WASHINGTON ― With business holdings that span the globe, President-elect Donald Trump will take office next year with unprecedented conflicts of interest, both real and perceived. Thus far, he has done almost nothing to address this issue.
Government conflict of interest regulations do not apply to the president of the United States. Trump could theoretically continue to manage his Trump Organization while in office. He could also choose to abide by the regulations that apply to other federal government officials.
Instead, Trump declared that his three eldest children, Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric, will oversee his company and its holdings through what he has called a “blind trust.” There is, however, no definition of a blind trust that allows for a person’s children to be its caretakers.
The Trump children are also on their father’s presidential transition team, helping to make decisions about personnel and incoming policy that could affect the holdings they’re poised to take control of. They may also receive official positions in their father’s administration, although they are banned from being appointed to cabinet positions. Trump’s favored properties are even currently advertised on his government-funded presidential transition website.
This is not a relatively passive, inherited investment portfolio like those owned by Presidents Franklin Roosevelt or John Kennedy. No president has ever come into office with so much wealth, so much firsthand knowledge of his assets or such an intimate relationship with the people appointed to handle those assets.
The actual contents, debts, investors and partners of this so-called blind trust will remain undisclosed to the public, but will be known to the incoming president and his children, whom he counts as some of his closest advisers. Further, Trump knows his own business intimately, as it is built around his name as its greatest asset.
“This move to appoint a so-called blind trust to be run by Trump’s children serves only one purpose,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of the campaign finance and ethics reform group Democracy 21 ― namely, he said, “to hide from the American people any conflicts of interest that we can expect will occur.”
Federal disclosure rules require the president to file an annual personal financial disclosure. However, it’s possible to do this while still withholding a great deal of information. An officeholder could simply list a limited liability company with no information identifying its holdings. There are many unknowns, including the contents of some of Trump’s companies, his investors and partners and his debtors, who may hide behind banks or other loan-granting organizations.
Trump refused to release his tax returns during the campaign, adding to the general opacity surrounding his finances. He is the first presidential candidate in over half a century to win the White House without releasing his tax returns.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter on Monday to the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), calling for immediate hearings on Trump’s conflicts of interest.