After Donald Trump's press conference on Wednesday, in which his attorney Sheri Dillon outlined exactly how Trump would divest from his businesses as president, ethics watchdog groups, one after another, fired off statements ripping Trump's plans:
John Pudner, the executive director of the ethics watchdog group Take Back Our Republic, released the following statement slamming the procedure Trump intends to follow:
Today President-elect Trump and attorney Sheri Dillon laid out the plan to separate the President-elect from his businesses, which fell short of Take Back Our Republic’s call for divestiture into a blind trust but did go well beyond what was legally required. I appreciate that the issue of divestiture was taken seriously enough that it was the focus of the President-elect’s first press conference and to lay out specific steps to not have family members serving in both business and government roles.
However, I am disappointed a more aggressive plan for full divestiture into a blind trust was not pursued, as that would have removed any potential financial gain from decisions President-elect Trump will make. In light of the President-elect doing some of what Take Back thought necessary, we applaud the steps taken but also plan to aggressively monitor business deals to ensure that the plan to have the Trump children basically choose between the business (Don and Eric Trump) OR the White House (Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner) is in fact creating the necessary wall between Mr. Trump’s decisions as President and the interests of the Trump Organization that will still benefit his family.
President-elect Trump and his team made the case that they were going beyond the law - that despite that fact that the conflict Section 208 of the US Code does not apply to the President, that he will have no knowledge of the business until he "reads about it in the newspaper." They pointed to other steps such as taking any room rental profits at Trump hotels from foreign governments to the US Treasury so the Trump Organization could not benefit from them. A table of thousands of forms signed to create this separation were on display next to the President-elect during the press conference. They took the additional steps of cancelling all pending deals in foreign countries during this transition period, including a reported $2 billion deal that President-elect Trump said was recently offered.
A letter signed by several organizations including Take Back Our Republic called for full divestiture of the President-elect from his businesses, referred to collectively as the “Trump Organization,” and stated that simply having his children run the business while also participating in White House decisions did not accomplish the same goals, so this arrangement did not meet the standard recommended.
Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, stated:
President-elect Donald Trump has failed his ethics test. Now, America will suffer the consequences. There is only one way to avoid the conflicts of interest that will engulf his presidency and America: He must sell the family business. Unfortunately, President-elect Trump has today declined to take this simple step. The measures he plans to put in place will do nothing to solve the most serious conflict problems. It does not matter if a trustee prevents conversations between the president and those running his business (including, implausibly, his sons), nor if profits from foreign operations are donated during the presidency.
That’s because Trump knows what he owns, and he knows how policy choices will affect his business. The corrupting conflicts are inescapable, irrespective of Trump’s good or bad intent, and irrespective of his contact with those running the business, as long as he owns the business. These pervasive conflicts will affect matters from consumer protection to bankruptcy law, labor rights to tax policy, as well as foreign policy. Americans deserve a president who works for them, without regard to how policy will affect the president’s own bottom line. Instead, we are on the verge of witnessing the first for-profit president.
"The measures he plans to put in place will do nothing to solve the most serious conflict problems."
Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen
John Wonderlich of the Sunlight Foundation:
Today’s announcement by President-elect Donald J. Trump failed to address the unprecedented conflicts of interest he brings to Presidency. Trump is putting his business interests ahead of the interests of the country by failing to live up to well-established practices for addressing financial conflicts. Trump’s plan leaves the Presidency vulnerable to self-dealing, constitutional crisis, the appearance of corruption, and other abuses of power. Trump’s approach to governance and ethics repudiates decades of accepted norms for modern democratic accountability.
Trump’s trust is not blind. His brand will conflict with his Presidency. His taxes remain secret, despite decades of precedent. The Trump Presidency will be mired in litigation, doubt, scandal, and crisis. Congress needs to act. The press corps needs public support as we all prepare for an unprecedented conflict between private interests and the office of the American President.