Transparency International, which fights corruption globally, is adding its name to those calling on President-elect Donald Trump to divest himself of his businesses before he takes office, to avoid any conflicts of interest.
The call comes as Trump on Tuesday brushed aside questions about potential conflicts, telling reporters at The New York Times that “the law’s totally on my side. The president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
Good government groups and members of Congress have urged Trump to distance himself from his sprawling global empire to minimize conflict between his businesses, foreign leaders and the government he will oversee.
“The president-elect has an early and excellent opportunity to make good on his campaign promise to run a government that works for the people and not for the political class,” said Claudia Dumas, the president of Transparency International-USA.
Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said Tuesday that he planned to introduce a resolution next week calling on Trump to convert his assets to “simple, conflict-free holdings,” adopt a blind trust or take other measures to ensure compliance with the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
That clause says “no person holding any office of profit or trust” shall “accept of any present, emolument, office or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state” unless Congress consents.
Cardin said that if Trump failed to take action before taking office “Congress will regard dealings by Trump-owned companies with any entity owned by a foreign government as potential violations of the Constitution.”
Transparency International, which annually ranks countries on corruption – the U.S. ranked 16th in 2015 – hasn’t weighed in before with recommendations to a U.S. president.
“It’s unprecedented in U.S. history for there to be a president with a global business empire, which is why we felt compelled to issue these recommendations,” said Shruti Shah, vice president of programs and operations. She noted there have been other world leaders with business conflicts “at the highest level” that ended poorly, including Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi. The former Italian prime minister was convicted of tax fraud in 2013.
“Transparency and accountability are not partisan issues,” Shah said. “He has been elected on a promise of cleaning up cronyism and corruption in the U.S., and it’s important for him to set the standards high to make sure he does not have any real or perceived conflicts of interest.”
The group called on Trump to enforce, “without exceptions, a conflict of interest policy for his transition team members and appointees.” That would mean transition team members would be prohibited from overseeing political appointments “or participating in policy decisions that may affect their own financial interests, as well as the interests of their families and business associates.”
Trump, who says he plans to turn over his company to his three eldest children, has already included them on his transition team. His daughter Ivanka sat in on a high-level meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The group is also calling on Trump to put any assets that may pose conflicts of interest in a “true blind trust,” run by an independent trustee and not his family.
It also calls on Trump to publicly release his tax returns and be “transparent about his personal and business debt obligations to ensure there are no conflicts of interest.”