Sunday, November 13, 2016

Trump's conflicts of interest take White House into uncharted territory

Sam Thielman
Nov. 12, 2016

When President-elect Donald Trump enters the White House next year he will bring with him potential conflicts of interest across all areas of government that are unprecedented in American history.

Trump, who manages a sprawling, international network of businesses, has thus far refused to put his businesses into a blind trust the way his predecessors in the nation’s highest office have traditionally done. Instead he has said his businesses will be run by his own adult children.


Donald Jr, Eric and Ivanka Trump are all on the president-elect’s transition team executive committee, per ABC’s Candace Smith, as is Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

But according to regulators who have overseen potential conflicts of interests under two former presidents, Trump’s arrangements were unprecedented and present a host of issues.

This is in no way a blind trust, said Karl Sandstrom, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), the regulatory body that oversees campaign finance, under Bill Clinton and George W Bush. “A blind trust is not anywhere near the same. You don’t still have access to the decision being made. That’s why you put assets in and don’t just have someone else manage the company,” he said. Trump’s assets will instead apparently remain united under his company, and operated under his name even if he is not directly in charge.


While conflicts of interest may cause scandals for the president, they are unlikely to add to his long list of legal woes. In 1982 the supreme court gave Richard Nixon “absolute immunity” to prosecution for most kinds of crimes committed while in office, setting a precedent for administrations to come. “The president’s absolute immunity is a functionally mandated incident of his unique office, rooted in the constitutional tradition of the separation of powers and supported by the Nation’s history,” wrote Justice Lewis Franklin Powell in the majority opinion, adding that “diversion of his energies by concern with private lawsuits would raise unique risks to the effective functioning of government”.

As checks on that immunity, Powell wrote, “There remains the constitutional remedy of impeachment, as well as the deterrent effects of constant scrutiny by the press and vigilant oversight by Congress. Other incentives to avoid misconduct may include a desire to earn re-election, the need to maintain prestige as an element of Presidential influence, and a President’s traditional concern for his historical stature.”


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