Trump, the Ultimate Apprentice

Trump, the Ultimate Apprentice

President-elect Donald Trump's deal to serve as executive producer of "The Celebrity Apprentice" raises legal, ethical and constitutional questions.

New President's Side Gig Could Be a Big Problem

Donald Trump, at age 70 an apprentice for the world’s toughest job, apparently will be moonlighting at an old position as he learns the ropes on his new one next year.

Word leaked this week that while managing the federal bureaucracy, trying to push his agenda through Congress, and leading the free world, Trump will serve as executive producer of “The Celebrity Apprentice,” an offshoot of the “reality” TV show Trump starred in for a decade before launching his presidential campaign.

Variety reports that the side gig will pay Trump a five-figure salary for each of the NBC show’s eight scheduled 2017 episodes. The billionaire businessman already has said he won’t accept the $400,000 per year that comes with the presidency, so maybe he figures he’ll need the money.

Like so much of Trump’s campaign and his presidential transition, this arrangement is unprecedented. In fact, it’s downright weird. It raises ethical, legal and constitutional questions for the new President and his business partners. Among them:

  • Assuming Trump takes a salary for his Celebrity Apprentice work, will he be in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits federal officials from accepting – without Congress’ consent – anything of value from a foreign state? MGM, owner of the TV show, is itself owned in part by Japan-based Sony Corp. Constitutional experts already are saying that unless Trump divests himself of his international business holdings, he may be in violation of the clause.
  • How can Trump square his involvement in “Celebrity Apprentice” with his promise to cut ties “in total” with his businesses? If the show bombs with new star Arnold Schwarzenegger, will Trump’s power and prestige prevent NBC from canceling it? The network’s already uneasy relationship with Trump could get worse in a hurry under a Trump-appointed attorney general and FCC commissioners empowered to explore antitrust and consumer protection issues involving NBC and its corporate parent, Comcast.
  • How will NBC’s business arrangement with MGM and through it with Trump impact the network’s news coverage of the Trump administration? Will NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC journalists be pushed to provide friendly coverage of the White House and soft-pedal or cancel investigative pieces? Will they be upfront with viewers about the network’s White House connections.

We may get some indication of Trump’s answers to all this next week, when he is to provide details of his business plans. Whatever he says then, my bet is that he’ll have nothing to say about how this second job demeans him and the presidency he worked so hard to win. Even if he doesn’t accept a penny from MGM or NBC, what does it say about our new President that he plans to spend his “spare” time on behalf of an enterprise built on its ability to deceive the public? The reality of reality TV is that it’s unreal; it entertains viewers by inviting us into a fantasy world, staged for our entertainment. The presidency and its challenges however, are all too real. And Donald Trump, like every apprentice, has a lot to learn.