch this: How this guy found 83 messages in bottles

Clint Buffington has found 83 messages in bottles — and you could probably do it too. [YouTube / Zachary Crockett and Phil Edwards]

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.