Tom Fitton, writing in the New York Times, discusses the conflict of interest issues that will confront Donald Trump, who conducts business on a massive and global scale, and how Trump can minimize them. Fitton is well worth reading on this subject. As president of Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog organization, he has led the charge in uncovering and calling out some of Hillary Clinton’s unethical behavior.
Fitton notes that “Trump could face some very serious conflict of interest problems of his own.” Indeed, the president-elect has acknowledged the potential problem. He has stated his intention to leave behind his “great business in total to fully focus on running the country.” And he has promised, without elaborating, that “no new deals will be done” by his business while he is president.
Fitton takes a balanced view of how Trump should proceed:
Americans should expect that the new president will take reasonable steps to separate his public office from his personal business.
But it would be unfair to insist that Mr. Trump destroy his business to become president. This would create a dangerous precedent that would, in effect, deter those who had succeeded in their private lives from bringing their substantial skills to the public arena.
Given the potential for conflicts, it makes sense for the American people to demand assurances that the public interest won’t be harmed by the continued operation of Trump Inc. So, what to do?
First, let’s not pretend that the Trump children will not be conflicted in running the company for their father. That is why Mr. Trump should formalize his complete separation from his company and stop working on any aspect of his business. He should draw no pay. And, difficult as it may be, he should vow not to discuss any aspect of the Trump business empire with his children — or any other Trump executive.
This would, indeed, be very difficult for Trump. But there’s more:
Mr. Trump and those at the company’s helm should commit to full transparency by making public any contracts with any federal agency, foreign government or foreign corporation. Our nation’s enemies, and some of our friends, will seek to either curry favor with or damage America through the Trump businesses.
By providing full transparency, Mr. Trump and his family can show that they take seriously that, as Mr. Trump has tweeted, it is “visually important, as president, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses.
It would be in the company’s best interest to set up an internal watchdog to help develop procedures that could help avoid conflicts.
Judicial Watch has identified some of Trump’s key foreign business entanglements.
In China, a frequent Trump target on the campaign trail, the government-controlled Bank of China is part of a group that lent a Trump-affiliated office building in Manhattan $950 million.
In India, Trump business partners are building luxury apartment complexes. Three Indian developers flew to New York recently and met with the president-elect.
And in Germany, troubled Deutsche Bank has been involved in $3.5 billion in loans to Trump entities since 1998.
Given these connections, Fitton suggests that “it would be a good practice for the Trump progeny to avoid any new foreign entanglements.” He also suggests that Trump consider a partial disinvestment from his company by either selling outright or rejecting the proceeds of any stakes with foreign government partners. And, of course, he should refuse any third party contributions to his personal foundation.
The real key, though, is transparency on any government dealings with the Trump empire.
Fitton promises that Judicial Watch will be watching Trump. So will its left-wing imitators. Let’s hope that Trump doesn’t trip himself up.