President-elect Trump has to handle some pressing personal ethics issues as he takes on the presidency. As I wrote in the New York Times on the topic:
Given the potential for conflicts, it makes sense for the American people to demand assurances that the public interest won’t be harmed by the continued operation of Trump Inc. So, what to do?
First, let’s not pretend that the Trump children will not be conflicted in running the company for their father. That is why Mr. Trump should formalize his complete separation from his company and stop working on any aspect of his business. He should draw no pay. And, difficult as it may be, he should vow not to discuss any aspect of the Trump business empire with his children — or any other Trump executive.
Mr. Trump and those at the company’s helm should commit to full transparency by making public any contracts with any federal agency, foreign government or foreign corporation. Our nation’s enemies, and some of our friends, will seek to either curry favor with or damage America through the Trump businesses. By providing full transparency, Mr. Trump and his family can show that they take seriously that, as Mr. Trump has tweeted, it is “visually important, as president, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses.”
It would be in the company’s best interest to set up an internal watchdog to help develop procedures that could help avoid conflicts
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The Constitution’s Emoluments Clause bars the president from earning any compensation from a foreign government. Mr. Trump ought to consider a partial disinvestment from his company by either selling outright or rejecting the proceeds of any stakes with foreign government partners.
He should refuse any third party contributions to his personal foundation.
Above all, the Trump administration should be completely transparent on any government dealings with the Trump empire.
Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer announced his plans to handle these issues this week and he seems to have followed much of JW’s advice. His interest in the Trump Organization will be put in a trust and his company will be run by his two oldest sons. The company will hire an ethics officer to help police its dealings for any conflicts. And Mr. Trump’s business will forswear new foreign deals while turning over any “profits” from ongoing foreign deals to the U.S Treasury (to try to avoid the emoluments issue).
They are critics of the Trump ethics plan, and some of the questions about the transparency and enforcement of his promises are fair. But we think his plan is the right start.
While there is no off-the-shelf ethics plan for a matter as complex and unprecedented as this, Mr. Trump seems to be on the right track. As we said in the New York Times op-ed, it would be unfair to insist that Mr. Trump destroy his business to become president. This ethics plan follows many of Judicial Watch’s recommendations and reasonably addresses pressing concerns about separating Mr. Trump’s private business from the public’s business.
True to our independent, nonpartisan mission, we plan to police Mr. Trump on the ethics issue. We can see from the Hillary Clinton pay-to-play Clinton Foundation debacle what happens when politicians mix their government business with their private interests.
We hope Mr. Trump understands this, but we’ll be watching just to make sure!