On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that on December 15 he will announce that he is “leaving [his] great business in total,” because he feels that it is “visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses.”
As he insisted to The New York Times in an interview last night, he is not legally “mandated” to do this. “Visually” is a strange word to use here—could he have meant “vitally”?—but it’s a telling choice. Trump sees his numerous conflicts of interest as an optics problem. No such conflict actually exists in his mind, but because the media is insisting that it does, he has to make a change. The problem is that Trump’s plan is just as superficial as his reasoning.
If his children take over his businesses, which Trump has suggested they will, then the conflicts of interest won’t have gone away. As Noah Bookbinder told The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, “Even if he didn’t have the business interests and his children did, there would be a lot of incentive for companies and countries to try to influence him by giving financial benefits to his children or companies in the form of discounts or special deals that they wouldn’t receive otherwise.”
Any diplomatic negotiation with a country that has a Trump holding or building (or potential holding or building) would be suspect. Trump would effectively be simultaneously negotiating on behalf of the country and his pocketbook. The only way for Trump to truly avoid these conflicts of interest would be to sell his businesses. But Trump won’t do that. Instead, he’ll opt for obfuscation.