President-elect Donald Trump insisted there’s no need to worry about any conflict of interest issues between his sprawling international business dealings and his new job of running the U.S. government, during his Wednesday press conference at Trump Tower.
“I could actually run my business and run government at the same time,” Trump said. “I don’t like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that if I wanted to.”
Trump then cleared the stage for his lawyer, Sheri Dillon, to lay out the plan for how Trump would avoid any ethical issues should they come up.
- Trump will move the hundreds of corporations, investments, and other entities that make up the Trump Organization into a trust before being sworn into office.
- He will resign from the company and transfer all ownership and management over to his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric (Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, whose husband Jared Kushner was recently named senior adviser to the president, will have no role in the Trump Organization).
- All pending deals still in the works — 30 in all — will be terminated and there will be no new deals with foreign entities will be conducted while Trump is president.
- New domestic deals will still continue but they will be vetted by a new ethics advisor, who will be appointed to oversee the dealings of the company. Trump himself will have no role in new deals and will “only know of a deal if he reads it in the paper or sees it on TV,” said Dillon
- No communications of the Trump Organization, including social media, will reference or be tied to Trump’s role as president
“President-elect Trump wants there to be no doubt in the minds of the American public that he is completely isolating himself from his business interests,” Dillon added.
But Trump continued to argue that this was simply about reassuring the public because, he insisted, the Presidency and Vice Presidency are exempt from federal conflict of interest laws.
Indeed, Trump opened the press conference boasting that he was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai over the weekend, but “I turned it down. I didn’t have to turn it down.” He pointed to this as a way to show that, even though it wasn’t necessary, he had no problem separating himself from his business interests as he was preparing to take office as president of the United States.
That’s up for debate. The Emoluments Clause in the Constitution prohibits any “person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States]” from accepting gifts or money from foreign entities in order to prevent a possible situation of bribery.
Trump’s sprawling corporation routinely does business deals with entities controlled by foreign governments and apparently he was still receiving financial offers from foreign business deals as late as last weekend. But Trump and Dillon argued that the Emoluments Clause doesn’t necessarily apply to Trump.
The definition of what an “emolument” is is vague and expansive, Dillon argued it shouldn’t be applied to such routine payments like paying for a hotel bill in a foreign country.
“The so-called emoluments clause has never been interpreted, however, to apply to fair value exchanges that have absolutely nothing to do with an office holder,” Dillon said. “No one would have thought, when the Constitution was written, that paying your hotel bill was an emolument.”
But many legal scholars and constitutional experts have interpreted the Emoluments Clause to apply to these situations even if it hasn’t been tested in court. If Trump continued to accept cash payments from foreign entities, such as the $2 billion deal from Dubai, many see that as an immediate violation of the Constitution.
“The founders very clearly intended that officers of the United States, including the president, not accept presents from foreign sovereigns,” Norman Eisen, who was President Obama’s chief White House ethics lawyer, told the New York Times.