Dahlia Lithwick writes: It is going to be practically impossible for Donald Trump to take office next Friday and stay on the right side of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause without divesting and placing his businesses in a blind trust. This fact is — with a clutch of dissenters — not in dispute. Ethics experts across the political spectrum have explained carefully what needed to be done to avoid the appearance that the president was benefiting financially from foreign gifts, payments, or favors. But Trump announced this week that he has no intention of creating a blind trust, arguing that voters don’t care about the issue and declaring that he would donate any hotel profits from foreign governments to the Treasury and let his sons manage his business for the duration of his presidency.
At his Wednesday announcement, Trump’s lawyer, Sheri Dillon, disputed claims that he even has any such constitutional obligations: “These people are wrong. This is not what the Constitution says, paying for a hotel is not a gift or present and has nothing to do with an office. It is not an emolument,” she said. She added that “President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built,” meaning, I suppose, that the normal rules don’t apply to rich presidents. (Mitt Romney was willing to divest in 2012, so maybe it’s just that the normal rules don’t apply to Trump).
The director of the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, immediately dismissed the president-elect’s dramatic nonplan as “meaningless.” He was quoted this week as saying at an unprecedented press conference at the Brookings Institution, “It’s important to understand that the president is now entering the world of public service. He’s going to be asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives in conflicts around the world. So, no, I don’t think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be the president.”
Most ethics experts have agreed with Shaub that the arrangement announced Wednesday is inadequate to address the conflict rules. Trump’s expectation and hope seems to be that — since the only fix for an Emoluments Clause violation is impeachment — Republicans will do as Trump has instructed and stop caring and that Democrats won’t have the nerve to raise the point that the president will — every day after next Friday — be violating the Constitution in a way that risks putting him in thrall to foreign powers. Republicans seem happy to oblige. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Donald Trump’s incoming White House chief of staff warned the director of the Office of Government Ethics on Sunday to “be careful” about criticizing Trump’s handling of his business conflicts.
“The head of the government ethics ought to be careful because that person is becoming extremely political,” Priebus said on ABC News’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
Priebus suggested that Shaub, who was appointed by President Obama, was supportive of Hillary Clinton during the campaign.