President-elect Donald Trump's team is reportedly considering setting up a "discretionary trust" that would allow Trump to distance himself from his businesses while still reaping their financial benefits—an arrangement that, as government watchdogs put it, is "inappropriate" at best and "a betrayal" at worst.
Politico on Wednesday reported that Trump aides were speaking with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) this week, indicating that the team is still attempting to sidestep ethical boundaries rather than abide by them. It's the latest in a series of steps by the family that suggest they are selling off access to the president and attempting to profit off Trump's rise to power.
"It's highly inappropriate," former ethics lawyer Richard Painter told Politico. "To have someone baby-sit your conflict-creating assets while you go around and do whatever you want, in my view that's a violation of at least the spirit of the rules and that's an abuse."
In a typical blind trust, an independent financial manager takes over the official's assets and handles them without input from the owner. Assets that are considered conflicts of interest—of which Trump has a historic amount—are sold off and replaced.
But, Politico's Josh Gerstein writes,
with a discretionary trust, the conflicts almost magically disappear because the investments aren't considered to belong to the incoming official at all—even if they're producing a steady stream of income for the official. Instead, the assets are held in a trust that is often overseen by a family member who can, but is not legally required to, send revenues from the assets to the government official. Another benefit: there's no explicit prohibition on the official talking with the trustee about the financial holdings.
"You don't have to disclose it, since you don't own it, Aunt Millie owns it," Painter said. "And it cures your financial conflicts of interest under the criminal statute. ... If you really have a discretionary trust, you can participate in government decisions that affect those assets—if they let you get away with it."
Kait Sweeney, press secretary for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), said that "by not disclosing and divesting, Trump is betraying his own voters by prioritizing his own corporate interests at the expense of working families. The framers of our Constitution did not intend for presidents to put their own interests and corporations ahead of the American people."
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Earlier this month, Senate Democrats, led by Wall Street watchdog Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), announced plans to roll out legislation that would force Trump to "divest and disclose" financial assets that pose conflicts of interest.
Sweeney on Wednesday called on all Democrats to support that legislation—"and not hide behind absurd 'half-blind trusts'."
On Twitter, the reactions were acerbic.
Trump discussing creating "half-blind" trust, which is more accurately described as "not-at-all-blind" https://t.co/FQfAuzEvnq
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) December 21, 2016
'Half-blind’ trust for Trump family isn't a 'blind trust' in any meaningful way and conflicts of interest persist https://t.co/HUaJzS3ROi
— Tim O'Brien (@TimOBrien) December 21, 2016
A "half blind" trust? That's sorta like being half pregnant.
Come on Donald. https://t.co/NJFiwDrIti
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) December 21, 2016
President-Elect Shit Pimp believes that, with one eye closed, you can't see the theft https://t.co/0wh1nTESMv
— Adam Sessler (@AdamSessler) December 21, 2016