WASHINGTON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Donald Trump just struck a bad deal for the U.S. economy. The president-elect has decided that the way for him to avoid conflicts of interest while in the Oval Office is to put his assets into a trust managed by his sons and severely restrict their ability to do any deals. The measures fall short of generally accepted ethics standards - and hand a potentially powerful weapon to his opponents in the Senate.
In his first press conference in six months, Trump and his lawyer on Wednesday repeatedly noted that he is taking these steps even though federal conflict-of-interest laws don’t apply to the U.S. president. Past leaders, though, followed such rules.
Trump’s solution doesn’t even meet the basic ethics standard of putting his business into a blind trust run by an independent person. Instead, his two eldest sons, who are part of his presidential transition team, will manage the ventures along with a company executive.
In a weak nod to a constitutional clause prohibiting U.S. officials from accepting gifts or money from foreign governments, Trump’s business will not make any new foreign deals. In addition, he has pledged to send any payments foreign officials make to Trump hotels, including a new property in Washington, D.C., to the U.S. Treasury.
Democrats have already made an issue of his business conflicts and have introduced multiple bills requiring him to divest his business. They may be in the minority in the 100-seat Senate, but they still have some power. The Republicans are eight votes short of the 60 needed to approve Supreme Court nominees and pass most major pieces of legislation, such as Trump’s tax-cut plan.
Even Republicans have expressed concerns about the president-elect’s lackluster business-divestment plan. During a Senate hearing Tuesday for attorney-general nominee Jeff Sessions, several GOPers asked the Alabama senator whether he would stand up to Trump, including on his or his associates’ conflicts of interest.
Questions over the vetting process for Trump’s wealthy cabinet nominees have already delayed Senate hearings for some, including billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, who is slated to be commerce secretary. Trump’s failure to deal with his own conflicts could quickly come back to haunt him.
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