As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump vilified the Clinton Foundation as a dark criminal enterprise. No quid pro quo between any donation to the foundation and any official action taken by Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state was ever established. But Trump told voters the Clinton Foundation’s acceptance of money from foreign leaders while Clinton served as America’s top diplomat represented pay-to-play corruption.
If that’s Trump’s definition of a corrupt enterprise, he seems about to create his own version. The president-elect has already named his children — Donald Jr., Eric, and Ivanka — to his transition team, and said he intends to rely upon them as advisors once he takes office. At the same time, he is putting his children in charge of the family’s vast business empire.
Want to get in good with the new president? Invest in Trump property or lend money to a Trump venture. The Trump brand stands to benefit mightily from his lofty new position. How many more suites will be booked at a Trump hotel or rounds played at a Trump golf course? How many more Trump shirts or ties — or Ivanka Trump bracelets — will be sold?
Indeed, one day after Trump’s daughter participated in a “60 Minutes” interview about her father’s election, The Washington Post reported that her jewelry line had started marketing the 18-karat diamond bangle she had been wearing during the show. A spokesperson for the Ivanka Trump brand told the Post the “style alert” notification about the bracelet “was sent by a well-intentioned marketing employee . . . who, like many of us, is still making adjustments post-election. We are proactively discussing new policies and procedures with all of our partners going forward.”
That should have been discussed long ago. During a presidential primary debate last January, Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo asked Trump how he planned to disentangle himself from his business interests, should he be elected president. “If I became president, I couldn’t care less about my company. It’s peanuts,” said Trump.
Pressed for details, he said, “I would put it in a blind trust — well, I don’t know if it’s a blind trust if Ivanka, Donald, and Eric run it.” Most modern presidents do put their business interests into a blind trust, to be administered by an independent manager.
What Trump plans to do isn’t blind. It isn’t even near-sighted. And he should not get away with it. It could end up looking a lot like the pay-to-play corruption he connected to the Clinton Foundation. On steroids.
Under current law, federal office holders are prohibited from engaging in government business where they could stand to profit. But the president and vice president are exempt. A bill filed by Massachusetts congresswoman Katherine Clark on Thursday would remove that exemption. As The New York Times and other publications have suggested, Trump should sell his holdings and put the proceeds into a truly blind trust, to be managed by an independent trustee. He should — finally — produce his tax returns and disclose all his business partners and ties to foreign governments. So far, there’s no indication he will do any of that. He’s exempting himself from the corruption standard he applied so relentlessly to Clinton.