Sooner rather than later, Donald Trump must decide whether he wants to be president or a business tycoon.
He cannot be both.
Since the president-elect is clearly having difficulty comprehending that he must make a choice, Congress should push him by requiring him to divest his holdings and put his assets into a blind trust.
That’s what other presidents have done, but we’ve never had a businessman like Trump as president. He does not see – or does not care about – the bright line between his global business empire and his duties as president.
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In his most detailed interview since Election Day, Trump declared that “the law is totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest” – a Nixonian argument that he would be above the law.
“In theory, I can be president of the United States and run my business 100 percent,” he told The New York Times. “In theory I could run my business perfectly, and then run the country perfectly.”
He and his family have acted on those stunningly arrogant words, according to a series of reports. Trump met with Indian business executives about possible real estate deals. While accepting congratulations from Brexit leader Nigel Farage, Trump urged opposition to unsightly wind farms near his golf course in Scotland. A Filipino developer who is partnering with Trump on a $150 million tower in Manila – and who is also a special envoy to the U.S. – met with Trump’s children.
For a president-elect, these conversations are unseemly at best. For a president, they would be simply unacceptable.
No matter how often he insists, it’s just not true that turning over the Trump Organization to his adult children means he won’t have a conflict of interest. Ethics lawyers and even the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board agree there’s only one real solution: He must sell his businesses and put the proceeds in a trust run by an independent third party.
The Journal said if Trump doesn’t take this step, his presidency will be mired in controversy. Critics say that enriching his family with presidential decisions could even lead to impeachment.
While the emoluments clause of the Constitution bars government officials from receiving gifts from a foreign government or affiliated companies without congressional approval, ethics rules and laws that cover federal officials don’t apply to the president.
A bill introduced in Congress by Rep. Katherine Clark, a Massachusetts Democrat, is designed to fix that. The Presidential Accountability Act (HR 6340) would require the president and vice president to put their assets into qualified blind trusts or inform the Office of Government Ethics when they make decisions affecting their personal finances.
It, or legislation like it, deserves bipartisan support. If Trump won’t do the right thing, Congress must do its duty and make sure he does.