In the days and weeks after President-elect Donald Trump’s surprise general election victory, Republicans and Democrats alike expressed public concern about the possibility (if not certainty) that Trump’s sprawling international business connections would create conflicts of interest — both real and apparent.
Although the president is exempt from many of the ethics laws that govern the conduct of every other federal official, the specter of Trump using his power to extract concessions from foreign governments for his businesses, combined with the ugly spectacle of foreign diplomats lining up to patronize Trump-branded properties in order to ingratiate themselves with the easily flattered president-elect brought the issue to an uproar — until Trump finally promised that he would divest control of his businesses and that he would hold a press conference on Dec. 15 to explain the particulars of his divestiture plan.
Since then, the controversy has mostly died down as the media have focused on Trump’s Cabinet and administration selections. But behind the scenes, Trump has been involved in a slow walk-back of his initial promises. He no longer promises to divest himself from his companies, promising instead only to turn control of them over to his children — children who, by all accounts, will be in close (if not daily) contact with Trump. He still will reap personal financial benefit if his empire does well and only the most naive of observers would believe that he will not exert de facto control over an empire run by his children.
In other words, he still stands to be in the same position as the Clintons, who were justifiably excoriated when Hillary Clinton wielded government power over foreign affairs while managing a private foundation that did business with foreign governments.
Now, Trump has likewise walked back his initial pledge to answer questions about his business arrangements during the course of the promised press conference, claiming now that he is too busy making cabinet selections to answer questions for 30 minutes or so.
Pollster Frank Luntz noted a problem with this flimsy excuse last night:
— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) December 13, 2016
Luntz then retweeted this announcement from Trump’s personal account:
Tue: West Allis, WI.
Thur: Hershey, PA.
Fri: Orlando, FL.
Sat: Mobile, AL.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2016
Indeed, if Trump has time to travel about the country holding multiple rallies, it would seem that he could hold a brief availability to answer questions about his business arrangements. Trump said that his empire will not “do deals” while he is president, which presumably means that it will not enter into new real estate ventures. However, even if Trump keeps this promise (and his track record thus far is not encouraging on that point), it does not address the many remaining potential and actual conflicts of interest that would arise from remaining involved in any way with his businesses.
By his own accounts, Trump has done fantastically well for himself financially over the years and does not need or require the ongoing income from his businesses while he is president. He would relieve himself of countless headaches by following through on his vow to divest. However, for whatever reason, he seems disinclined to do so.