So much for the big, beautiful wall that Donald Trump promised to erect between his business and his administration. As a candidate, Trump said if elected, he’d establish a “blind trust” to manage his money-making endeavors by handing control of the empire to his three eldest children. Never mind that that setup doesn’t meet the most meager definition of the term, which typically implies stewardship by an independent trustee, and Trump’s approach asks the public to give him the benefit of the doubt that he won’t discuss his globe-spanning enterprise with his family.
On Friday, his campaign announced that Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric would all be joining the transition team and therefore playing an active role in selecting the people who will staff his government. With that, Trump reduced to rubble any pretense of a separation between private and public interests within his clan.
The setup by all accounts is perfectly legal. There are few guardrails on how presidents manage their personal financial affairs, since the law restricting outside income for executive branch employees exempts them. But the vastness of Trump’s operation introduces unique challenges for avoiding conflicts of interest.
Consider: We estimate that Trump earned $166 million in 2014, though he disputes the figure. And since his company is private, the personal financial disclosure form he filed with the Federal Election Commission in 2015 and has pointed to since as the most thorough accounting of his investments offers only an incomplete picture of its scope. The “real numbers,” Trump told us this spring, are much bigger. “We don’t disclose these things.”
What we do know is that Trump’s overseas holdings are extensive. By his own boast to us, as of this spring, he was negotiating 121 licensing deals “all over the world.” (See Newsweek’s reporting for a tour of those entanglements.) Each foreign project, to the extent he remains apprised of it, presents a potential problem for a man about to assume wide latitude over U.S. foreign policy.
That’s to say nothing of the issues posed by his ongoing domestic concerns and the dozens of active lawsuits facing his operation. The extraordinary circumstances of his wealth demand extraordinary reassurances that he’ll seal off his presidency from his financial interests. What Trump is offering instead is a perversion of the spirit of a blind trust: That is, trust and don’t verify.