Never before has someone ascended to the presidency owning the kind of complex network of businesses that Donald Trump operates. Trump has promised to turn his company over to his three grown children to run once he's sworn in. But he has refused to do what other presidents have done to insulate himself from conflicts of interest.
Trevor Potter, former head of the Federal Election Commission and Member of Caplin & Drysdale, says that represents a big conflict of interest for the president-elect.
"You're going to have a situation where the president appoints the head of GSA, and then the president's most visible asset in Washington is potentially subject to negotiation with that person over the terms of the lease and any changes in the lease," Potter says.
Potter says he's surprised there wasn't more attention focused during the campaign on the many potential problems that Trump's businesses might create. The president-elect has borrowed from foreign banks his administration will regulate. He does business in countries that are vital U.S. allies. And he has lots of pending lawsuits working their way through federal court.
"The number of problems is actually sort of mind-boggling," Potter says.
Though they're not required to, presidents have usually dealt with conflicts like these by putting their assets in a blind trust run by someone independent. Jimmy Carter did that with his peanut business. George W. Bush resigned as managing general partner of the Texas Rangers before becoming president.
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Just as important, Potter says, other countries could end up giving the Trump Organization special treatment in an effort to influence him.
"If his daughter or his son-in-law turns up in a foreign capital to negotiate a business deal on behalf of the Trump business, that foreign government is going to certainly think they're doing business with the family of the president of the United States, which indeed they will be," Potter says.
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Excerpt taken from the article “Donald Trump's Businesses Pose New Conflict of Interest Questions” by Jim Zarroli for NPR.