A family affair: Donald Trump accused of conflict of interest after three children named on transition team
Critics note that his children will now also have control over the people who will be put in charge of regulatory decisions that could affect his business interests
Donald Trump’s decision to leave his children in control of his fortune during his presidency was already an unusual and eyebrow-raising set-up. And on Friday, it became even more so.
A day after Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, announced that Trump’s three oldest children – Donald Jnr, Ivanka and Eric – would control what he labelled a “blind trust” for the president-elect, the Trump campaign announced on Friday afternoon that all three would also serve on Trump’s presidential transition team executive committee.
In that role, the trio will have input when it comes to the people Trump picks for key administration posts.
Watchdogs who were critical of Trump’s “blind trust” in the first place say this proves that the lines between President Trump and his money will be too fuzzy under this set-up.
“The fact that they have been included as part of the transition team just shows how inappropriate their role in bridging the gap between him as a businessman and politician is,” said Meredith McGehee, a strategic adviser at the Campaign Legal Centre. “It’s a clear demonstration that there is no firewall between the two.”
McGehee and others have also cast doubt on the idea that the so-called “blind trust” is actually blind at all. She calls it a “one-eye-closed-and-one-eye-open trust”.
In addition to blurring the line between Trump’s presidency and his money, sceptics note that his children will now also have control over the people who will be put in charge of regulatory decisions that could affect his multi-billion-dollar fortune.
Kenneth Gross, a political law expert at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, said it would be OK for Trump to involve his kids in the transition, but their dual roles are problematic.
“If the children run the so-called blind trust and also serve in some governmental capacity, formally or informally, this would further exacerbate potential conflicts and ethical issues caused by not separating his business holdings from his governmental functions,” Gross said.
Reporters also reacted on Friday afternoon with incredulity at the inclusion of the Trump kids on the transition team.
The transfer of the Trump Organisation into his children’s hands was reportedly being formalised Friday.
Cohen, who is a lawyer for both Trump and the Trump Organisation, detailed the “blind trust” arrangement – which had previously been floated during the campaign – Thursday in an interview with CNN. But “blind trusts” are generally considered to be situations in which the assets are controlled by independent parties who aren’t in touch with the owner.
Questions about how truly “blind” they are come up regularly in politics. Back in 2012, Mitt Romney was criticised for not having a true blind trust, given it was run by his old colleagues at Bain Capital, and Romney could easily see what Bain was up to.
Nor is this the first time that potential financial conflicts of interest involving children have come up in this campaign. Watchdogs previously pressed Hillary Clinton not to leave daughter Chelsea Clinton in charge of the Clinton Foundation if she had been elected president.
Cohen said on Thursday that Trump has no interest in growing his fortune as president. (It would be impossible to know if he did because Trump has never released his taxes.) But Cohen acknowledged the setup won’t please everyone.
“Will we be able to appease everybody? The answer is no. No matter what the man does, he can’t appease everybody,” Cohen said. “But everything will be done legally. He’s not interested in the company anymore. He said it [Wednesday] in front of a whole group of people. He’s interested in fixing America.”