Suffice it to say that I am not a fan of Sen. Elizabeth Warren's sloppy, angry, left-wing, hyper-statist politics -- nor do I admire her career trajectory, which she unethically stacked in her favor by perpetrating what amounted to a crass, self-serving racial hoax. Indeed, I had no problem with Donald Trump ridiculing Warren as "Pocahontas" when she emerged as one of his most strident critics on the Left. She, not he, was the 'insensitive' party, having wrongly claimed racial minority status during a strategic interval of her career. The point is, I'm rarely disposed to support almost anything the Massachusetts Senator proposes. While it's a bit amusing to watch Democrats suddenly become terribly concerned about conflicts of interest at the highest levels of government (and Russia hawks, for that matter), the bill Warren is vowing to introduce with a group of Senate allies next year has some merit and deservers serious consideration:
Five Democratic senators on Thursday unveiled a bill they plan to release next month that would require Donald Trump to divest assets that risk a conflict of interest and place the proceeds in a blind trust as well as require his appointees to step aside from official decisions that could benefit him. More than 20 Senate Democrats on Tuesday released a letter urging Trump to heed the counsel of the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics, which has warned the president-elect that his plans to transfer control of his vast holdings to his sons would not be enough to eliminate conflicts of interest. Senate Democrats also have called on top Trump nominees to release their tax returns as part of the vetting process before their confirmation votes. The five Democrats' planned bill could become a vehicle for the minority to put political pressure on Republicans by forcing Trump's party to support his still-incomplete plan for separating his official duties in the White House from his sprawling business.
Let's face it: Having a real estate mogul whose brand is leveraged across the world in the Oval Office is unusual, if not unprecedented. The Trump presidency will hold unique ethics challenges, with seemingly boundless opportunities for potential conflicts of interest or appearances of impropriety to arise. The establishment of a genuine blind trust seems like an equitable and sensible solution, especially given that some of these ethical lines have already been blurred. Trump's children -- some of whom are tasked with taking the business reins while their father is in office -- have raised eyebrows and hackles by participating in various transition-related meetings, including at least one with a foreign head of state. Democrats are already telegraphing that they have every intent of investigating Trump endlessly, even indulging in the juvenile stunt of a holding mock corruption hearing on Capitol Hill. Nevertheless, ensuring that the business of the nation is paramount is essential. A presidency for profit is not acceptable. At a Fox Business debate hosted during the Republican primaries, Trump was asked about how he'd separate himself from his myriad business holdings if he assumed the office of the presidency. Skip ahead to the (1:41:00) mark:
During a presidential primary debate last January, Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo asked Trump how he planned to disentangle himself from his business interests, should he be elected president. “If I became president, I couldn’t care less about my company. It’s peanuts,” said Trump. Pressed for details, he said, “I would put it in a blind trust — well, I don’t know if it’s a blind trust if Ivanka, Donald, and Eric run it.” Most modern presidents do put their business interests into a blind trust, to be administered by an independent manager.
If his kids are running the business while attending official presidential events, and continually meeting with the president, there's nothing 'blind' about it. Individuals and entities, domestic and foreign, would have enormous incentive to do business with the Trump family in hopes of gaining access or special favors from the most powerful man in the world, and the sprawling executive branch over which he presides. Republicans just spent the last year-plus rightfully criticizing the web of conflicts and corruption emanating from the Clinton Foundation. Hillary Clinton struck an ethics deal with the Obama administration upon assuming office, by which her family's slush fund failed to abide. A New York-based FBI investigation into possible public corruption connected to the foundation is reportedly still underway. If Trump settles for ethical half-measures, you can guarantee that Congressional Democrats, Inspectors General, and perhaps even law enforcement will never cease digging for indications of improper influence or possible criminality throughout his entire term in office. This could result in a string of needless and harmful distractions from Trump's agenda.
"I wouldn't care about anything but our country," Trump said in the January debate cited above. That is the correct attitude, on every level, and he should prove his commitment to it through decisive, transparent action. For the good of the country, not to mention the political benefit of his presidency, Trump should embrace an arrangement on personal finances and business interests that is above reproach. If he refuses to do so, Congress may have no choice but to apply pressure. With the caveats in place that (a) I'd want to review the separation of powers considerations at play, and (b) I'd want to see the details of the actual legislation, I'd be inclined to support a measure that at least captures the spirit and face-value intent of what Warren and her colleagues are proposing. Simply trusting someone not to succumb to the temptation of influence peddling and inside dealing -- even inadvertently -- because he or she is a member of your partisan 'tribe' isn't an intellectually defensible position. Here's a decent rule of thumb: If conservatives would have been angry or deeply suspicious of Mrs. Clinton for taking, or not taking, an action pertaining to personal and financial ethics, they shouldn't accept it from Trump. And the president-elect would be wise to head off any of this criticism and potential legal entanglements by pursuing an aggressive, above-board path. Let's see what his team lays out in its recently-delayed announcement on this score. The latter part of this tweet is at least a decent start:
Presidency. Two of my children, Don and Eric, plus executives, will manage them. No new deals will be done during my term(s) in office.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 13, 2016