OGE Director warns Trump’s business plan insufficient

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump references a pile of papers as he speaks during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson - RTX2YJ2P

The Director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, made unprecedented public remarks requesting that Donald Trump work with OGE to divest from the Trump Organization in order to comply with the law. At a press conference hosted by Brookings Fellow Norman Eisen, who served as White House ethics counsel for the Obama Administration, and Richard Painter, who served in the same capacity for George W. Bush, Shaub stated that “the plan the President-elect has announced doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every President in the past four decades has met.”

Shaub cited Rex Tillerson’s divestiture from Exxon as a success: “Mr. Tillerson is making a clean break from Exxon. He’s also forfeiting bonus payments worth millions. As a result of OGE’s work, he’s now free of financial conflicts of interest.” Shaub contrasted Tillerson’s plan with the one President-elect Trump and attorney Sherri Dillon outlined in Wednesday’s press conference, calling it “meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective.” Vowing to step back from the Trump Organization isn’t enough, he said, and “…setting up a trust to hold his operating businesses adds nothing to the equation. This is not a blind trust—it’s not even close.”

Shaub refuted the claim by Dillon that setting a price for the sale of President-elect Trump’s assets would create problems. Had Dillon been in contact with OGE, Shaub explained, “We would have reassured her that Presidential nominees in every administration agree to sell illiquid assets all the time.” Valuation of assets is a normal part of the process.

With OGE’s help, Shaub said, Trump could still design and execute a plan that will allow him to govern without conflicts, emphasizing the model that Tillerson has followed: “Nothing short of divestiture will resolve these conflicts.”