November 30, 2016

Conflicts of Interest

The New York Times reported this today:
WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald J. Trump announced on Wednesday that he would hold a news conference with his children on Dec. 15 to announce that he would be “leaving” his “great business in total,” but details were scant
This is good news to a point. Every day, however, there are new reports of how a President Trump will have an unavoidable conflict of interest in this or that country or with this or that domestic issue. Stepping away from The Trump Organization and leaving it in the hands of his children does not constitute putting his assets in a blind trust.

A blind trust, which has been the conventional mechanism used by presidents to avoid conflicts of interest, is intended to hide (“blind,” get it?) from the office holder any personal interest that might be affected by a presidential action or policy. The only way that Trump could implement a blind trust would be to liquidate all holdings of The Trump Organization and entrust the proceeds to a neutral caretaker.

Clearly, creating a conventional blind trust for the president-elect is virtually impossible. Real estate is not fungible, and it would take years to liquidate Trump’s holdings. Even if Trump’s children are running The Trump Organization, they cannot hide such facts as that there are two Trump Towers in Istambul, where the United States has complex interests.

Undoubtedly, Trump will attempt to mute criticism concerning his ethical conflicts through some less-than-satisfactory financial arrangement. Americans should demand more. Given that putting his assets in a true blind trust is impractical, I suggest the following policies:

  1. The government can have no financial dealings with The Trump Organization (other than the collection of taxes, of course), and
  2. The President can have no communication whatever with his wife, children, or other parties regarding The Trump Organization.
To begin with, the General Services Administration must break the lease on Trump’s D.C. hotel, as it has generally been acknowledged that continuing the relationship of Trump and the government in this case is an impeachable offense. The government should not buy so much as a paper clip from The Trump Organization.

Trump’s family is more problematic. My second suggestion would be difficult to enforce. As an alternative, both Donald and Melania Trump should be prohibited from having any contact with Trump’s children, their spouses, or any person associated with The Trump Organization.

Are these suggestions draconian?  Probably. Are they necessary? Probably.

Postscript: One other arrangement comes to mind, and it might be possible to pull off, though probably not before January 20. Sell off The Trump Organization in a public stock offering, with the proviso that no Trump relative is allowed to hold shares as long as Donald Trump is President. Trump would likely lose money on this deal—this isn’t clear, given the substantial liabilities of The Trump Organization—but, hey, he decided to run for president.


  1. Note in your antepenultimate paragraph, Mrs. Trump is Melania. Ivanka is the President-elect's daughter.

    1. Thanks, Bruce. I fixed that. Sorry about the fact-checking failure.


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