September 17, 2018
On January 11, 2017, despite pressure from the public and government ethics experts including the Director of the Office of Government Ethics, then President-elect Donald J. Trump announced he would not divest from his business while serving as president. Instead, he held a press conference where he and Sheri Dillon, a tax lawyer at the law firm of Morgan & Lewis, enumerated a series of woefully inadequate “protections” restricting him and his business meant to ameliorate any potential conflicts of interest resulting from his continued interest in the Trump Organization. As President, Trump has failed to adhere even to those limitations. Less than halfway through his term, President Trump and the Trump Organization have violated or undermined five of these pledges. Here are the ethics promises that haven’t survived the blurred lines between the White House and the president’s private businesses:
1. President Trump will not have any management authority or involvement with the Trump Organization.
Ethics promise: At the January 11, 2017 press conference, Dillon said, “Together, Don, Eric and Allen [Weisselberg] will have the authority to manage the Trump Organization and will make decisions for the duration of the presidency without any involvement whatsoever by President-elect Trump.”
Promise not kept: Earlier this year, Politico reported that President Trump proposed that his Bedminster golf club offer discounts to White House staff, a potential violation of federal gift rules, and the company adopted the policy. The Daily Beast has also reported that the director of revenue management at Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC wrote in an email that “[President Trump] is supposed to be out of the business… but he’s definitely still involved…I had a brief meeting with him a few weeks ago, and he was asking about banquet revenues and demographics.” However, the managing director of the Trump hotel alleges that the director of revenue management recanted his prior statement about communications with the president.
2. Ivanka Trump will not have any management authority or involvement with the Trump Organization.
Ethics promise: At the January 11, 2017 press conference, Dillon said, “Further, in addition, his daughter Ivanka will have no further involvement with or management authority whatsoever with the Trump Organization.”
Promise not kept: In August 2018, Politico reported that Ivanka Trump was also partly responsible for pitching a policy of discounts for White House staff at the president’s Bedminster golf club.
3. The Trump Organization will not reference the presidency, including on social media.
Ethics promise: At the January 11, 2017 press conference, Dillon said, “[President Trump] has also directed that no communications of the Trump Organization, including social media accounts, will reference or be tied to President-elect Trump’s role as president of the United States or the office of the presidency.”
Promise not kept: Trump Organization executives including executive vice presidents Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump routinely reference the presidency on social media and elsewhere. Both identify themselves as Trump Organization executives and feature the president’s campaign slogan on their Twitter profiles.
In addition, on August 9, 2018, Trump’s Bedminster property retweeted a tweet by Fox and Friends that mentioned “WH Chief of Staff John Kelly” and included a short video that mentioned “President Trump.”
4. President Trump’s sons won’t discuss business with their father while they run the Trump Organization.
Ethics promise: At the January 11, 2017 press conference, President-elect Trump said, “And what I’m going to be doing is my two sons, who are right here, Don and Eric, are going to be running the company. They are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They’re not going to discuss it with me.”
Promise not kept: Soon after President Trump made this promise, executive vice president of the Trump Organization, Eric Trump, directly contradicted his father. In March 2017, Forbes reported that after promising not to talk business with his father “Eric Trump says he’ll give him financial reports.” Specifically, Eric Trump said regarding financial updates, that he would update the President “on the bottom line, profitability reports and stuff like that … probably quarterly.”
5. No new foreign deals.
Ethics pledge: At the January 11, 2017 press conference, Dillon said that “No new foreign deals will be made whatsoever during the duration of President Trump’s presidency.”
Promise bent: Less than a month into the Trump presidency, Trump Organization executive vice president Eric Trump traveled to the Dominican Republic to revive a 2007 licensing deal. Returning to the project may have undermined the pledge since, as the AP noted, “nothing new [had] been built or announced in a decade” and the relationship between the Trump Organization and its business partner seemed to have come to an acrimonious end. In addition, two new Trump-branded developments in India opened and sought buyers in late-2017, and a Dubai developer licensing the Trump brand awarded two construction contracts to a firm owned by the Chinese government to work on a Trump-branded golf development, further pushing the bounds of the pledge.
President Donald Trump’s failure to adhere to even the inadequate plan he set for himself to address conflicts of interest epitomizes a rampant disregard for basic ethical principles. If the President is unwilling to abide the rules he has set for himself, it should come as no surprise that his administration continues to flout the ethical rules set for the entire executive branch.
Former CREW research intern Sam Desai contributed to this report.