We’ve checked this claim before, after Donald Trump said in an interview with the New York Times on Nov. 12 of last year: “The law’s totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
The law doesn’t say the president can’t have a conflict of interest. But Congress, under Title 18 Section 208 of the U.S. code, did exempt the president and vice president from conflict-of-interest laws on the theory that the presidency has so much power that any possible executive action might pose a potential conflict.
Our Pinocchio test concluded: Trump’s statement fails to capture the nuances of the law, but the president-elect did rightly point to an exemption for the president and vice president in conflicts of interest laws. And while such an exemption exists, the theory was that the presidency has so much power that any policy decision could pose a potential conflict. The law assumed that the president could be trusted to do the right thing and take actions to avoid appearance or presence of impropriety — not that the law is “totally” on the president’s “side” or that it would allow the president to use the exemption to his favor.
Trump’s statement does not quite rise to the level of a Geppetto Checkmark, nor does it qualify for a Pinocchio. So we will not rate this claim. Trump, nevertheless, should be more careful about his wording on this point. It’s quite possible he will face a number of conflicts of interest during his presidency. The law may offer an exemption for the president, but political reality — and perception — often does not.