IMAGINE, FOR a moment, that Hillary Clinton were president-elect. Imagine further that she announced that her daughter, Chelsea, was taking over the Clinton Foundation — but would sit in on the president-elect’s meetings, including with foreign leaders who might have dealings with the foundation.
Imagine — and this one isn’t difficult — the howls you would hear from Republicans.
That is, roughly, a mirror image of how the Trump enterprise is behaving, except the case of the real president-elect is more worrying. More worrying because Donald Trump’s company is for-profit, unlike the Clinton Foundation, and far less transparent than the foundation about its dealings, including overseas. Yet Mr. Trump is resisting the only ethical solution — selling his properties and putting the proceeds in a blind trust. Instead, he says he will leave company management to his adult children — even as he involves those children intimately in setting up his new administration.
Mr. Trump’s actions since his Nov. 8 election have provided increasing reasons for concern. First came Ivanka Trump’s jewelry company using the family’s post-election interview appearance on “60 Minutes” to hawk a $10,800 diamond and gold bangle. Then came the president-elect’s private meeting with three Indian business partners who are building a Trump-branded luxury complex in India. Mr. Trump’s newest hotel, on Pennsylvania Avenue, held a reception for foreign diplomats. As The Post’s Jonathan O’Connell and Mary Jordan reported, many diplomats duly took the hint that they should book rooms there to curry favor with the new administration. In his first meeting with British politicians, Mr. Trump urged them to campaign against offshore wind farms — which Mr. Trump has opposed because he believes they will blight the view from a golf resort he owns in Scotland.
And so it goes, and so it will go unless Mr. Trump divests. The magnitude of the problem was underscored by a report from The Post’s Drew Harwell and Anu Narayanswamy showing that at least 111 Trump companies have done business in 18 countries and territories across South America, Asia and the Middle East. This Trump empire will be both a potential vehicle for foreign influence and a potential target of terrorist attacks.
Blithe assurances from Mr. Trump’s associates that he will scrupulously follow the law are not reassuring, because — as Mr. Trump himself noted in his meeting with the New York Times on Tuesday — conflict-of-interest laws generally do not apply to the president. Some constitutional experts argue that if he does not divest he would be at risk of violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bars U.S. officeholders from taking anything of value from foreign governments. Certainly he would subject the country to four years of unseemly mingling of personal and national interests, and himself to four years of distracting accusations and second-guessing.
In a tweet Monday evening, Mr. Trump complained about the calls for him to behave ethically: “Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world,” he wrote. “Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!” Our reply is threefold: First, it is inappropriate for the president-elect to be name-calling in this way. Second, Mr. Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns and other relevant documents means that Americans have a very incomplete picture of his interests, the possible involvement of foreign banks and oligarchs, and other relevant facts.
Finally, and most salient, it was also well-known before the election that Mr. Trump had promised to put the nation first if elected and not concern himself with profits or occupancy rates. This week he repeated that “the only thing that matters to me is running our country.” That is the pledge he should act on now.
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