Comments on President-Elect Donald Trump’s Conflicts of Interest

Posted on November 15, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump’s extensive and far-flung business interests make him unique in the history of the American presidency. Common Cause, a watchdog on behalf of open, honest and accountable government since our founding 46 years ago, is committed to keeping a close eye on how Mr. Trump and his administration answer the ethical questions raised by his awesome new responsibilities. Here’s a sampling of our commentary so far:

“He has campaigned on a platform of getting rid of corruption and that Washington is broken and we need new, refreshing change. As President, the American public expects that Mr. Trump will be held to a higher standard.” – Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn in The New York Times (Donald Trump’s Far-Flung Holdings Raise Potential for Conflicts of Interest; 11/14/16)

"Having your children run your business is not a blind trust no matter what his attorneys choose to call it. And having those same children involved in the transition only compounds the conflict." – Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn in The Washington Post (Donald Trump’s questionable ‘blind trust’ setup just got more questionable; 11/11/2016)

"I think it will dog every week of his presidency if he doesn't do anything about it." Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn in Voice of America (Critics: Trump's Vast Assets Pose Corrosive Conflicts of Interest; 11/21/2016)

“If he doesn’t address this problem, every single decision he makes will be questioned as a conflict of interest. President-elect Trump campaigned against corruption, and America deserves his making good on that promise and cleaning up government.” – Common Cause Vice President for Policy & Litigation Paul S. Ryan in Politico (Watchdogs question Trump’s plans to keep his empire in the family; 11/11/2016)

“Turning your businesses over to your children is what leaders of Banana Republics do. Americans expect and deserve better from the Trump Administration.” - Common Cause Vice President for Policy & Litigation Paul S. Ryan in The New Yorker (Trump's Business Interests Represent An Impossible Conflict of Interest; 11/22/2016)

Discussing Trump's lease of the Old Post Office Pavilion in Washington, DC with the General Services Adminsitration, Common Cause Vice President for Policy & Litigation Paul S. Ryan told The Los Angeles Times "in this particular instance, president-elect Trump is both landlord and tenant.” (How Trump could use the presidency to help his business interests; 11/22/2016)

Common Cause Vice President for Policy & Litigation Paul S. Ryan also discussed President-Elect Trump’s conflict of interest issues on CNN on 11/14 with CNN anchor Carol Costello:

COSTELLO: First of all, just tell people why it's so important that presidents separate their political life and their business life.

RYAN: Well, the problem is that government should not be financially benefiting the individual who is running government. So when you have personal financial interests and you are a public office holder, traditionally the requirement is that you put those financial interests, those holdings, in a blind trust so that the public can be confident that you are not doing anything to line your own pockets while you're in office.

COSTELLO: OK. So how exactly will voters know what Donald Trump's business ties are when he hasn't released his tax returns?

RYAN: Well, we have seen a financial disclosure form actually twice filed by Donald Trump, President-elect Trump, while campaigning, so we know for example that he has -- he owns in whole or in part more than 500 businesses, he has more than $1.5 billion in assets. We know a fair bit about his finances. I'd love to see his tax returns, but we know some of the conflicts that will arise even without seeing those tax returns.

COSTELLO: What worries you most?

RYAN: The difficulty, the complexity for a President-elect Trump to actually separate himself from his personal finances and the initial signs which are that he doesn't intend to do so. He has -- he and his team's lawyer had referred to creating a blind trust but then went on to say that his children will be running it. Well, that's not a blind trust. There are two parts of a blind trust. One is that the beneficiary, in this case president-elect Trump, cannot know what the money is invested in and number two, the blind trust And that's not the case with his children. So we are 0 for 2 on the two key components of blind trust even though his team is already saying that's what he plans to do.

COSTELLO: Well, isn't it possible that his children will be able to sign some sort of agreement, agreeing never to tell their father about the business anyway?

RYAN: Well, there are some things that President-elect Trump cannot know. For example, right down the street from me right now in Washington, D.C. is the Trump International Hotel in the old post office pavilion. As a president, President Trump will be both the landlord and a tenant in that building. He will be both the taxpayer and the tax collector that development is slated to collect big-time federal tax credits. The lease on that property may be up for renegotiation.President-elect Trump is going to be appointing the people in federal government who will be responsible for those renegotiations, those collection of taxes and he is simultaneously going to be on the other end serving to benefit financially and personally and his children doing so from how those business deals go.

COSTELLO: You know, a lot of people complained during the run-up to Trump's eventual presidency that he was sort of advertising his businesses while at the same time running for president, then he was elected president. So do people really care?

RYAN: I think people are going to be -- are going to care. President-elect Trump as candidate Trump, he campaigned on the promise of draining the swamp of D.C. politics, cleaning up corruption. We need to see him follow through on those promises. The people who voted for President-elect Trump want to see him follow through on those promises. So we're going to be holding him to task for that.

COSTELLO: So I was just going to ask you that. Ultimately, who is responsible for holding his feet to the fire?

RYAN: All of us. I think it's the responsibility of all Americans. I am proud to be vice president of Common Cause. We are a membership organization with hundreds of thousands of supporters and we need all Americans mobilizing, whether or not you voted for Donald Trump, you need to make sure that he's running a clean government during his first four years in office.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Ethics

Tags: Executive Ethics

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