Huge Ethics/Corruption Concerns For Trump Administration
Donald Trump has still not released his tax returns, and seems set not to put his financial holdings in a real blind trust. This means that nearly every decision he makes after taking office will be questioned as to whether it was done to enrich himself and his family.
This sets his administration up to charges of being the least ethical and most corrupt presidential administration in our nation's history.
Consider this excerpt from an article written by Noah Bookbinder (executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) for the New York Daily News.
Trump's potential conflicts of interest are unprecedented and breathtaking in scope. Starting at the most basic level, his new hotel in Washington, D.C. is located on a property leased from the federal government. Trump himself will be both landlord and tenant and will have a clear conflict in any dispute that arises concerning the hotel.
At least one Trump business is also the subject of a dispute before the National Labor Relations Board, and as President, Trump will be able to appoint members to that board, members who are likely to feel beholden to him.
Beyond those examples, Trump's hotels, golf courses, and other properties will be affected by regulatory and legal decisions of federal agencies, whether on labor relations, discrimination, environmental issues or other matters. His continued ownership of those properties will call into question the validity of countless decisions made within the federal government.
Trump's businesses, and Trump as owner of them, will also be dramatically affected by changes in tax policy — which he and Congressional leaders have identified as one of the first issues they will tackle. Will he champion changes that benefit all Americans, or him and his businesses? As long as he owns his businesses, we won't know.
The international implications are more daunting still. The Trump Organization has hotels and properties around the world. The value of these businesses will be affected by trade deals, strategic alliances and Trump's own brand image around the world. Will those business implications motivate him as he makes decisions in world affairs?
Trump's businesses have massive loans from foreign-owned banks, one of which, Deutsche Bank, is in the process of negotiating a multi-billion-dollar settlement with the Justice Department over residential mortgage-backed securities it issued in the run-up to the last decade's financial crisis. And if Donald Trump or his businesses are making income from foreign government-owned companies, that might well run afoul of a little-known part of the Constitution called the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits officials receiving gifts or payments from foreign governments.
That raises two key points. The first is that we don't know the scope and details of Trump's interests because he has refused to meet even a minimum standard of transparency with the public. Most notably, he has refused at every juncture to turn over his tax returns, which would tell us a great deal more about his business interests so that we could judge where conflicts might lie and even whether Trump's continued ownership of his companies would violate of the Constitution, which could cause a true crisis.
Disclosure of his tax returns is more important now even than it was during the campaign because now it affects whether the American people can have confidence that their President is acting in their interest, not his own.
Second, Trump's proposed solution to his conflict of interests misses the mark entirely. He says he will turn over control of the businesses to three of his adult children in a "blind trust." That is in many ways the opposite of a true blind trust: He will continue to know exactly what his business interests are; they have his name all over them! He will continue to know what types of policy changes and deals will benefit those interests.
And he will be in close, regular contact with the people running the businesses. Trump's children served as key campaign advisers and appear to be deeply involved in the transition. It defies logic to think he would have no communication with them about either the businesses or his duties as President or both; and if Kushner, whose wife, Ivanka, would be one of the people running the businesses, were given a position within the administration, any illusion of separation between Trump's presidency and his businesses would be gone.
Trump ran on a promise of "draining the swamp" in Washington. So far his track record is not great. His transition team was initially filled with lobbyists, though they were then removed, perhaps due to bad publicity.
He is calling on administration hires to swear off lobbying for five years after leaving the government, but loopholes in the policy would allow lobbyists to join the administration just days after quitting their lobbying practice and to go to work in other kinds of corporate influence positions right after they leave the government.
Meanwhile, for all his talk about fighting the evils of big-money campaign donors, the anti-reform crowd is already boasting that campaign finance rules will be rolled back even further under Trump.
If President-elect Trump wants to start to gain some credibility on ethics and corruption grounds, he must first bypass hiring Kushner, and he must then immediately disclose his tax returns, sell his businesses, and put the proceeds in a real blind trust run by someone far outside of his family. If he does not take these basic steps, it will be well past time for the American people to demand action and for Congress to respond by legally requiring Presidents to disclose their tax returns and to follow the same conflict of interest laws that apply to the rest of the government.