NEW YORK (AP) —
Asked on TV earlier this year whether a President Donald Trump would
ever mix politics with business, his eldest son, Donald Jr., said there
was no risk of that. The son, an executive in his father's company,
insisted the two wouldn't discuss the business if Dad ever got to the
Then Donald Jr.
added two words: "Trust me."
people may have little choice.
stretching back to Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s is for presidents to
put personal holdings such as stocks into a "blind trust" run by an
independent trustee with no ties to the occupant of the Oval Office. But
as with so many other areas of politics, Trump looks ready to upend this
to hand control of his Trump Organization to three of his adult children
and not a trustee cannot be considered a blind trust, said Kenneth
Gross, head of political law at the firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher &
Even if the
president-elect were to appoint a trustee with no family ties, that
would probably not remove the potential for Trump to use his new power
over policy to enrich himself. Liquidating Trump's holdings would be
difficult, and so he would always be aware of what assets he holds.
long worried about elected officials using their power to line their
pockets — or those of business partners — and shape policies to advance
their private interests. But rarely has an incoming president
represented such potential for conflicts of interest.
commander in chief has brought with him such a sprawling business empire
with so much complexity, opaqueness and opportunity for self-dealing.
Trump owns golf
clubs, office towers and other properties in several countries. He holds
ownership stakes in more than 500 companies. He has struck licensing
deals for use of his name on hotels and other buildings around the world
and has been landing new business in even more countries — in the Middle
East, India and South America.
Trump's holdings "unprecedented" in size and complexity for a president,
a "tangled web" of potential conflicts that would be difficult to
As it turns
out, Trump doesn't even have to try.
not required to set up blind trusts. In fact, they can even run a
business from the White House, though Trump has said he will not.
Federal ethics rules put strict limits on nearly all government
employees and elected officials to prevent self-dealing, but the rules
do not apply to the president.
One area where
the public interest could clash with the personal involves Trump's
influence over federal agencies whose decisions affect his businesses.
In turning the
government-owned Old Post Office into his new Washington hotel, Trump
struck a complex rental and management deal with the General Services
Administration. As president, he will appoint the head of the GSA.
And one of
Trump's lenders, Deutsche Bank, is in settlement talks with the Justice
Department over its role in the mortgage blowup that sparked the 2008
financial crisis. Trump will appoint the head of that agency, too.
For his part,
Trump has dismissed the idea that he is even interested in his business
now. In an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday, he said he was
fully engaged in efforts to "save our country."
"I don't care
about hotel occupancy," he added. He called matters like that "peanuts."
Organization said in a statement that it is "vetting various structures"
with the goal of transferring management to three of Trump's children,
along with a "team of highly skilled executives."
the tradition of presidential blind trusts when he put his peanut farm
in one. All the presidents who followed also set up one, according to
Gross, save for Barack Obama, who mostly had holdings in plain-vanilla
With a blind
trust, owners can't control their portfolio and may not even know what's
in it. Trustees sometimes sell off holdings and invest the money
elsewhere without the owner's knowledge.
"It's one thing
to sell 1,500 shares of Procter & Gamble. You can do that easily," Gross
said. "It's another thing to sell a golf course in a foreign country or
extricate from a branding contract."
In the 2012
presidential election, Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who had vast
holdings from working at buyout firm Bain Capital, pledged to put his
wealth in a blind trust certified by the Office of Government Ethics.
On CNN on
Sunday, Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani suggested the president-elect could
set up a blind trust. Later he suggested a more flexible arrangement
might be necessary given the role of Trump's children in his business.
He called the situation "very unusual."
perfect way to do this," Giuliani said. "You have to have some
confidence in the integrity of the president."