Trump and the 'Blind Trust'
Sunday Morning’s political talk shows, as well as President Obama’s Victory Lap press conference (live from Peru), focused on the faux issue of the difficulties and challenges and, of course, Trump’s moral failings -- over his plan for putting his wealth in a “blind trust” to be managed by his children. There seem to be two conflicting positions -- and most pundits and rhetorical question-askers seem to embrace both of them.
On the one hand, these nitpicking naysayers acknowledge that it would take longer than President Trump’s entire first term -- or perhaps longer than his first and second terms (heavens forefend!, they shudder) -- to dismantle Trump’s almost unbelievably immense financial empire. What, they wonder, is a poor, well-meaning president to do?
Yet on the other hand, they condemn Mr. Trump for -- instead of liquidating his assets and putting them in T-Bills (as the relative pauper, Barack Obama, did) -- turning his assets over to his children to manage. This, they insist, remains a horrifying conflict of interest, even though (as they already admitted), it would be impossible for Trump to divest himself of a multi-billion-dollar financial empire -- a financial empire larger than the GDP of some smaller countries.
What these progressives expect Trump to do is the impossible (of course). However, in creating this expectation, they ignore other factors that are far more important than their latest attempt at vilifying Mr. Trump.
There are two different ways of looking at this dilemma they are trying to create through jawboning and filibustering. The first approach addresses the impossibility -- or at least acute implausibility -- of what they are demanding of president-elect Trump. The other approach addresses the necessity -- or, rather, the lack of necessity -- for what they are demanding.
What they demand is impossible:
First, they are blind to the fact that the Trump Organization is a privately-held, not a publicly-traded corporation, one with 515 subsidiaries located all over the globe. There is no ready market for private companies -- and the challenge of even attempting to unload the assets of 515 subsidiary companies is almost beyond comprehension.
Next, these opponents are deaf to the fact that president-elect Donald Trump is not the sole owner of the enterprises which bear his name. His adult children, Eric, Ivanka and Donald Junior -- who have “run the show” now for nearly two years while dad successfully ran for president -- own major portions of the Trump Organization, as well as those 515 subsidiary businesses.
Trump could sell out, yet the fact that his kids also own parts of his businesses would still -- at least to these nitpicking and often anti-capitalist progressives -- mean that there would be a conflict of interest, since a presidential action might inadvertently enrich his kids. In short, to satisfy these nitpicking demagogues, three adults with no personal ties to Federal office would also have to sell off their assets -- presumably at a significant loss, since those pushing for a “blind trust” want it to happen now -- for no good, moral or legal reason. That’s not going to happen, nor should it. While they helped their father win the presidency, that help shouldn’t carry a price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars, just to satisfy critics who would only find something else about Trump that doesn’t pass their rarified-nostril sniff test.
Finally, the critics are just plain dumb if they think anyone would want to buy a company named “Trump” without a Trump at the head of the company. That would be like buying Campbell’s without getting any soup. Making this skein of twisted lines of private-company multinational ownership even more convoluted, a significant majority of Trump’s businesses are, as Tucker Carlson noted last week, euphonious -- which means they are named Trump. The Trump Organization owns 264 businesses that bear the name Trump, and another 54 businesses that feature the president elect’s initials in their name. These include Trump Tower, Trump Casino, Trump Jets, Trump Productions, and a vast network of others. While not all Trump businesses succeed -- Trump University being an in-the-news example -- obviously, several hundred of them do succeed. Yet what outsider would think it worthwhile to buy a Trump-branded business with no Trumps involved.
What they demand is unnecessary:
First, critics are blind to the fact that the president and the vice-president are specifically excluded from any Federal requirement to participate in a blind trust. According to a CRS legal finding regarding 18 U.S.C. § 202(c), “the disqualification requirements of federal law do not apply to… Members of Congress, the President and the Vice President.” For these legally-exempted officials, a simple financial disclosure form is deemed sufficient.
Next, they are deaf to the president-elect’s oft-stated assertion that, having earned his fortune and conquered the business mountains that had, for nearly 50 years, captivated his attention, Mr. Trump is eager to leave that life behind and embrace the 24/7 job of America’s CEO. Business no longer holds his attention.
Finally, these critics are just plain dumb if they think a man who says he’s worth more than $10 billion dollars, with an annual income of $557 million dollars, can be “bought” by any amount of money. True, Forbes assesses Trump’s real net worth at a miniscule $3.7 billion dollars, a figure Trump refutes with logic, if not with tax returns or balance sheets. However, even for a man worth not quite $4 billion dollars, finding someone with his price -- and a willingness to pay it -- defies expectations.
So what’s the bottom line?
First, it is all but impossible to imagine how Trump could divest his entire empire of 515 companies in any presidentially-meaningful length of time. That assumes there’s a market for a Trump “anything” without a real Trump attached to the deal. And, it ignores the fact that even if Trump does divest, his kids will still own most of the company, and they’re named Trump, too -- and forcing them to divest for “the sins of the father” is legally impossible and morally questionable.
Next, it’s not necessary. The president is specifically exempt from all Federal blind trust statutory laws and regulatory mandates. However, the bigger issue is “who could buy a multi-billionaire?” The answer, in practical terms, is “nobody” -- or at least -- “nobody smart enough to amass the $5 billion-plus asking price.”
Those who insist that Trump act despite the facts -- that such actions are both legally unnecessary and fiscally impossible -- are, sadly, deaf, dumb and blind -- to the truth.
Ned Barnett (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a long-time conservative political consultant, as well as partner in Las Vegas-based Crisis Survival Specialists. He is currently coauthoring two books on survival -- one for organizations, and one for individuals.