Conflicts of Interest are tricky things to avoid, when you try to avoid them. But instead of trying to avoid his obvious conflicts, Donald Trump has instead turned his into yet another profit making venture. Once again proving his total lack of respect for the country he claims he will make great … again, Mr. Trump has thumbed his nose at years of tradition and ethical conduct and established his own path toward the top of the Billionaire’s List.
We Should Have Known
In a CNN story from December 16th, 2016 the CNN Money team detailed how he would avoid any financial conflicts that could cast doubt on his actions as President of the United States. Their article was based on Mr. Trump’s promise to hold a Press Conference to detail his method of insulating himself from any apparent conflicts. That promise came from a mini-Tweet Storm from Mr. Trump on November 30th of last year.
But Mr. Trump broke that promise, the event never took place. When pressed on the reason, the Trump team stated that it was a very complex subject and would require detailed investigation. Fair enough. Except that in today’s Presser, Mr. Trump laid out a plan that is exactly the same as that detailed in the CNN Money story from December 16th.
The Plan to Avoid Conflicts of Interest
Mr. Trump’s plan is very simple and easily implemented. Today he showcased stacks of legal documents that remove him from direct management of his many companies and turn them over to his sons Eric and Donald Jr.. However this action does not actually remove the glaring conflicts of interest that could taint his term in office, many of which are detailed in an article from the NY Times.
Furthermore this plan is the same one initially detailed by Mr. Trump. What were they doing during the weeks between the postponed news conference and today? Obviously not much.
A Father’s Duty
I have been a father of three kids for many decades. One of my strongest impulses over those years has been to provide a decent life for them. I fully understand how a man like Donald Trump would feel the same urge. In fact that urge is strong enough to push me to make plans for their survival that last long past my own lifetime. I expect Mr. Trump to do the same.
Now that his businesses are in his son’s hands, will Mr. Trump’s desire to ensure their survival cease? Doubtful. The simple fact that they will not tell him how the business is doing is really of no import. He has run those companies for years. He knows better than anyone else on this planet how they work and what will benefit them. Thus what will benefit his children. It will be his duty as their father to do everything he can to ensure continued profitability of those companies.
“But It’s Not Illegal”
Many of the more prominent Trump spokespeople are now pushing the assertion that the laws governing Conflict of Interest (18 U.S. Code § 208 – Acts affecting a personal financial interest) do not apply to the Office of President. This is factually correct. Under existing federal law the President is not governed by this statute. On CNN’s Out Front with Erin Burnett, former Senator Rick Santorum demanded to know what standard must be met to satisfy Trump’s detractors. When pressed by Ms. Burnett, he asserted rather forcefully that everything in Mr. Trump’s plan is legal. However it would be more accurate to say that it is not illegal.
But Is It Moral or Ethical?
This is for me the real crux of the issue. There are many instances in our country’s history where Presidents have taken actions that are legal but morally suspect. Those actions fall into two broad categories: Acts that benefit the country and acts that benefit the President.
During his eight years in office, President Barack Obama took several steps that were fully legal but walked the edge of morally suspect. Many of President Obama’s detractors point to his use of armed drone attacks as one of the more glaring examples. I will admit I too question our rampant use of such devices and methods. However that internal conflict is somewhat lessened by the reality of his motives: To keep America safe.
Mr. Trump and his spokespeople want to claim that same legal high-ground. When asked why it is acceptable for Mr. Trump to rest on such legal gray areas, they quickly deflect by citing acts of past Presidents then shore it up by repeating the mantra “It is not illegal.” But it is immoral in my opinion and the fact that the beneficiary of this legal but immoral act is Mr. Trump and his children and not the United States of America makes it all the more appalling.
The One Remaining Gotcha
There is one final detail in Mr. Trump’s plan that seems more “Bait and Switch” than legal solution. The new Trump Hotel in Washington D.C. will be a very possible source of legal trouble for Mr. Trump. According to the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution:
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.
Boiled down to its impact on Mr. Trump, any monies paid by foreign agents or persons that reaches Mr. Trump will violate this clause. The declared method of avoiding the quagmire that could arise is to donate any such monies to the Federal Reserve. This method is discussed in an article on Fortune’s web site. As detailed by the article’s author Jeff John Roberts the Emoluments Clause is really more of an inconvenience and not a source of legal concern. So once again we have a case where Mr. Trump is taking actions that are superficially legal but morally questionable.
Morality and Legality
I am personally offended and disgusted by a powerful person that so blatantly justifies his actions as “not illegal” while ignoring their lack of moral certainty. Our Country has always been Great because we have always taken the Moral High Ground. It is the one reason the world looks at the United States of America as the world leader. But Mr. Trump’s approach is to dispense with that moral standing. In my opinion, his lack of character and his propensity to ignore truth will be what makes America a laughing stock and will not make America Great Again.