Empty Folders and a "Meaningless" Plan: Outrage Grows Over Trump's Refusal to Divest
"I wish circumstances were different and I didn't feel the need to make public remarks today," said federal ethics director. "You don't hear about ethics when things are going well."
Outrage over President-elect Donald Trump's refusal to divest himself of his global business empire has grown in the wake of his chaotic press conference Wednesday, during which he announced that he would merely hand his businesses over to his sons.
After the press conference—wherein the piles of paper displayed as "evidence" of Trump's business handover to his sons were also apparently completely blank—the director of the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) made an unusual public speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., condemning the president-elect for his ethics failures.
"I wish circumstances were different and I didn't feel the need to make public remarks today," said Walter M. Schaub Jr. "You don't hear about ethics when things are going well."
Schaub went on to delve into exactly why Trump's business plan is wholly "meaningless":
Stepping back from running his business is meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective. The presidency is a full-time job and he would've had to step back anyway. The idea of setting up a trust to hold his operating businesses adds nothing to the equation. This is not a blind trust—it's not even close.
[I]t's not even halfway blind. The only thing this has in common with a blind trust is the label, 'trust.' His sons are still running the businesses, and, of course, he knows what he owns. His own attorney said today that he can't 'un-know' that he owns Trump tower. The same is true of his other holdings. The idea of limiting direct communication about the business is wholly inadequate. That's not how a blind trust works. There's not supposed to be any information at all.
Trump's transition team has also apparently not been in touch with the OGE at all about Trump's holdings and business plans.
"I was especially troubled by the statement that the incoming administration is going to demand that OGE approve a diversified portfolio of assets," Schaub noted. "No one has ever talked to us about that idea, and there's no legal mechanism to do that. Instead, Congress set up OGE's blind trust program under the Ethics in Government Act. Under that law anyone who wants a blind trust has to work with OGE from the start, but OGE has been left out of this process. We would have told them that this arrangement fails to meet the statutory requirements."
"[E]very president in modern times has taken the strong medicine of divestiture," Schaub noted, adding that Trump's appointees are required by law to divest their holdings before serving in his cabinet. "Should a president hold himself to a lower standard than his own appointees?"
Moreover, the president-elect's lawyers also stated Wednesday that Trump will go back on his "no new deals" pledge—in which he swore that his corporate empire wouldn't involve itself in any new business contracts—and will instead refrain only from foreign deals.
"In closing," Schaub concluded, "I would just like to add that I'm happy to offer my assistance and the assistance of my staff."
And Schaub wasn't the only one blasting Trump's so-called business plans. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D.-Mass.) took to Twitter on Wednesday night to call them "a joke":
.@realDonaldTrump’s business plans for the Trump empire are a joke. Only nobody is laughing.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) January 12, 2017
Trump's refusal to divest "puts us all at risk," Warren added.
Meanwhile, the Independent delved into the many oddities of the massive piles of papers and folders at Trump's press conference, which were presented as evidence of his ethical behavior—and explained that they were all apparently blank:
[R]eporters were not allowed to look at any of the documents, which all were held in folders meaning that the actual paper was hidden.
And the pages themselves appear to be blank. While the majority of the sheets were hidden, some of them were visible – and there was no sign of page numbers or the sticky notes that lawyers tend to use to mark places in large documents.
The paper itself also appeared to be the wrong size, printed on A4 rather than legal size sheets, and appears to have fallen like fresh sheets of paper. And the folders themselves were also entirely blank, despite Mr. Trump suggesting that each of them related to a different business that Mr. Trump was moving himself away from.
"It is possible that the documents had been printed precisely for the press conference, but the fact that reporters weren't allowed to check the details of the documents led to concern that they didn't include any information at all," the British outlet noted.
Not only are they blank, but if this were my set I would fire the propmaster for lack of realism. They are that fake. pic.twitter.com/DPSc3pBv5F
— Amy Berg (@bergopolis) January 12, 2017