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President as an enterprise

Sophie Schimansky hg
November 11, 2016

US President-elect Donald Trump has to decide what will happen to his Trump Holding when he moves into the White House. He's a businessman, no politician. And that might bring about various conflicts of interest.

Las Vegas Wynn Las Vegas
Image: Getty Images/J.Raedle

There can be no doubt whatsoever that Donald Trump has many interests linked to his own business activities that are bound to collide in an unparalleled manner with his post as the mightiest politician in the world, once he takes over the reins from Barack Obama.

Washington-based lawyer Kenneth Gross agrees that never before has there been such a likelihood of conflicts of interest. Let's get this straight: There's no law forbidding Trump to be a businessman, a real-estate owner, the boss of a modeling agency, a hotel owner and the president of the United States all at the same time. He doesn't have to sell anything he owns, either.

In principle, US legislation does recognize potential conflicts between individuals' economic and political interests. Congressional members are not allowed to maneuver themselves into those kinds of conflict, but the president is exempt from this regulation based on the initial belief that this might only unnecessarily complicate the president's job.

'Don't know what you mean'

Asked about possible conflicts of interest, Trump said in the run-up to the election that his business activities would not matter to him anymore, should he become president, adding that his only job would be to care about the nation, not his business.

This, however, is hard to believe, given to what extent he might profit personally during his presidency. The Trump Holding is involved in a great many sectors - retail, real estate, entertainment and the media, to name but a few.

The man owns eight hotels in Chicago, Las Vegas, Honolulu and a few other places. Trump's real estate and golf courses are scattered across the world, including in places such as Dubai, Scotland and Ireland. Washington's diplomatic relationships with many of these nations are complex and not free of strains.

At a New York conference back in 2008, Trump bragged about his close business ties with Russia, saying he expected his deals with Russia to be very profitable. He frequently praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, adding he hoped to pull off another big real-estate deal there.

Only this week Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergei Ryabkov, confirmed Moscow had been in contact with the Trump campaign. And the Kremlin didn't hide its excitement over the outcome of the US presidential election.

It stands to reason that the Trump Holding would profit from subsidies and tax breaks. Trump himself has produced a number of headlines over his efforts to make use of taxation loopholes.

Donald Trump's family
Some of Donald Trump's children are likely to be put in charge of a blind trustImage: picture-alliance/dpa

In November, he'll be in court after being accused of cheating students at his Trump University by selling costly seminars without any adequate service in return. Numerous hearings have already confirmed this allegation.

Unprecedented situation

Let's be clear: Presidents before him also have had their share of business activities before moving into the Oval Office. But they stuck to the trust fund tradition, meaning they handed over all of their conflict-prone investments to such a fund for independent management. Ronald Reagan did it that way, and so did Bill Clinton and the two Bushs.

Trump, for his part, intends to hand over his business to a blind trust, which he believes would wall him off from any say in business matters. But the tycoon added this would put his business under the control of three of his children, who are already executive vice presidents of the Trump Organization.

This is not nearly the same concept as setting up a conventional trust fund, says Bowdoin College's Andrew Rudalevige, adding that Trump's children can't be called independent at all.

But even if Trump puts his investments in a blind trust, he would still know precisely where he owns real-estate property and where he runs his companies. Again, the scope of his business activities is much bigger than that of any other president in the history of the US. But that hasn't kept Trump from asserting he'd never take political decisions just to support his own business.

Congress will, of course, be watching closely, Rudalevige says. But the very thought that Trump might pursue his own private or business interests during talks with state leaders or lobby groups has the potential of weakening trust in the political system.

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