Trump runs risk of ‘unprecedented’ conflict of interest, ethics groups warn

Donald Trump Jr., right, and Eric Trump, center, get on an escalator in the lobby of Trump Tower, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, in New York.
Donald Trump Jr., right, and Eric Trump, center, get on an escalator in the lobby of Trump Tower, Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, in New York. AP

Open government and ethics watchdogs are calling for Donald Trump to place his sprawling business assets and investments into a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest.

In a letter to Trump signed by more than a dozen groups, they warn that the president-elect risks creating conflicts of “unprecedented magnitude” if he does not disassociate himself from the empire that bears his name.

With more than 500 related businesses on his personal financial disclosure forms, Trump likely will be the nation’s wealthiest president, with the largest financial portfolio in American history. And his business interests, which span the globe from golf courses in Florida to hotels in the United Arab Emirates, fall under the purview of more than a dozen federal agencies and boards, not to mention congressional committees and U.S. courts.

Trump’s lawyer has said Trump’s business holdings will be placed into a blind trust with his three oldest children in charge. But critics say it would not be a blind trust: Trump would know what’s in the trust and would know the managers, Don Jr., Eric and Ivanka Trump.

“That’s more like an all-seeing trust!” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “The American people need to know that Trump is not running the government to benefit his own corporate empire.”

The authors of the letter, who include former ethics lawyers from the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, ask for Trump to transfer control of his assets to an independent trustee who would sell the assets and place the proceeds in investments “which do not create conflicts of interest and which are not disclosed to you.”

It says Trump could also convert his businesses to cash and buy treasury bills and diversified mutual funds.

Donald Trump could be arguably the most wealthy person ever elected president should he win the general election in November. Even if he does hand over his businesses to his children, can he separate himself from the empire he has built long enoug

Trump has named his children to his transition team, but the letter says that if family members are still involved in running his businesses, “a clear firewall must be established so that these family members have no involvement with policy decisions at the White House.”

Any telephone calls or emails should be routed to the White House counsel to make sure that the firewall is not breached, the letter says.

“We understand that this arrangement would require you to sever your relationship with the businesses that bear your name and with which you have invested a life’s work,” they wrote. “But whatever the personal discomfort caused, there is no acceptable alternative – and your duties to the American people now must prevail over your personal ties to the Trump Organization businesses.”

The letter notes that Trump’s businesses fall under the purview of tax policy, standards for government contractors, consumer protection, the functioning of the civil justice system, financial regulation, labor rights and workplace safety and health standards, and bankruptcy law.

Foreign policy is also a factor “because of the global reach of the Trump Organization.”

“The American people need to know that when you are making decisions concerning our allies or our adversaries, you are not doing so because they are allies or adversaries of your businesses,” the letter says.