As Trump Stalls, Observers Warn Business Empire Could Cause 'Unprecedented Threat'
Americans skeptical Trump will extricate himself from corporate empire, which some say is already threatening U.S. stability and interests
President-elect Donald Trump on Monday canceled plans for a press conference this week that would have addressed his conflicts of interest—some of the most blatant in history—leading many to speculate that he will ultimately use his presidential power to benefit his corporate empire.
Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks confirmed to CNN that the press conference will take place next month.
But Americans were already doubting that the incoming president will extricate himself from his many conflicts of interest, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted before the briefing was postponed.
A majority of voters, 52 percent, say Trump's "business interests and positions" will affect his decision-making as president "a lot," and another 29 percent say they will have "some" effect on his decisions.
Poll respondents are split, however, on whether Trump's business ties would be beneficial to his presidency. Nearly as many voters say Trump's business interests and positions are a "good thing" (39 percent) as say it's a "bad thing" (44 percent).
That's mostly a function of partisanship: 73 percent of Republicans say it's a "good thing," and the same percentage of Democrats call it a "bad thing."
In a series of tweets Monday night, Trump said he would not be involved in running his businesses, instead pledging to hand the reins over to his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, as Common Dreams reported last week, and saying that the family empire would not make any "new deals" while he was in office. He did not mention his daughter Ivanka, who has been criticized for sitting in on official meetings and phone calls with heads of state from around the world, despite not holding an elected position herself.
As Newsweek's Kurt Eichenwald wrote on Tuesday, Trump's business ties are already putting U.S. interests at risk.
"The president-elect vowed during the campaign to eliminate potential conflicts by severing ties to his company—yet, with only weeks to go until he takes the oath of office, he hasn't laid out a credible plan," Eichenwald wrote. "Even if the family steps away from its company while Trump is president, every nation on Earth will know that doing business with the Trump Organization will one day benefit the family."
For example, the Trump family has "an enormous financial interest" in keeping Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte happy, despite his having implemented a violent crackdown on human rights, Eichenwald noted. "The Trump family's dealings in the Philippines will set off a constitutional crisis on the first day of Trump's presidency, if anyone in the federal government decides to abide by the law."
It's also possible that global leaders would be able to use the family's business dealings to blackmail the president-elect into controversial foreign policy decisions, Eichenwald said. In Turkey, a failed military coup in July has led to a crackdown on press freedom, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls for the U.S. to extradite the Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Erdogan blames for the uprising. Trump's business associates in Turkey own media operations that have been critical of Erdogan; a few weeks after Trump's election and a phone call with the Turkish president, a senior executive from the company that owns the outlets was arrested on little evidence.
"That means Erdogan has leverage with Trump, who will soon have the power to get Gülen extradited," Eichenwald writes, concluding:
America is on the precipice of an unprecedented threat, as allies and enemies alike calculate whether they are dealing with a president they can please merely by enriching his children. President-elect Trump has a monumental choice before him: He can, as he promised during the campaign, protect the sanctity of the presidency—which he can do only by selling his company. Or he can remain corrupted by the conflicts between his country's future and his family's fortune.
Delaying the press conference drew sharp rebukes from critics. Jessica Mackler, president of the pro-Democratic super PAC American Bridge, told Politico, "Donald Trump is a corrupt liar. And after pledging to eliminate his ability to profit off the presidency, he's now refusing to even talk about it. Trump knows his only option is to totally divest, but he can't bring himself to do it, because he wants to profit off the presidency."
On Friday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and public interest and government watchdog organizations penned an open letter to Trump urging him to do more than just take a back seat in the managing of his organizations.
"By combining your presidency with your family business, you will create ongoing conflicts of interest and credibility problems for your presidency," wrote the groups, including Public Citizen, the Center for Media and Democracy, and the Sunlight Foundation. "Turning your businesses over to your children will not prevent the credibility problems that will arise when your policy positions appear to have been made to benefit domestic and foreign interests that have provided financial benefits to the Trump family."