The president-elect this morning said on Twitter that he will announce details on December 15 of how he will completely exit his “business operations.” That’s not enough. Although it is of course important that he have no involvement in Trump business operations, in order to avoid conflicts, he must also exit the ownership of his businesses through a blind trust or equivalent. Otherwise he will have a personal financial interest in his businesses that will sometimes conflict with the public interest, and constantly raise questions.
For example, unless he divests ownership, he will have an interest in the foreign government payments and benefits that flow to his businesses daily. That creates such a serious conflict of interest that the framers of the constitution prohibited it for the president in the emoluments clause. Far smaller potential conflicts led every president for four decades to do a blind trust or the equivalent, and so should Trump. All that said, we have to wait for the details, and if he goes the true blind trust route set forth in our WaPo oped, we will be the first to support it.
In addition, if his family is going to be involved in his businesses, as he has made clear will be the case from the start, his plan must include an ethics firewall. That is needed so that neither he nor anybody else in his administration is talking to his kids about business. He should start by having the children step away from the transition, not to mention from participating in his own meetings with foreign leaders. Otherwise there is a risk of improper preferential relationships and treatment for the Trump organization with the United States government and foreign ones. Without an ethics firewall that is set up at once and continues into the administration, scandal is sure to follow.
Norman Eisen, a visiting fellow at Brookings, was the chief White House ethics lawyer from 2009 to 2011 and ambassador to the Czech Republic from 2011 to 2014. Richard W. Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, was the chief White House ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007.