But in all the attention being paid to the candidates’ health, I fear we’re losing sight of what actually matters when we get so caught up in questions like this. At the same time, we haven’t yet paid nearly enough attention to another absolutely stunning lack of disclosure with profound implications for the presidency and American policy.
Donald Trump is currently the CEO of a company with an extraordinarily complex web of interests and arrangements both here in the United States and around the world that could be directly affected by his decisions as president, and he refuses to tell us what they are. The fact that we’re expending so much effort worrying about how many hours it took Hillary Clinton to share her diagnosis of a perfectly treatable illness — or what Trump did or didn’t share with Dr. Oz — when the question of his business interests is still unresolved is positively insane.
If you haven’t already read Kurt Eichenwald’s investigative piece about the ways Trump’s business partnerships in places like India, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates often put his financial interests in direct conflict with American foreign policy and national security interests, you should. It should be the beginning of an enormous journalistic mobilization, because at the moment we know only a small portion of the facts. But the most critical fact about this story is that Trump’s interests are ongoing. As president, his own bank account would be affected profoundly by the decisions he makes as president.
And to repeat, he refuses to tell us what those interests are. He won’t release details about his company, and he won’t release his tax returns, unlike every nominee for the last 40 years.
You can imagine a different candidate for whom it might not be that big a deal if he refused to release their tax returns — troubling, not remotely justifiable, but in the end not a deal-breaker for their candidacy. Someone like Mike Pence, for instance, a longtime politician who makes almost all his family’s income from his salary.
But Trump is not just in a different category, he is in a category that’s unique in American history. He is the candidate for whom we most need to see his returns, to understand every last detail of where his financial interest could intersect or conflict with American national interests.
Trump’s answer to this problem, as he told Fox and Friends this morning, is this: “I will sever connections and I’ll have my children and my executives run the company.” At times, he and his children have even referred to this arrangement as a “blind trust.” This is an utter lie. In fact, it’s the very opposite of a blind trust. A blind trust is where you give control of your assets to an independent person you have no contact with, and you aren’t allowed to know what decisions they’re making or what they’re doing with your money. Trump would know exactly where the Trump Organization had interests. And that’s not to mention the fact that when he’s done being president Trump would return to the company, so he would have a continuing interest in maximizing its profits. The only truly appropriate arrangement if he were to be president would be for Trump to sell his company, then put the proceeds in an actual blind trust.
Every week or two, one candidate or the other will commit some gaffe or say something offensive, and the other side’s partisans will say with feigned outrage that it’s “disqualifying.” It’s almost always absurd, the idea that because you uttered something bad, that means you can’t possibly be president.
But Trump’s refusal to allow the public to know the details of his myriad business interests truly is disqualifying — in a way that should transcend party and ideology. Is there a single Republican who would like to get up and argue that it’s perfectly fine for a president to have substantial ongoing business interests all over the world that could be directly affected by the policy decisions he makes, yet refuse to tell us what those interests are?
There have been wealthy presidential candidates before, but never any who had the kind of complex and far-reaching business Donald Trump does. And yet Trump, from whom disclosure is the most critical, is the one who refuses to release his tax returns or details about his business. And he’s getting away with it.