The Slatest

Head of Government Ethics Group Calls Trump’s Plan to Resolve Conflicts of Interest “Meaningless”

President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a news cenference at Trump Tower on Wednesday in New York City.

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Donald Trump’s so-called plan to resolve the tangled web of conflicts of interest that are on course to cling to his presidency from Day 1 isn’t really much of a plan at all. In his press conference Wednesday, Trump and his lawyer, Sheri Dillon, dropped many ethical sounding phrases, like: “blind trust” and “isolating himself” and “donate all profits from foreign government payments.” On Wednesday, the director of the Office of Government Ethics, who has publicly scolded the Trump team’s weak sauce on ethics, had another word for the president-elect’s well choreographed plan: “meaningless.”

“We can’t risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for profit,” Walter Shaub, head of the nonpartisan ethics body, said at the Brookings Institution on Wednesday. “That’s why I was glad in November when the president-elect tweeted that he wanted to, as he put it, ‘in no way have a conflict of interest’ with his businesses. Unfortunately, his current plan cannot achieve that goal.”

Here’s more from Taub on Trump’s conflict of interest concerns:

[T]he plan the President-elect has announced doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every President in the past four decades has met… It’s easy to see that the current plan does not achieve anything like the clean break Rex Tillerson is making from Exxon. Stepping back from running his business is meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective. The Presidency is a full-time job and he would’ve had to step back anyway. The idea of setting up a trust to hold his operating businesses adds nothing to the equation. This is not a blind trust—it’s not even close… His sons are still running the businesses, and, of course, he knows what he owns. His own attorney said today that he can’t “un- know” that he owns Trump tower. The same is true of his other holdings. The idea of limiting direct communication about the business is wholly inadequate. That’s not how a blind trust works. There’s not supposed to be any information at all. …

So, to be clear, OGE’s primary recommendation is that he divest his conflicting financial interests. Nothing short of divestiture will resolve these conflicts… I appreciate that divestiture can be costly. But the President-elect would not be alone in making that sacrifice. I’ve been involved in just about every Presidential nomination in the past 10 years. I also have been involved in the ethics review of Presidents, Vice Presidents, and most top White House officials. I’ve seen the  sacrifices that these individuals have had to make. It’s important to understand that the President is now entering the world of public service. He’s going to be asking his own appointees to make sacrifices. He’s going to be asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives in conflicts around the world. So, no, I don’t think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be the President of the United States of America.