The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Where will the White House begin and the Trump Organization end?

Donald Trump and his family. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

President-elect Donald Trump will turn his private company, the Trump Organization, over to his three adult children, who will also be included in the executive committee that will steer Trump’s transition and oversee the many appointments he will make as he builds his new administration. This is not merely the appearance of a conflict of interest, but also an actual conflict of interest.

Trump knows about such conflicts. He spent a lot of time in the final phase of the campaign lambasting Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation in just these terms.

Among the criticisms Trump and his campaign aimed at the Clintons were the following:

“It’s impossible to figure out where the Clinton Foundation ends and the State Department begins.”

“It is now abundantly clear that the Clintons set up a business to profit from public office. They sold access and specific actions by and to them for money.”

“Everything you need to know about Hillary Clinton can be understood by this simple phrase: Follow the money.”

The proximity of the Clinton Foundation and the State Department throws up “ethical red flags.”

“We’re going to go to anybody who has had financial dealings with the Clinton Foundation. Anybody who’s paid the Clintons who then received favors and official actions in return. Anybody who’s gotten rich by being friends with the Clintons based off these official actions.”

“Hillary Clinton appointed a top donor to a national security board with top secret access — even though he had no national security credentials.”

If Trump does install his children at the helm of his business and the heart of his administration, it will not be too early to begin re-purposing those very lines:

It is already impossible to figure out where the Trump Organization ends and the White House begins.

If the phrase “follow the money” explains most things, what proof do we have that it does not also explain the Trumps?

Have the Trumps perhaps pursued public office to secure profits for their business? How, after all, will they be able to separate their business judgments from their governance recommendations?

With the proximity between the Trump Organization and the Trump White House, investigative reporters will be obliged to go to anyone who has financial dealings with the Trump Organization. They’ll have to be on the lookout for anybody who has done deals with the Trump Organization and received official actions or appointments in return. They’ll have to trace decisions from the administration that enrich the Trump Organization’s family of businesses and partners and watch for profiteering from insider information.

We will have to demand of the Trump Organization voluminous disclosures of conflicts and the appearance of conflicts. Then, we will need to subpoena emails to confirm that the disclosure statements have not falsified realities. And so on, and so on…

Mr. President-elect, you asked for guidance from those of us who didn’t vote for you. Here’s yet another two cents: Set your children free from either your business or your politics.

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