In a very brief news conference held on Wednesday evening, Donald Trump brushed off concerns about potential conflicts of interest with his various business and his new role as the 45th President of the United States.
When asked by a reporter about whether he will reveal his plans for his businesses, Trump replied, “That’s very routine. That’s a very routine thing. It’s not a big deal. You people are making that a big deal with my businesses. Number one, when I won, they all knew I had a big business all over the place. In fact, I reported it, as you know with with the Federal Elections (Commission). It’s a much bigger business than anybody thought. It’s a great business, but I’m going to have nothing to do with it. I wouldn’t have to, because, as you know, I wouldn’t have to do that by law, but I want to do that because focus on the country.”
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) December 29, 2016
Though the sentence is a bit convoluted, Trump seems to be reiterating a point he made earlier about being exempt from conflict-of-interest rules. As we analyzed before, from a purely legal perspective, Trump is right. Both the Vice President and President are exempt from federal rules that prohibit executive branch employees from participating in matters in which they have financial interests.
In fact, 18 U.S.C. Section 202 specifically states, as relating to Section 208 which deals with financial interests:
“Except as otherwise provided in such sections, the terms ‘officer’ and ’employee’ in sections 203, 205, 207 through 209, and 218 of this title shall not include the President, the Vice President, a Member of Congress, or a Federal judge.”
The theory behind exempting the President and Vice President from this law is that they need to carry out their constitutional duties without legal restraints. However, in years past, presidents have taken steps to separate their business dealings from their political life, which is perceived as core principle of good governance.
Despite the ethic rule exemption, legal experts have pointed to a constitutional clause, which they say could cover President Trump when he takes office. The “Emoluments Clause,” which says that “no person holding any office of ”” the United States “shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.” In a recent interview, George Washington law professor Steven Schooner said that Trump could have an “impeachment issue because you have foreign states basically paying money to the Trump Organization by using their hotels.”
Trump was scheduled to announce earlier this month the steps he would take to separate himself from his financial holdings. However, a press conference on the issue was suddenly canceled. Trump has not indicated if he will completely divest from his businesses. Instead, he has indicated that his sons will be taking over when he becomes president.