In today’s long-awaited press conference, that devolved into a “circus,” President-Elect Donald Trump announced–through a lawyer–that he will step back from his businesses. He will not divest his holdings, something the lawyer suggested was “impossible,” instead passing control to his sons Eric and Donald Jr.
He promised the Trump organization would take on no new “deals” with “foreign” interests, and all new domestic deals will go through an not-yet-hired ethics adviser. While the president-elect is correct that he is doing more than is legally required, this does little to address potential conflicts of interest.
Leader of the Office of Government Ethics, who personally ordered a series of tweets praising the president-elect when he announced his plan to step back from his business, called the plan “meaningless,” specifically the part about no new foreign deals. “I need to talk about ethics today because the plan the president[-elect] has announced doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president in the past four decades has met,” Walter Schaub said at a press conference.
There is a whole series of conflicts because of the varied nature of Trump’s business interests. Trump “will oversee lenders who have lent money to him, appoint members to a labor relations board who rule on disputes at his properties, and hire the next head of the Government Services Agency, which rents him his DC hotel,” according to Vox.
Still, federal conflict of interest laws do not apply to the president, so Trump is correct when he states that he’s legally in the clear. Yet, the U.S. Constitution does have the Emoluments Clause, which prevents presidents from profiting from foreign governments.
As we’ve reported, ethics lawyers say that Trump’s businesses would cause him to violate this clause on his first day in office, for example if foreign government officials rent rooms in his D.C. hotel.
As LawNewz summarizes from a lengthy legal essay on the matter:
The reasoning behind the Emoluments Clause, the article says, is that a government official who accepts anything of value from another country “can be imperceptibly induced to compromise what the Constitution insists be his exclusive loyalty: the best interest of the United States of America.”
There is some debate over whether the Clause applies to the President, but Eisen, Painter, and Tribe write that “it would require extraordinary legal and linguistic gymnastics to explain how the President is excluded from the Emoluments Clause.” As LawNewz.com has reported, Seth Barrett Tillman of Maynooth University believes that the Clause does not apply to Presidents, and cites George Washington himself as an example of a President who took “diplomatic gifts” without consent of Congress.
However, all of this is untested legal grounds and once President Trump is sworn in on January 20, only Republican leadership could do anything about it.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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