Although several previous presidents have entered office with private fortunes to their names, none has done so with a murky business empire nearly as large or complicated as that of President-elect Donald Trump.
The unprecedented nature of Trump’s business interests, coupled with the many precedents that Trump broke throughout his campaign—not releasing his tax returns, for example— has provoked speculation that his presidency may bring about equally unprecedented opportunities for conflicts of interest.
Trump’s response—provided on Twitter—only reinforces concerns that he will make little effort to avoid entangling his business and personal interests, and will instead attack those who point that out.
Now top lawyers for President Obama and George W. Bush have stated that the President-elect “must sell his business or the Electoral College must reject him.”
Judd Legum at Think Progress writes:
“Richard Painter, Chief Ethics Counsel for George W. Bush, and Norman Eisen, Chief Ethics Counsel for Barack Obama, believe that if Trump continues to retain ownership over his sprawling business interests by the time the electors meet on December 19, they should reject Trump.
In an email to ThinkProgress, Eisen explained that “the founders did not want any foreign payments to the president. Period.” This principle is enshrined in Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution, which bars office holders from accepting “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”
This provision was specifically created to prevent the President, most of all, from being corrupted by foreign influences.
Eisen said that the Electors should insist that Trump set up a blind trust for all his enterprises as a condition for getting their votes.
The only other solution is one Legum takes note of from the debate over the Constitution while it was still be ratified by the states. Virginia Governor Edmund Jennings Randolph, a Constitutional Convention delegate said:
“There is another provision against the danger mentioned by the honorable member, of the president receiving emoluments from foreign powers. If discovered he may be impeached. If he be not impeached he may be displaced at the end of the four years. By the ninth section, of the first article, “No person holding an office of profit or trust, shall accept of any present or emolument whatever, from any foreign power, without the consent of the representatives of the people” … I consider, therefore, that he is restrained from receiving any present or emoluments whatever. It is impossible to guard better against corruption.”
Incredibly, Trump is already pushing for those emoluments—by “urging” representatives of foreign governments to stay at his D.C. hotel. And he has made clear he has zero intentions of separating his private businesses from the public office into which he will soon step.
Eisen says that if the majority of Electors choose to put Trump into the Oval Office without getting a commitment from him on setting up a blind trust before he takes office, the nation will get a “wholesale oligarchic kleptocracy of a kind that we have never seen before in our history.”