US ethics chief brands Donald Trump's plan to handle business interests 'wholly inadequate'

'This is not a blind trust – it’s not even close,' says Walter Shaub Jr, nine days before inauguration 

Peter Walker
Thursday 12 January 2017 11:35 GMT
US Ethics chief brands Donald Trump's plan to handle business interests as 'wholly inadequate'

The ethics chief responsible for regulating Donald Trump’s business interests has branded his plans “wholly inadequate” and suggested he is unpatriotic.

The President-elect, in a news conference overshadowed by “fake” sex allegations, once again revealed he will place assets into a blind trust.

The 70-year-old property mogul also promised to give control of his multi-billion pound business to sons Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump.

Trump's lawyer says he is 'completely isolating' himself from his business

But US Office of Government Ethics director Walter Shaub Jr, whose team have “lost contact” with Mr Trump’s, said this proposal still does not prevent a conflict of interests.

The OGE, set up in 1978 in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, has so far overseen the dismantling of politicians’ business interests apparently without any major hitches.

“We can’t risk creating the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for profit,” said Mr Shaub.

“That’s why I was glad in November when the President-elect tweeted that he wanted to, as he put it, ‘in no way have a conflict of interest’ with his businesses.

“Unfortunately, his current plan cannot achieve that goal.

“Stepping back from running his business is meaningless from a conflict of interest perspective. The presidency is a full-time job and he would’ve had to step back anyway.

“The idea of setting up a trust to hold his operating businesses adds nothing to the equation. This is not a blind trust – it’s not even close.

“I think Politico called this a ‘half-blind trust', but it’s not even halfway blind. The only thing this has in common with a blind trust is the label, ‘trust’.

“His sons are still running the businesses, and, of course, he knows what he owns. His attorney said today that he can’t ‘un-know’ that he owns Trump Tower.

“The same is true of his other holdings. The idea of limiting direct communication about the business is wholly inadequate. That’s not how a blind trust works.”

Mr Shaub, in a four-page statement released on the same day as Mr Trump's hotly anticipated news conference, started by saying Mr Trump’s plan “doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every president in the past four decades has met”.

Under 18 US Code 208, federal employees ar banned from matters affecting their financial interests, however the law actually exempts presidents.

Mr Shaub, quoting the Supreme Court, said that a conflict of interest is “an evil which endangers the very fabric of a democratic society” and “that no man may serve two masters”.

It has already been claimed that the former The Apprentice personality can be “blackmailed and bribed” by foreign governments because of his international business interests.

Mr Shaub also said the divestment of the intended nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was serving as a “sterling model”.

He also said the decision to create this “strange new kind of trust” is “perplexing” and said there was still time, before the inauguration on 20 January, to work on an adequate plan.

In a thinly-veiled attack, the director-of-four-years also said incoming presidents’ “basic patriotism usually prevails, as they agree to set aside their personal interests to serve their country’s interests”.

The law graduate, who says he has been involved in every presidential nomination over the last 10 years, added: “[Mr Trump is] going to be asking his own appointees to make sacrifices. He’s going to be asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives in conflicts around the world.

“So, no, I don’t think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be the president of the United States.”

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