President-Elect Donald Trump's vast international business holdings have raised much concern over his potential conflict of interests during his term as president. In response, Trump stated that his business will be placed in the hands of a blind trust that will be managed by his children.
But the announcement, and the subsequent inclusion of his children throughout the transition process, has continued to raise concern.
"The fact that [Trump’s children] have been included as part of the transition team just shows how inappropriate their role in bridging the gap between him as a businessman and politician is," said Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center, reports The Washington Post. "It’s a clear demonstration that there is no firewall between the two."
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, a close advisor of the president-elect, were present at a Nov. 17 diplomatic meeting with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.
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“What’s his daughter doing there?" Jordan Liebowitz of the Citizens for Responsible Ethics told the Daily Mail. "What is she there to represent? Because if she’s running the business, why is he having someone representing his business interest at a meeting with the foreign leader?"
“It was not a formal meeting of any kind,” countered Breanna Butler, a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization, notes The New York Times.
Similar possible conflicts of interest have already arisen between Trump and business holdings in India, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and Argentina.
According to The New York Times, the Emolument Clause of the U.S. Constitution forbids the president from reaping benefits from foreign leaders. The clause states that “no person holding any office of profit or trust” shall “accept of any present, emolument, office or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state."
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Norman Eisen, a chief White House ethics lawyer under the Obama Administration, chimed in:
The founders very clearly intended that officers of the United States, including the president, not accept presents from foreign sovereigns.
Whenever Mr. Trump receives anything from a foreign sovereign, to the extent that it’s not an arm’s-length transaction, every dollar in excess that they pay over the fair market price will be a dollar paid in violation of the Emoluments Clause and will be a present to Mr. Trump.
“Corporations owned or controlled by a foreign government are presumptively foreign states under the Emoluments Clause,” added David J. Barron, a former Justice Department official under President Obama, now presiding as a federal appeals court judge.
Now, watchdog and ethics groups have signed a letter calling the Trump family to liquidate their holdings into a “true” blind trust, reports the Daily Mail:
We are writing to urge you to place all of your business assets and investments into a genuine blind trust or the equivalent. This means that control of these assets would be transferred to an independent trustee who would sell the assets and place the proceeds in investments which do not create conflicts of interest and which are not disclosed to you.
Alternatively, you could convert the Trump Organization businesses to cash and buy treasury bills and widely diversified mutual funds. These holdings are deemed conflict free under federal law. If family members choose to stay involved with Trump Organization businesses, or any other business, then, within the constraints of you selling all your ownership interests, a clear firewall must be established so that these family members have no involvement with policy decisions at the White House.
But the Trump Organization maintains that he and his family are actively working to separate Trump’s ties from his business dealings.
According to The New York Times, Butler stated: “Mr. Trump is not going to have dealings in the day-to-day business of that organization.”
Furthermore, a Nov. 21 tweet from Trump addressed his potential conflicts of interest: "Prior to the election it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world. Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!"