The unnerving evolution of Trump's conflict-of-interest troubles

Eric Trump looks at his father, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, during a caucus night watch party at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino on Feb. 23, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty)
Eric Trump looks at his father, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, during a caucus night watch party at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino on Feb. 23, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nev.
Step One came a year ago, when Donald Trump was asked about what he'd do with his business interests if he were elected president. "I would put it in a blind trust," he said last September.Step Two came literally a couple of seconds later, when Trump said he'd actually put his adult children in charge of his international operation, despite what he'd vowed moments earlier.Step Three came last month, when the president-elect argued that the entire subject is unimportant because, "[T]he president can't have a conflict of interest.... [I]n theory, I can be president of the United States and run my business 100 percent.... [T]he president of the United States is allowed to have whatever conflicts he wants."A week later, we saw Step Four, when Trump announced he would hold a press conference to explain his belief that is "visually important" for him to remove himself from the "operations" of his business. The president-elect vowed to explain all of this in detail on Dec. 15.All of which brings us to Step Five. Bloomberg Politics reported last night:

President-elect Donald Trump is postponing until next month a previously announced news conference to outline how he'll handle his far-flung business operations while in the White House, according to senior Trump transition officials.Trump had planned to make the announcement Dec. 15 but wants more time because he's been occupied with filling out his cabinet and top administration posts, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Trump turned to -- what else? -- Twitter late last night to explain, "Even though I am not mandated by law to do so, I will be leaving my busineses [sic] before January 20th so that I can focus full time on the Presidency. Two of my children, Don and Eric, plus executives, will manage them. No new deals will be done during my term(s) in office."He added that he'd hold a press conference in the "near future."Let's unpack this a bit, because I'm reasonably certain Trump has no idea what his conflict-of-interest problems are all about.While Trump's line has evolved over time, the one common thread is that Trump believes he can resolve questions about his private-sector conflicts by simply ceding operational, day-to-day control over his business operation to his adult kids.He's mistaken. If Trump maintains his financial interests -- in other words, if he and his family still intend to profit from Trump's private-sector enterprises -- the conflicts of interest aren't resolved at all. On the contrary, they're just as big a problem as they are now, whether or not Trump is personally overseeing the business.The question is whether or not Trump, as president, will keep his stake in his private-sector enterprise. According to everything Trump has said thus far, the answer is an unambiguous "yes" -- which means the conflict-of-interest controversies will continue.Looking ahead, the watchword is "divest." Someone clearly needs to explain to the president-elect that if his personal finances will continue to be directly tied to his business interests, Trump will continue to have a serious legal problem on his hands.Postscript: We don't yet know why, exactly, this week's press conference was scrapped. The official excuse is that Trump has been too busy, but that's very hard to believe -- since he's made plenty of time for a five-stop "victory tour" in which the president-elect has headlined self-congratulatory rallies in celebration of himself.I can't say with any certainty why the Dec. 15 announcement was canceled, or if it will ever actually occur, but it's worth noting that the Electoral College will officially chose the next president on Dec. 19. Trump's conflict-of-interest troubles raise legitimate constitutional questions, so it's of interest that the president-elect wants to delay the answers until he's officially been chosen by the nation's electors.