On Wednesday, after weeks of waiting, Trump finally revealed his plan. As expected, the plan itself does almost nothing to prevent Trump from profiting from his presidency. Instead, Trump will retain ownership of his businesses, which his adult sons will run as a trust. He claimed he will not know what they are doing, but Trump’s close relationship to his children means that is insignificant. To avoid violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, Trump pledged that money from all foreign visitors staying at his hotels will be donated to the Treasury, effectively melding his business with the U.S. government—which is precisely what he is supposed to avoid. This actually encourages foreign governments to stay in Trump hotels because he can then take credit for the amount of money he has raised for the Treasury.
To be fair, the attorney overseeing Trump’s transition argued that Trump liquidating his assets would also create conflicts of interest. But the overall argument was straightforward: Trump won’t sell his businesses because it’s inconvenient and could cause him to lose money.
Trump’s argument that he is acting in the public interest actually made things worse. Here’s Trump crowing about his ethical behavior:
Now, I have to say one other thing. Over the weekend, I was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai with a very, very, very amazing man, a great, great developer from the Middle East, Hussein Damack, a friend of mine, great guy. And I was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai–a number of deals and I turned it down. I didn’t have to turn it down, because as you know, I have a no-conflict situation because I’m president, which is—I didn’t know about that until about three months ago, but it’s a nice thing to have.
Far from showing that Trump is above conflicts, this shows that foreign entities are already trying to use his business empire to gain access to his administration. Moreover, Trump here makes quite a logical leap. He’s right that there are no laws governing conflicts of interest for the president (unlike in Congress, which has such laws). But that is because this is an unprecedented situation. Trump interprets this to mean that conflicts of interest are impossible because of the office he holds. It’s his version of Nixon’s famous line: “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”