PRESIDENT-ELECT Donald Trump had promised to meet with the news media this week to explain how he would separate his business’s interests from the public’s. That promise is no longer operative. Instead, for the time being, the public — and electors set to gather next week to ratify his victory — will have to settle for a few tweets.
“Even though I am not mandated by law to do so, I will be leaving my busineses [sic] before January 20th so that I can focus full time on the Presidency. Two of my children, Don and Eric, plus executives, will manage them. No new deals will be done during my term(s) in office,” Mr. Trump wrote Monday night. He said he would hold his much-anticipated news conference — which would be his first since July — sometime “in the near future.”
The outline of a conflict-of-interest policy he sketched on Twitter would not satisfy many ethics watchdogs. But, if filled in and adhered to, it would provide at least the beginning of some insulation between the White House and the president’s bottom line. If, as he has repeatedly said, he cares about this presidency more than he does about making a buck, he will follow up with these three steps.
First, Mr. Trump must finally release full information about his holdings in all their corporate complexity. Are there Russian investors? What are his connections in Turkey? Domestic holdings, too, could raise big questions where they are subject to federal regulations. If he cannot be open with the public on his ethical exposure, there will be no way for Americans to trust — or verify — that he is acting in their interests rather than his own.
Second, Mr. Trump must establish procedures to render him blind to the operation of his company. The executives he taps to run his firm should have no contact with him — or anyone in his family. Mr. Trump should reconsider giving responsibility to his adult children and appoint an independent caretaker.
Third, “caretaker” should in fact be the job description — to keep the business running, not to grow it. Mr. Trump appeared to have this in mind when he suggested that, even if his children would still be involved, they would not be striking deals. Once again, transparency will be crucial: Without more information on Mr. Trump’s business holdings now, it would be hard for Americans to judge whether his executives leveraged his position to expand his company after he entered the White House.
Of course, the ideal way to avoid any potential for corruption or appearance of corruption would be for Mr. Trump to sell his holdings and establish a blind trust. But that would not be easily accomplished, as he has said. “When you sell real estate, that’s not like going out and selling a stock,” he said in an interview with Chris Wallace on Sunday. “That takes a long time.” Indeed, the process of selling off real estate assets could in itself create conflicts of interest. In other words, even divestment would be inadequate without the three safeguards suggested above. If Mr. Trump wants something other than wave after wave of conflict-of-interest questions to define his presidency, he must build a high wall between his presidency and his former life.
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