As far as Presidents go, there haven’t been any in the past with the portfolio of business interests and holdings comparable to Donald Trump. Anchored mostly in real estate, Trump holds properties and businesses literally all over the United States, and all over the world. From Florida to Nevada, from Scotland to Dubai, there are buildings and golf courses with Trump’s name on them.
As a result of this reality, the Wall Street Journal called on Trump to liquidate his interests before assuming the presidency, CNN reports:
The Wall Street Journal editorial page says President-elect Donald Trump should liquidate his stake in the family business.
“One reason 60 million voters elected Donald Trump is because he promised to change Washington’s culture of self-dealing, and if he wants to succeed he’s going to have to make a sacrifice and lead by example,” the paper said in an editorial Friday.
The president is exempt from most conflict of interest laws. But the leading conservative newspaper, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (NWS), said Trump’s business dealings will present a political problem because of “constant media scrutiny.”
The Journal referenced the effort by Ivanka Trump’s jewelry company to promote a $10,800 bracelet that she wore during an interview with CBS (CBS)’s “60 Minutes.” The editorial characterized it as the beginning of “media catcalls.”
With stakes in more than 500 companies around the world, Trump has more potential conflicts of interest than anyone ever elected president. He has said that he will turn the businesses over to his children, who have also been political advisers to him.
As evidence of the apparent conflicts, there is no need to look further than the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. According to New York Magazine, foreign diplomats and dignitaries are lining up to stay at the hotel before meeting with a future President Trump.
In the less than two weeks since Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, there have already been several news stories illustrating how Trump’s new role will create conflicts of interest with his family businesses. The latest alarming example comes via the Washington Post, which reports that about 100 foreign diplomats packed into a junior ballroom at the new Trump International Hotel in D.C. this week to drink Trump brand Champagne and hear a sales pitch for the new hotel. Unsurprisingly, a chief topic of discussion among the attendees so soon after Trump’s victory was, “how are we going to build ties with the new administration,” and one way to do that seemed more than clear:
“Believe me, all the delegations will go [to Trump’s hotel],” said one Middle Eastern diplomat who recently toured the hotel and booked an overseas visitor. The diplomat said many stayed away from the hotel before the election for fear of a “Clinton backlash,” but that now it’s the place to be seen.
In interviews with a dozen diplomats, many of whom declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak about anything related to the next U.S. president, some said spending money at Trump’s hotel is an easy, friendly gesture to the new president.
“Why wouldn’t I stay at his hotel blocks from the White House, so I can tell the new president, ‘I love your new hotel!’ Isn’t it rude to come to his city and say, ‘I am staying at your competitor?’?” said one Asian diplomat.
For the record, Trump has started that he will fully remove himself from the day-to-day operations of the Trump Organization, an entity that will be left to his children to manage. Donald Trump’s personal holdings will be placed in a “blind trust” which will be managed by – you guessed it – hid kids. Blind trusts are often used by politicians to manage their business or financial holdings to avoid conflicts of interest stemming from decisions they make while in office. In those cases, the trust is usually managed by an outside or independent party, not a family member. This is primarily why the WSJ (and others) has called for Trump to divest entirely from his business, at least during his years in office.
Truthfully, I really doubt that this will matter much in the short term. Trump voters knew he was a multi-billionaire with business ties running deep all over the place. There’s no shock now that his company, and by extension Trump himself, will see some financial benefit from winning the presidency. Trump’s brand is primarily his name, and it could be argued that every time the media prints his name, they’re giving his brand free advertising.
One can certainly argue that this arrangement looks bad for the President-elect, but I would love to see a poll taken to ask voters whether they care about this issue. Then break that down by party and I’d imagine it will be mostly partisan in nature. Voters didn’t much care prior to the election, why would they start caring now
It’s too early to tell whether this is something that will dog his presidency outside of newsrooms from New York and DC. If the average voter starts to perceive Trump as profiting off the presidency rather than governing for the people, the tables could turn.