PRESIDENT-ELECT Donald Trump’s extensive business network in the United States and overseas is unprecedented — and problematic — for someone moving into the Oval Office.
Ordinarily, a president would put his holdings in a blind trust, providing reassurance to voters that no official decisions will be taken to benefit himself financially. It’s not clear how much reassurance that could provide in this case, given that there’s no hiding the Trump hotels and golf courses that make up much of his holdings. The only foolproof way to avoid conflicts would be for Mr. Trump to sell those holdings and put the proceeds in a blind trust.
He is moving in the other direction, however. He has said he plans to turn his business over to his three eldest children to run while retaining ownership. Simultaneously he is enlisting those same children in key government roles. He is asking Americans to trust that his business interests won’t factor into his, or his children’s, decision-making.
This shouldn’t be acceptable to voters or to members of Congress. It’s especially unacceptable because Mr. Trump has been so secretive about his personal finances. Key details about his financial holdings and foreign deals are still not known. And, of course, Mr. Trump has ignored the accepted modern practice under which every previous candidate released his or her personal tax returns.
In his first television interview since winning the presidency, Mr. Trump waved aside a question about those returns. “Nobody cares. . . . Obviously the public didn’t care because I won the election very easily,” he told Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes.”
But winning makes it all the more imperative that Mr. Trump release his returns — a tradition for incumbent presidents as well as for candidates. That would not solve the ethical conundrum before him. But it would be a helpful — indeed an essential — first step.
Asked at the end of the CBS interview whether the campaign had hurt the Trump brand, Mr. Trump said, “Who cares? Who cares? . . . This is — this is our country.” He added: “I don’t care about hotel occupancy.” It is encouraging to hear him say that he will put the country’s interests ahead of his business interests. Now he must act on that commitment.
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