Donald Trump moved the news conference goal posts to early January on Wednesday, insisting that's when he'll hold his first one in more than five months to explain how he'll handle his business interests as president.
But he also assured all of us that it's really much ado about nothing.
“Honestly, it's a very routine thing. It's not a big deal. You people are making that a big deal — the business,” he said Wednesday night at an impromptu Q&A with reporters at Mar-a-Lago. He added: “When I ran, people knew I have a very big business. So I mean, they elected me at least partially for that reason. So I think that's going to work out very easily. It's actually a very simple situation.”
The comments echo what he said a few weeks ago.
But this line of defense still doesn't make sense, for a few reasons: 1) Because this announcement has been so delayed to now two months after Trump's win; 2) Because Trump's finances are objectively very complex; and 3) Because his own staff has cited this complexity as the reason for the delay.
Two weeks ago, when Trump's originally planned news conference on how he'd handle his business interests was delayed, spokesman Jason Miller explained that it was because his finances were so vast and complex, and it took time to “get it right.”
“We've said recently that the president-elect being one of our country's most successful business leaders obviously has a great number of businesses, great number properties and developments, that he has put together and, quite frankly, that takes time,” Miller said on Dec. 15, adding: “I think the priority here is to make sure that we get it right. And if that takes a little bit more time, than I think that's — I think the American people understand that.”
The size of Trump's empire is unprecedented for a president and apparently even for a member of Congress (the wealthiest of whom is California GOP Rep. Darrell Issa with a paltry $254 million minimum net worth, per Roll Call).
And that's even more the case given that Trump's fortune spans the globe. As The Post's Drew Harwell explained after Trump's win:
Trump’s business empire of hotels, golf courses and licensing deals in the U.S. and abroad, some of which have benefited from tax breaks or government subsidies, represents an ethical minefield for a commander in chief who would oversee the U.S. budget and foreign relations, some analysts say. ...
Other Trump companies are partially indebted to banks in Germany and China. On financial disclosure filings, Trump listed involvements in more than 500 companies, some in countries where the U.S. has sensitive diplomatic or financial relationships, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and China.
Those entanglements are unprecedented, unavoidable and “troubling,” Ken Gross, a former elections enforcement official and lawyer who has advised presidential candidates from both parties, said after the election. “He has investments in businesses in unfriendly countries and the businesses are often tied to those unfriendly governments.”
It's certainly understandable that these things take some time to work through. But you can't argue that things are simple but they are taking so long because they are also complex. And the fact that this wasn't wrapped up long ago is a testament to the many potential conflicts of interest at stake. Among the top ones:
- The idea that Trump's children will run the business, which means it isn't a true blind trust.
- The idea that Trump's children will run the business while being involved in his presidency. They have already been present during talks with foreign leaders and are members of his transition team.
- The idea that Trump won't divest from foreign holdings, even as he deals with foreign leaders where his business interests are at stake.
- Trump's new D.C. hotel has become a magnet for foreign officials seeking to garner influence, as The Post reported.
We get it. The idea that Trump's finances are complex plays into the idea that there are myriad potential conflicts of interest at play. Which there are. And Trump doesn't like that storyline.
But it's one thing to say that the potential conflicts will be dealt with appropriately; it's another to suggest the lot of them simply don't exist. Trump is trying to have his cake and eat it too, buying time to figure out his business setup while also arguing it's simple — so simple that it really shouldn't require that much time.