Trump—who canceled a scheduled December 15 press conference where he was supposed to explain how he was going to deal with conflicts of interest as president—is considering a “discretionary trust” to manage his business affairs as president. This is being called a “half-blind trust”—a reference to the “blind trust” that many of Trump’s critics are demanding.
Here’s how it works, per Politico:
In a typical blind trust arrangement approved by federal ethics authorities, an incoming official’s investments are transferred to an institutional financial manager who oversees them without reporting details to the owner. Assets that risk a conflict of interest are sold off over time and replaced with assets the official is not informed about.
Even with a blind trust, the conflicts are not considered resolved until the original problem-creating assets are sold off.
But 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.
The problem here is right there in the name. A “half-blind” trust also half-sees (albeit with less depth perception, I guess), and seeing anything is a huge conflict of interest—a “half-blind” trust is not a blind trust in any meaningful way. George W. Bush’s ethics lawyer Richard Painter referred to it as “baby-sitting” which is appropriate—someone (a family member or two, it seems) will watch over Trump’s assets, but there will never be any doubt as to who they belong to and Trump can check-in whenever he wants to. The biggest reason for a “discretionary trust” isn’t to obviate conflicts of interest, it’s to do the bare minimum to disguise the appearance of conflicts of interest, which is clearly all Trump and his aides care about.