President-elect Donald Trump and the company that bears his name are confronted by a massive ethical challenge as he heads to the White House. Given Trump’s vast and widespread financial interests at home and abroad, conflicts between carrying out the duties of his public office and the push for private financial gain will abound for President Trump.
It would be enough to severely test the most honest and serious-minded officeholder. That’s the best case, a place far above the current president-elect. Trump brings to the White House a history of fabrications and deceptions on the campaign trail and a reputation as a shady operator in the business world.
What’s most troubling is that ethics laws that might govern presidential behavior on this count are either absent or poorly defined. The nation has become comfortable with presidents who voluntarily take steps to avoid these entanglements. That may soon change.
In the past, most presidents placed their wealth in a blind trust, a setup that removes the chief executive from personal business dealings. Because every decision and statement made by a president has the potential to alter markets and businesses, this blind-trust firewall removed the appearance of a conflict of interest. A blind trust ensures the American people that their president is working for them and not merely his own enrichment.
Trump has refused thus far to put his business in a blind trust before heading to the White House. Instead, he promised Wednesday to separate himself “in total” from the “business operations” of his financial empire. Trump said Wednesday that he will offer more details at a mid-December announcement.
We’ll await more details. Even then, such a setup may not eliminate the appearance of conflicts of interest in the Trump administration. It’s likely the only way to avoid all this would be for Trump to sell his company, something that seems improbable.
Thus, it falls to the Congress to hold Trump accountable. Already, congressional Democrats have begged the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to “begin reviewing [Trump’s] financial arrangements in order to identify and protect against conflicts of interest.” Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who prior to the election boasted of leading a years-long probe of Hillary Clinton if she won the presidency, has been very quiet to the demands of his colleagues.
Those calls add a degree of partisanship that is unnecessary. Democrats and Republicans must keep a close eye on a presidency that defies the norms of previous White House occupants.
All members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks, can and should make sure Trump isn’t using public office for private gain by tightening the relevant ethics laws. Now — before a scandal has soured the nation — is the time for Congress to act.