Ethics expert Richard Painter, who was White House ethics counsel from 2005 to 2007, has authored a thorough, convincing and I’m quite certain accurate brief about all the problems arising from soon-to-be President Donald Trump’s vast business connections, and the conflicts of interest they can and will involve. It’s an automatic ethics train wreck. Here’s Painter:
Even absent a quid pro quo, the Emoluments Clause bans payments to an American public official from foreign governments. Yet they will arise whenever foreign diplomats stay in Trump hotels at their governments’ expense; whenever parties are organized by foreign governments in Trump hotels (Bahrain just announced such a party in a Trump hotel this week); whenever loans are made to the company by the Bank of China or any other foreign-government-owned bank; whenever rent is paid by companies controlled by foreign governments with offices in Trump buildings; and whenever there is any other arrangement whereby foreign government money goes into the president’s businesses….How can we expect a Trump administration to rein in loose lending practices, particularly in the real estate sector, when the president himself owes hundreds of millions of dollars to banks? What will he do when a foreign dictator acts up in a country where there is a Trump hotel?
Yikes. Yikes and true. Also Yikes, true, and why are you bringing this up now when there is absolutely nothing that can be done about it?
Painter’s easy-peezy solution: “For the good of the country, he should divest from his business empire as soon as possible, put the cash proceeds into United States treasury securities, broadly diversified mutual funds or a blind trust managed by an independent trustee, and then focus on being a good president.”
Sure ! That’s the answer! Also in the mix: removing his business and their planned occupations and livelihood from one or more of his children. Earth to Prof. Painter: It’s not going to happen. As Trump quite correctly pointed out, no law compels a President to do this. It’s up to him. By this time, anyone who doesn’t know that Donald Trump is not exactly a legal scholar, keen on ethics, or prone to do what everyone says he has to do is hopeless, and will probably be in a padded room somewhere before March.
I have been getting some media interviews lately about the issue, and my comments to reporters, which flow from my previous post on the matter, can be summarized this way:
You, I and everyone else who should have flagged this issue about a year ago and hammered it into the public consciousness failed our duty to the public, and this is thoroughly spilled milk. The crying over it is silly. The question should have been raised repeatedly, and hard, with commentary and unimpeachable expert analysis, making the case that Trump had two choices: divest himself sufficiently that these conflicts would pose no threat to his Presidency, or don’t run. It wasn’t, and it is too late now.
As much, as long and as loudly as ethicists, lawyers, pundits and critics insist that Trump should be conflict free, it just isn’t going to happen. That’s a fact. Even though the mysterious Emoluments Clause poses a real threat that Trump will be routinely threatened by impeachment by Democratic legislators who see it as an opportunity to undermine his Presidency, that won’t be enough to force Trump to do what he doesn’t want to do. So, as a good friend likes to say, when you have no options, you have no problem.
We have to trust President Trump. All Presidents have conflicts of interest; the extent of their power and influence ensures it. That’s why there have never been conflicts rules for Presidents. This President just has about a gazillion more conflicts than all the previous Presidents combined….WHICH WE KNEW ABOUT LONG, LONG AGO!
I have this question for Richard Painter, who, I think it’s fair to say, really doesn’t like Trump and who finds the prospect of him in the White House vomit inducing. Why, Prof. Painter, did you squander your moment in the limelight during the campaign to make specious and legally dubious accusations against FBAI Director James Comey for, you said, violating the Hatch Act ( and helping Trump) by keeping a promise to Congress, when you could have and should have been pointing at Trump and screaming, like the Auschwitz survivor in the “Marathon Man” clip above, who recognizes a Nazi exterminator on the streets of New York, “CONFLICTS!!! CONFLICTS!!!” Why weren’t you metaphorically screaming this months ago?
Of course, we all know the reason. It’s the same reason why just a few news stories were written about the issue. It’s the same reason I didn’t cover it, and why the Clinton campaign ignored it. We all thought everything else about Trump as a candidate and human being was so obviously disqualifying, and were unable to conceive of him winning, that we never got to conflicts that would only kick in once he was elected. We let this issue go unaddressed until it was too late to address it. All of us are at fault. Now, the rising throng of anti-Trump voices complaining about it is in the same category as attacks on the Electoral College. Pointless.
At the end of four years, we’ll be able to see how much conflicts of interest played a part in determining the direction of the Trump administration, and if Trump runs for re-election, and if there haven’t already been so many other dire reasons to get him out of the White House that the Emoluments Clause is still high on the list, then Prof. Painter and the rest of us who can explain why conflicts are intolerable will have a second chance.
But we missed this train, Richard. Standing on the platform, jumping up and down, yelling and throwing stuff is just annoying, and unproductive.
Wait for the next train.