The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributor NY Times
How Trump Can Avoid the Ethical Tar Pit
Over the years, Judicial Watch has called out many White House conflicts of interest. We fought in court against President Bill Clinton’s taking money to pay his legal bills through a legal-defense fund. During the George W. Bush administration, we questioned the propriety of his father, President George H.W. Bush, working for Carlyle Group, an investment company that was, in effect, a major defense contractor. We also investigated and sued over the connections between another defense contractor, Halliburton, and Vice President Dick Cheney, the company’s former C.E.O. We highlighted in 2014 how Bill Clinton was getting unusually large six-figure speaking fees from foreign governments while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.
Soon, Donald J. Trump could face some very serious conflict of interest problems of his own. He acknowledged as much recently when he tweeted out plans for a “major news conference” on Thursday, since postponed, to explain how he intended to leave behind his “great business in total to fully focus on running the country.”
In a tweet on Monday, he promised without elaborating that “no new deals will be done” by his business while he is president. This sounds interesting. Americans should expect that the new president will take reasonable steps to separate his public office from his personal business.
His refusal to release his tax returns is another issue that will dog him. The law doesn’t require Mr. Trump to release them, and he has been advised by his lawyer not to do so while he is under audit. It would obviously be good transparency and good politics to make them public. But critics should take seriously how the release of the confidential tax information could damage the company and the family.
In the best of circumstances, the Trump family business and questions about conflicts will be a burden to his presidency. There is no off-the-shelf ethics plan that would cover every possible conflict.
Judicial Watch, and the left’s planned Judicial Watch imitators, will monitor this issue. If he mishandles his development from his business, he may tarnish his presidency. It would be ironic if Mr. Trump’s business success put his political and business legacy at risk.