Over the weekend, Vice President–elect Mike Pence addressed the swirl of questions that have arisen around President-elect Donald Trump’s scores of potential conflicts of interest between his business entities and his role as head of the executive branch.
“I'm very confident working with the best legal minds in the country that the president-elect and his family will create the proper separation from his business as he goes forward,” Pence told Fox News on Sunday.
“I’m very confident, he’s very confident, we’ll be able to create the proper separation,” he reiterated.
This is basically the party line of top Trump surrogates and officials. In an interview shortly after the election, Jake Tapper confronted possible secretary of state nominee Rudy Giuliani with the fact that any questions about conflicts of interest surrounding the Clinton Foundation are going to look like peanuts compared with President-elect Trump’s issues, unless he divests his vast business holdings rather than handing them off to his kids, as currently planned.
Giuliani appeared indignant to the point of bemusement. “Jake, Jake, Jake, I think that's a very unfair suggestion,” the former New York mayor replied.
“This man didn't run for president because he wants to get rich,” he continued. “He's rich already. So, I don't think you're going to have that happen unless you try to make it happen.”
The message across the board is clear: You can trust Donald Trump and his hand-selected appointees to do the right thing without any legal or even basic ethical strictures whatsoever in place. Don’t worry. Nothing untoward could possibly happen. There will be a wall of separation. It’s going to be a great, big, beautiful, yuuge wall of separation. So, it won’t be an issue unless you in the media make it an issue. That’s on you, not us. Trust us.
Not even three weeks after the election, that trust appears to have already been broken a number of times, with the Washington Post on Monday additionally reporting on the countless potential future ethical violations.
Last week, Trump met with Indian business partners, showing that the separation between governing Trump and businessman Trump is so far nonexistent. The Washington Post reported that foreign diplomats are attempting to curry favor with the new president by staying at his new hotel in Washington, D.C. The lease for that hotel, which Trump’s children are likely to have to renegotiate over the years with Trump’s administration, also explicitly forbids any “elected official of the Government of the United States” from participating in the lease or receiving benefit from it. Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who has been a key adviser during his transition but also is set to be one of the children running Trump’s business while he’s president, joined Trump when he met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. There were numerous reports, which the Trump camp later denied, that the incoming administration was seeking to get security clearance for Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner. All of this should be hugely troubling to anyone concerned that there will be no oversight over Trump, that maybe he’s the type of man that could turn the presidency into a personal piggy bank for himself and his allies, and that maybe this might be a bad thing.
The Post reported that independent ethics analysts think this would be a bad thing, and a potentially unconstitutional thing.
“There are so many diplomatic, political, even national security risks in having the president own a whole bunch of properties all over the world,” Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, told the paper.
“If we’ve got to talk to a foreign government about their behavior, or negotiate a treaty, or some country asks us to send our troops in to defend someone else, we’ve got to make a decision. And the question becomes: Are we going in out of our national interest or because there’s a Trump casino around?” Painter added.
More from the Post:
A group of ethics advisers, including former chief White House ethics lawyers during Democratic and Republican administrations, wrote Trump a letter Thursday urging him to sequester his business in a genuine blind trust or commit to a “clear firewall” between his Oval Office and his family.
“You were elected to the presidency with a promise to eliminate improper business influence in Washington,” they wrote. “There is no way to square your campaign commitments to the American people—and your even higher, ethical duties as their president—with the rampant, inescapable conflicts that will engulf your presidency if you maintain connections with the Trump Organization.”
If Trump were to accept any sort of financial benefit from a foreign government or official during the course of his presidency, that could also violate the Constitution.
Section 9 of Article I of the Constitution says “no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” If Trump were to violate the so-called Emolument Clause of the Constitution by accepting benefits from foreign officials or governments via his many business holdings—such as, say, a foreign dignitary paying to stay at his hotel in order to curry favor with the president—then that would seem to violate the Constitution. “A payment from a foreign official or state-owned company to a Trump hotel or other branded company could potentially violate that clause, constitutional experts said,” the Post confirmed.
The Post’s analysis of Trump’s limited financial filings also found that “[at] least 111 Trump companies have done business in 18 countries and territories across South America, Asia and the Middle East.” Those are only the things we know about and that we know Trump already knows about. Wherever his children expand that business empire over the next four years are going to be areas where Trump’s foreign policy decisions could have direct results on his business holdings. The incoming administration is asking you to trust Trump’s children not to be speak with their father or his administration about the company’s business interests, to trust loyal members of the administration who already don’t see a problem with this arrangement to be the ones to report any possible shenanigans, and to trust Donald Trump himself to do the right thing.
In just three weeks, we’ve already seen that any such trust would be misplaced. The only way at this point to ensure that the worst doesn't happen is for him to divest.