By The Editorial Board – The New York Times
President-elect Donald Trump won’t be stepping down from his role as an executive producer on “The New Celebrity Apprentice” — an unprecedented situation in which the commander in chief would have a job on the side.
Maybe this was to be expected since Mr. Trump doesn’t appear willing to give up ownership of his other profit centers either. He seems to think that putting his two adult sons in charge of his various business operations — golf courses, licensing deals and hotels — is enough to mute concerns over his conflicts of interest, which could take pay-to-play government corruption to a whole new level. But it won’t.
There’s no way to ensure that his decisions and actions as president won’t be tainted by his personal financial interests if he doesn’t divest and place his assets in a blind trust controlled by independent managers.
A perfect example is Mr. Trump’s lease on the Old Post Office, which houses the Trump International Hotel in Washington, just down the street from the White House. Mr. Trump hasn’t said what he intends to do about the hotel, which he has called “the most coveted piece of real estate in Washington,” with the exception of the White House. But the 60-year lease with the General Services Administration, the federal agency that oversees government buildings, is clear: no “elected official of the government of the United States … shall be admitted to any share or part of this lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom.” That clause is meant to fend off precisely the kind of self-dealing and appearance of favoritism that Mr. Trump’s control of the lease raises.
He can’t avoid these ethical conflicts without selling off his interest entirely. Transferring the lease to a company owned and managed by his children won’t do it. They aren’t independent of him, and any profits they derive from the lease will benefit him, too.
As president, Mr. Trump will have the power to appoint and fire the director of the G.S.A. That will put the agency in the impossible position of negotiating with the president and his family about annual rent increases, the upkeep of the building and other issues. Fearing for their jobs, they might well ease demands on the Trumps or give them special consideration should any problems arise. How would the public even know about this kind of corruption?
Holding on to the lease could also expose Mr. Trump to violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. That clause prohibits elected officials from receiving gifts or earning profits from foreign governments without the approval of Congress. This is already happening, well before Inauguration Day. Foreign embassies and diplomats are booking rooms and hosting events at the hotel. Patronizing Mr. Trump’s hotel is certainly one way to get on his good side. Just on Wednesday, Bahrain’s embassy hosted its National Day celebration at the hotel.
In his tweets and in his postelection interview with The Times, Mr. Trump has been nonchalant about the tangled web of conflicts his businesses will bring his presidency. At the very least, Congress ought to demand that he turn over his tax returns and information about his deals with foreign businesses and governments to lawmakers, and that he transfer the lease to his Washington hotel to an independent operator.