Back in June, Timothy O’Brien wrote a piece for Bloomberg View, Conflicts of Interest? President Trump’s Would Be Amazing. (https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-06-02/donald-trump-might-make-the-white-house-a-walmart)
It’s worth a read, but the take away is that most people who accept positions of public office put their business interests into a blind trust, especially people with large holdings. The idea is to limit the natural conflicts of interest that would occur for people holding the public trust who also might benefit from activities pursued in performance of those duties.
Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, both the Bushes and Bill Clinton all used a blind trust to at least give the appearance of a separation of the public interest and their private interests.
It doesn’t appear that the president elect is going that route. News stories indicate he will be putting three of his children in charge of his business holdings. They are also on his transition team, and have met with him and foreign leaders.
No separation there.
Why does it matter?
On a smaller, domestic scale for example, there is a standoff in North Dakota now between Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe concerning the construction of an oil pipeline. The president elect had direct holdings in ETF until July and still retains holdings there through stock in Phillips 66, which has a 25% interest in the project. ETF CEO Kelcy Warren donated $100,000 to the president elect’s campaign. The president elect has pledged to decrease oversight and regulations for gas, oil and coal. The president elect’s appointee to head the interior department will ultimately influence the decision on that project.
On a global scale, the president elect has holdings in some 500 companies, with business interests in 20 countries.
How does that play out, for the US president elect?
He is in the process of building a 35 story $150 million building in Buenos Aires, and has known Argentine President Mauricio Macri since the 1980s when Macri’s father sold him some New York property. The building in Buenos Aires had been stalled in bureaucratic red tape; several days after a phone call to Macri from the president elect, the Buenos Aires firm building the property announced the project was going ahead after years of delays.
A coincidence, I know, merely a coincidence, as both parties assured reporters.
According to BBC News, “the Philippines’ new trade envoy to the US is building Trump Tower Manila; the Bank of China is one of China's largest banks and also majority state-owned. It holds the title on a $950m loan for a New York Building in which Trump is a part owner. Mr. Trump has previously labeled China a currency manipulator; in India, Trump has a licensing deal for buildings in Mumbai and Pune. One of his deals is with the Lodha Group, whose founder, Mangal Lodha, is also a vice-president in the ruling government party, BJP; during the course of the campaign, Trump created eight business ventures tied to a potential real estate deal in Saudi Arabia.”
The presidency is not about business. It is about We, the People.
There has got to be a separation, a real separation between the public trust and his business interests. That separation does not seem to be forthcoming.
In O’Brien’s article he wrote, “To allay such concerns, Trump could take a page from the late Nelson Rockefeller, who was an heir to a fortune and industrial empire far more substantial and consequential than anything Trump has ever overseen. In order to get confirmed as Gerald Ford's vice president in the wake of Richard Nixon's 1974 resignation, Rockefeller sat through congressional hearings in which strangers scoured his family's business dealings and finances.”
This president elect seems disinclined to allay any concerns at all.
And that is concerning.