Guest Opinion: Clarity on Trump’s business ties

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Nov. 18
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One of the major problems that President-elect Donald Trump is clearly wrestling with now is how to square his previous role as an active, broad-based international businessman with his new role — coming down the tracks rapidly — as president of the United States.

It is no secret that one of the reasons Americans voted for him, as opposed to Hillary Clinton, was their substantial exasperation with Washington play-for-pay practices. If Clinton had been elected Nov. 8, Americans would no doubt now be watching a similar struggle as she sought to untangle her personal finances and those of the Clinton Foundation from her impending role and responsibilities as president.

Trump’s dilemma is made no easier by the fact that Americans simply don’t know what he owns and what he owes and to whom, due to his own approach to disclosure during the campaign. His current approach — to let his children manage his financial interests while he is president — won’t work anymore than for Clinton to have let her husband and daughter run the Clinton Foundation while she was president, if she had been chosen.

Any idea to let Trump’s children run his businesses for him especially is a non-starter if they are to have any role in his administration. Trump relied on them during the campaign, but they cannot become even informal advisers in the White House. The role of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is another matter. He emerged as one of Trump’s most trusted advisers, and wields considerable influence in the transition process; he was said to be unhappy with the work of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was dumped as head of the transition team. Kushner may be seeking a White House position. Even if such an arrangement passed legal muster, it would create a troubling image.

Trump has done nothing yet to defuse concern about the possible interplay of his personal finances and public role. Rather, he has stoked questions by refusing to release his tax returns. While not legally obligated to make them public, his refusal defies longstanding convention, and he has not budged despite the public clamor that he do so. Now, the issue is about more than tax returns.

The bottom line for Americans is that they will need to know, when Trump is negotiating with the Chinese, Russians or the Ukrainians, or when some official answerable to him is overseeing or regulating some American company, whether he is acting as president, or is representing the Trump brand.

As of now, the answer to that question can’t even be known, nor the line of authority made clear, absent critical information. Unless Trump finds a better solution, Americans can only insist that he divulge and divest before inauguration. At this point he doesn’t appear to want to do either.

There is only one correct course for Trump. If he wishes to be a trusted president, he must be completely transparent. Period.