As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take over the White House next year, his ties to the corporate world will continue to be examined. Last week, Trump offered to leave his business to avoid any conflict of interest between his role as president and as a business owner. On Dec. 15, he will announce more details about how he will remove himself from his business, the Trump Organization.
One option that has been discussed is that he could transfer control of his business to his children. However, since they are closely related to him, this may not truly remove the conflict of interest. Trump has an interest in his children’s success, and he could still make decisions based on what will help his family business. Trump’s children also have their own bias: They are working on the White House transition, helping to make decisions for staffing his administration, and could continue to work closely with the administration once Trump is in office.
The best way to dissolve any conflict of interest would be for Trump to completely divest, or sell off, his business assets. The U.S. Office of Government Ethics has strongly encouraged Trump to divest. Though most U.S. government officials are required to take certain steps to prevent self-benefiting decisions in office, the president is not bound by the same legal code. His only obstacle is the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, stating U.S. Government employees cannot accept any benefits from foreign countries. Senate Democrats have already warned that Trump could be violating the constitution if his business does any dealings with foreign countries while in office, and they would likely not hesitate to impeach him over such a violation.
There is also a precedent dating back to President Ronald Reagan of presidents’ selling or putting investments into blind trusts when they take office so they are not directly influencing business decisions or benefiting from their presidential actions. Trump’s failure to release his tax returns shows he is not concerned about following precedents, even when it becomes an obstruction to transparency.
Even if there is no legal requirement to reduce conflicts of interest, Trump has a moral and constitutional responsibility to ensure he is putting his country first and not himself or his investments. If he or his children have the potential to benefit from certain policies, we have no way of knowing if he is signing or supporting legislation for the benefit of the American public or just for himself.