On Trump’s business dealings, the right answer isn’t clear

On Trump’s business dealings, the right answer isn’t clear November 22, 2016

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATrumpTower.JPG; Kowloonese at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve never had this situation before, have we?  A president(-elect) who is simultaneously the owner of a business with dealings all over the world.  To be sure, presidents generally have a fair chunk of money, but they have never been business owners, just ordinary investors, with stocks and bonds that can easily be put into a blind trust, and are interchangeable with other stocks and bonds, with the president being relatively indifferent to the particulars.

Could Trump put his business into a “blind trust”?  No, he can’t.  It’s not possible for him to ever truly be blind to the operations of a specific company whose dealings are public, even if the company itself is privately held.

Could Trump simply divest of his entire ownership?  In principle, yes.  In practice?  The selling of such a business to another private individual, or to a private equity firm, or via an IPO, takes a lot of time, and even in that case, it’s hard to see the family accepting the business leaving the Trump family.  And Trump could, yes, hand over control, and possibly ownership as well, to his children (though in the latter case, there are substantial tax consequences to gifting the entire business to a family member), but he’ll still have a strong interest in the success of the business.  I mean, let’s face it — the man is old enough that his desire to keep the business doing well isn’t about having enough money to keep up a desired living standard — he’s got that, but about the desire to hand on the business to the next generation, as well as, let’s face it, a certain Scrooge McDuck-ian desire to bask in the knowledge of having ever-growing sums of money.

What’s the alternative?

A principled man might appoint a Special Advisor whose job would be to verify that any actions he takes would have only an incidental effect on the company, but even such an advisor couldn’t shadow Trump 24/7; Trump himself is responsible for refraining from actions such as pressing a foreign or local government to approve a project, for instance.  And even if Trump studiously avoids all conflicts of interest, it will be more difficult to avoid perceived conflicts of interest.

And what’s the remedy, if he does engage in such dealing?  There are already (disputed) reports that Trump pressed Argentina’s president for help with approvals for a real estate development in that country.  Could Congress pass a law to bind him, and, if so, what could such a law look like?  Or is the only action available to Congress that of Special Prosecutor, and, if the situation is clear-cut, impeachment?


image:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATrumpTower.JPG; Kowloonese at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

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