I saw only a few bits and pieces of Trump’s news conference live this morning, his first in some six months, but I have spent the afternoon reading the transcript, analyses and checking facts. I must say … this past year has wrought a change in my vocabulary. Prior to 2016, I rarely used profanity, but now it makes up the bulk of my daily conversation. My Arabic-speaking neighbors have learned much of their English from conversing with me. They have fully mastered the F-bomb. Enough said.
Though there were few surprises in Trump’s speech, there are many things that I think need to be addressed. I will tackle the first in this post, and at least two more in subsequent posts.
Trump’s businesses and conflict of interest:
“And what I’m going to be doing is my two sons, who are right here, Don and Eric, are going to be running the company. They are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They’re not going to discuss it with me. Again, I don’t have to do this. They’re not going to discuss it with me. And with that, I’m going to bring up Sheri Dillon, and she’s going to go — these papers are just some of the many documents that I’ve signed turning over complete and total control to my sons.”–
Sheri Dillon, an attorney with the firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius1, outlined Trump’s plan to distance himself from his businesses. In the interest of time and space, I recount only the most relevant portions here (a link to the full transcript is at the end of this post):
“President-elect Trump wants the American public to rest assured that all of his efforts are directed to pursuing the people’s business and not his own. To that end, as he explained a few moments ago, he directed me and my colleagues at the law firm Morgan Lewis and Bockius to design a structure for his business empire that will completely isolate him from the management of the company.
He further instructed that we build in protections that will assure the American people the decisions he makes and the actions that he takes as president are for their benefit and not to support his financial interests.
As he said, he’s voluntarily taking this on. The conflicts of interest laws simply do not apply to the president or the vice president and they are not required to separate themselves from their financial assets.2
President-elect Trump’s investments and business assets commonly known as the — as the Trump Organization … have all been or will be conveyed to a trust prior to January 20th.
He has relinquished leadership and management of the Trump Organization to his sons Don and Eric and a longtime Trump executive, Allen Weisselberg. Together, Don, Eric and Allen will have the authority to manage the Trump Organization and will make decisions for the duration of the presidency without any involvement whatsoever by President-elect Trump.
President-elect Trump will resign from all officer and other positions he holds with the Trump Organization entities.
Further, in addition, his daughter Ivanka will have no further involvement with or management authority whatsoever with the Trump Organization.
The president-elect has also already disposed of all of his investments in publicly traded or easily liquidated investments. As a result, the trust will have two types of assets; first, it will hold liquid assets. Cash, cash equivalents and treasuries and perhaps some positions in a government approved diversified portfolio, one that is consistent with the regulations from the Office of Government Ethics. Second, the trust is going to hold his preexisting illiquid … business assets.
Through instructions in the trust agreement, President-elect trust — President-elect Trump first ordered that all pending deals be terminated. This impacted more than 30 deals, many of which were set to close by the end of 2016 … that caused an immediate financial loss of millions of dollars, not just for President-elect Trump, but also for Don, Ivanka and Eric. (Awwwwwww)
The trust agreement as directed by President Trump imposes severe restrictions on new deals. No new foreign deals will be made whatsoever during the duration of President Trump’s presidency. New domestic deals will be allowed, but they will go through a vigorous vetting process.
The president-elect will have no role in deciding whether the Trump Organization engages in any new deal and he will only know of a deal if he reads it in the paper or sees it on TV. (Are we to believe, honestly, that Donnie Jr. and Eric will not be discussing these things at the dinner table??? Do they really think we are that stupid???)
In sum, all of these actions — complete relinquishment of management, no foreign deals, ethics adviser approval of deals, sharply limited information rights — will sever President-elect Trump’s presidency from the Trump Organization.”
Donald Trump, being who he is, is not in a million years going to completely relinquish all control over his business interests. I am certain that he will still be overseeing and advising, if only from the sidelines. To an extent, it is the least of our worries where Trump is concerned, but there remains potential for ‘funny business’, for using the power of his office to enhance his private profits, or worse. Another president, I wouldn’t even bother to make note, but with this one, dishonesty and illusion are a large part of what defines him, and I hope the media will do their job well in monitoring and reporting on anything that seems unorthodox.
1 Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, the law firm advising President-elect Donald Trump on handling his business conflicts, won the Russia Law Firm of the Year award in 2016.
2 It is essentially true that the president and vice president are exempt from the Conflict of Interest provision under Title 18 Section 208, there are a couple of notable exceptions:
- Financial disclosure is required of both Trump and Pence
- Under the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, U.S. government employees, including the president, are banned from accepting presents or compensation from foreign governments
3 Link to full transcript