Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump poses for a photo after an interview with Reuters in his office in Trump Tower, in the Manhattan borough of New York, N.Y., May 17, 2016.
Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Trump shows how not to ease concerns over conflicts of interest

Donald Trump has clearly heard the complaints about his many conflicts of interest, but in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace yesterday, the president-elect said the public has nothing to worry about. The “Fox News Sunday” host raised the point about “foreign interests trying to curry favor” with the incoming president, to which Trump replied:
“If I were going to do new deals right now, I am turning down billions of dollars of deals. I will tell you, running for president, the money I spent is peanuts compared to the money I won’t make. And that’s OK because this is so important. What I’m doing is so important.

“This is a calling. This is so – this is a movement. It’s not just me, it’s millions and millions of people. You got to see it firsthand. I’m not going to be doing deals at all. No, that would be – I don’t even know if that’s a conflict. I mean I – I have the right to do it. You know under the law I have the right to do it. I just don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do deals because I want to focus on this.

“But by my not doing deals, I turned down seven deals with one big player, great player, last week because I thought it could be perceived as a conflict of interest.”
For emphasis, Trump added a moment later that the deals he recently turned down were worth “probably a billion dollars.”

So, let me get this straight. On the one hand, we see a president-elect who’s accused of exploiting the office he does not yet have for the financial gain of himself and his family. On the other hand, we see that same president-elect discussing business deals – as recently as last week, during the transition process – with a “big player,” who approached Trump about a billion-dollar opportunity.

Is the latter supposed to make us feel better about the underlying controversy?

Norm Eisen, President Obama’s former top White House ethics lawyer, and Richard Painter, who held the same job under George W. Bush, were on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday, and both agreed that Trump has set the stage for a legal crisis of sorts for which the president-elect seems unprepared.

Asked about possible remedies, Eisen added, “Well, there’s going to be a lot of remedies. [Trump is] also subject to other conflicts laws, George. The bribery laws are intended to prevent conflicts, for example. He’s subject to criminal law. He’s subject to civil law. He’s going to be subject to litigation. He’s already in a lot of cases. This is going to come up in existing litigation and there’s going to be new litigation. People are studying whether there’s a cause of action that competitors, for example, would have if they’re harmed by these foreign government payments.”

Reflecting on Trump’s apparent conflicts of interest, Rachel had a segment last week that’s well worth your time if you missed it. Note the part in which she said, “In a normal world, this is an almost unimaginable corruption scandal. This is something that you know happens in other countries, but you can`t imagine it happening here.”

The Rachel Maddow Show, 12/8/16, 9:16 PM ET

Trump not troubled by his conflicts of interest, nor is his base

Jo Becker, investigative reporter for The New York Times, talks with Rachel Maddow about the mistake impression by the media and Americans generally that Donald Trump will somehow separate from his business for the sake of the presidency.

Donald Trump and Scandals

Trump shows how not to ease concerns over conflicts of interest