Trump has repeatedly pledged that he would leave his business empire to his adult sons, Don Jr. and Eric, in order to focus on the presidency. The president, unlike cabinet members and congressmen, is not required to divest his assets or to make his business dealings public, but this is in large part because we’ve never had a pure businessperson as president before and laws tend to be created in response to conflicts rather than in anticipation of them. Similarly, there are a series of norms associated with the presidency—releasing tax returns as a candidate, creating blind trusts, selling assets before taking office—that have adequately taken care of this problem. Trump, a habitual line-stepper, has ignored all of these norms.
He has tried to outflank these potential problems with two innovative and inadequate solutions. The first is to insist that his businesses will not conduct any new business while he’s in office. That should prevent his companies from actively using his presidency to make money, but the problem is that they will passively make a boatload—they’ve already seen a jump, in part because foreign governments are paying lots of money on suites and hotel parties in a blatant attempt to gain favor.
The second is to insist that his children can run his businesses in a way that doesn’t create conflicts of interest. But there have already been problems with Ivanka, who has sat in on a meeting with the prime minister of Japan and spoken to the president of Argentina. And the most recent example is perhaps the most telling.
Donald Trump Jr., an avid hunter and conservationist (albeit in a hunting kind of way), has repeatedly expressed interest in the Department of the Interior. A year ago he said, “The big joke at Christmas this year was that the only job in government that I would want is with the Department of Interior. I understand these issues. It’s something I’m passionate about. I will be the very loud voice about these issues in my father’s ear. No one gets it more than us.”
Trump Jr., Politico reports, sat in on meetings regarding the selection of Trump’s interior secretary and seems to have played a role in the selection of Ryan Zinke. This is the flaw in Trump’s plan to keep his businesses and his presidency separate: If his children show any interest in the latter, then the walls come down.