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Trump’s Plan to Avoid Conflicts of Interest

by Countable | 3.20.17

On Wednesday, President-elect Donald Trump and his lawyers held a press conference outlining his plan for avoiding conflicts of interest arising between his role as the chief executive of the U.S. government and his global business interests. Since the announcement, much has been said about whether or not his plan will do enough to avoid improprieties that could arise from his taking actions as president that benefit his company, and as a result himself. To help clear the air, we’ve broken down his plan and provided both the general argument for and against his plan so you can weigh in:

The Plan

President-elect Trump will resign from all positions within his company, so he will no longer have oversight of the hotels, golf courses, and other ventures within the Trump Organization. The business’s assets will be placed into a trust, and two of his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, will assume the responsibility of managing the organization. They won’t be allowed to communicate with their father about any of the business’s dealings, so by design, President Trump will only know about deals involving the business that bears his name if he hears about them through the news.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka will also be stepping away from the organization and subject to the same no-contact rules as her father (in addition to departing her own businesses), because her husband Jared Kushner will be serving as an advisor to Trump.

The Trump Organization will forego all new overseas deals to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Existing obligations (like servicing debt on loans) to foreign entities will be dealt with in the ordinary course of business, with no special considerations taken into account. For domestic operations, all new deals will be scrutinized by an ethics advisor within the Trump Organization and won’t progress without the advisor’s approval.

There’s also the issue of the Constitution’s emoluments clause — which forbids government officials from accepting gifts or pay from foreign governments without Congress’s consent — and whether or not foreign officials staying at a Trump hotel would violate it. While Trump and his lawyers contend that allowing foreign governments to pay for hotel rooms or other services at fair market value wouldn’t violate that clause, they plan to donate all profits on payments from foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury.

Argument For

This represents a good faith effort by Trump to separate himself and his duties as president from those of his business, as using a blind trust would be unworkable for a functioning business to exist within and his children will be able to run the organization without his input.

Those urging Trump to liquidate his assets are essentially asking him to sell his business at a steep discount, because few buyers are ready and able to shell out cash for such a large, expansive organization and the price would necessarily have to be slashed. Not only would that be unfair and unprecedented, it could discourage future individuals who’ve created successful businesses from running for president when we as a country need the best and brightest to want to serve in that role.

The emoluments clause exists, but a violation of it has never been litigated by the nation’s court system and as a result it’s not even clear that the "Office" it refers to could be interpreted as meaning the presidency. Getting a fair market value for hotel rooms or other services can’t be seen as unjust enrichment, and donating all profits to the U.S. Treasury to fund important operations like servicing the national debt is a good way of remedying any perceived impropriety.

Argument Against

President-elect Trump needs to fully divest himself from his businesses in order to avoid allegations of corruption that will undermine public confidence in his administration. Full divestiture would entail a complete liquidation of the Trump Organization’s assets, the proceeds of which could then be placed into a blind trust, which nearly all recent presidents have used (although President Obama did not).

Even with the safeguards the president-elect and his staff has proposed, there will be ample opportunity for corrupt influences, both foreign and domestic, to interact with Trump Organization’s more than 500 subsidiaries and other entities in to curry favor with the president. Not only that, but it will be nearly impossible to know whether existing deals or ventures within the organization that happened in the past came about in a corrupt manner. It also would be much better for an independent, outside ethics advisor to review the organization’s new domestic deals.

It will be unknowable whether President Trump abides by his own rule related to discussions with his sons about the operations of the Trump Organization, and that alone is cause for concern. And while a violation of the emoluments clause may have never been tried in court, passing the profits from hotel rooms used by foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury may not be enough to totally avoid a conflict of interest and deter corrupt influences from using that as a way to curry favor with Trump

Tell Congress what you think

Your lawmakers on Capitol Hill have the power to write ethics laws that constrain elected officials, including the president, and you can relay your thoughts to them using the "Take Action" button below.

— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore / Creative Commons)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(755)
  • Ted
    01/15/2017
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    Trump must release his tax returns and create a proper blind trust for his businesses.

    Like (56)
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  • Jacqueline
    01/14/2017
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    Stop this PEOTUS from conflict of interest.

    Like (47)
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  • KrisRomani
    01/14/2017
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    What's a plan when the COIs are not known? Release those tax returns!

    Like (42)
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  • Ksandrini
    01/16/2017
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    Trumps current plan to divest is a non-plan. A full blind trust is imperative here! Also need his TAX RETURNS!

    Like (39)
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  • Matt
    01/14/2017
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    Unacceptable. His sons are expected to not talk to their father about the business? Place his business in a blind trust

    Like (38)
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  • Mellissa
    01/15/2017
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    Trump must release his tax returns and create a proper blind trust for his businesses.

    Like (37)
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  • Cheryl
    01/14/2017
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    The president elect has yet to satisfy the most basic expectations that those of us who have run for office were required to do: full financial disclosure including tax returns and divestment of investments that would create a vast conflict of interest.

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  • Karla
    01/13/2017
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    President-elect Trump needs to fully divest himself from his businesses, period. The public's confidence in him is already shaky to the extent it exists at all. A complete liquidation of the Trump Organization’s assets is necessary. The proceeds should be placed into a blind trust, not handed over to his children. Even with the so-called safeguards the president-elect and his staff has proposed, there will be ample opportunity for corrupt influences, both foreign and domestic, to interact with Trump Organization’s more than 500 subsidiaries and other entities in to curry favor with the president. It will be nearly impossible to know whether existing deals or ventures within the organization that happened in the past came about in a corrupt manner. It also would be much better for an independent, outside ethics advisor to review the organization’s new domestic deals, and the Trump team and GOP must refrain from pressuring and threatening the ethics advisor. It will be unknowable whether President Trump abides by his own rule related to discussions with his sons about the operations of the Trump Organization, and that alone is cause for concern. And while a violation of the emoluments clause may have never been tried in court, passing the profits from hotel rooms used by foreign governments to the U.S. Treasury may not be enough to totally avoid a conflict of interest and deter corrupt influences from using that as a way to curry favor with Trump and his people. His daughter and son in law will be part of the White House team. The proposal is wholly inappropriate on its face.

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  • Michael
    01/13/2017
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    Donald Trump is flouting decades of tradition and is set to be manipulated by other country's where his business has investments. We the people demand he not only release his tax returns but that he also divests his business before assuming office.

    Like (29)
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  • Erin
    01/14/2017
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    The fact that Trump won't fully divest is an indicator that he's not 100% dedicated to the presidency. This should be a very concerning for everyone. He's putting himself and his money before this country and it will only get worse as time goes on. Take action now!

    Like (27)
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  • Bruce
    01/14/2017
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    I think Trump is playing us all. Please reject his plan.

    Like (26)
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  • Emily
    01/13/2017
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    Re: Trump's plan to avoid conflict of interest- Trumps "plan" does not solve anything. Please do something to keep him from filling his pockets with my tax dollars. He is "smart" so he doesn't pay taxes. He shouldn't benefit from those of us that pay them.

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  • Kayce
    01/13/2017
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    Trump needs to fully divest himself of his businesses. If he wasn't prepared to do that, he shouldn't have run for the office of the presidency. It's basic, common sense.

    Like (23)
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  • Michael
    01/14/2017
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    he is hiding so much he must RELEASE HIS TAXES

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  • Angela
    01/14/2017
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    This plan is entirely unacceptable. Ethics advisors (and common sense) say that this is not sufficient in order to eliminate conflict of interest. Please DEMAND a true solution (a blind trust) prior to the inauguration.

    Like (22)
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  • dremagail
    01/16/2017
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    What is he hiding? I want total transparency!

    Like (21)
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  • Branden
    01/14/2017
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    This is unacceptable. Does this make him impeachable right out of the gate? How can congress act on this?

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  • Amy
    01/13/2017
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    Trumps "plan" does not solve anything. Please do something to keep him from filling his pockets with my tax dollars. He is "smart" so he doesn't pay taxes. He shouldn't benefit from those of us that pay them.

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  • Anna
    01/14/2017
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    How is handing everything over to his children even remotely close to "divesting"? They're his *children*.

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  • Chris
    01/14/2017
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    How can Trump expect American troops to make the ultimate sacrifice when he himself isn't capable of making the necessary sacrifices to lead this country? Both candidates knew what the requirements would be if they won, but unlike Clinton and every president for the past century Trump isn't willing to meet the requirements. He can't expect all the powers of the presidency without having to ensure that he's going to act for the good of the American people. Nobody forced Trump to run for president, but he did it with full knowledge of the consequences. Ensure that Trump acts in the best interest of me, of our troops, of every American.

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