Seemingly adhering to the Nixonian adage that “if the president does it, that means it is not illegal,” the Trump team continues to stand by the legitimacy of the incoming president keeping his business ties.
When asked by MSNBC‘s Katy Turr during his first official news conference on Thursday if President-elect Donald Trump would release, if not his tax returns, at least a list of those people or institutions to whom he is indebted, incoming press secretary Sean Spicer made clear that information would not be forthcoming.
“I think that question has been asked and answered a hundred times,” Spicer said. “The President-elect has made it very clear: he has no conflicts by law. He has gone above and beyond in terms of making sure that he separates himself from business—hands it over to his kids—and then put in place a very, very vigorous plan to make sure no conflicts of interest occur.”
That very same plan, which includes handing the Trump Organization over to Trump’s two grown sons, was decried as “meaningless” last week by the government’s top ethics monitor.
Spicer then repeated the phrase, “he has no conflicts by law,” and argued that what the president-elect “has done is extraordinary to ensure that his focus is entirely on helping this country move forward.” Without allowing follow-up, Spicer then moved on to the next questioner.
Assurances aside, investigations into Trump’s business affairs continue to produce an increasingly complex web of affiliations.
One day before the presidential inauguration will take place, both the Wall Street Journal and CNBC on Thursday published new visual mappings of the president-elect’s potential conflicts of interest.
The analysis, based on filings with the Office of Government Ethics from May 2016 and July 2015, both reveal that Trump and his family may hold more than 500 such conflicts, placing the president-elect in an “unprecedented position,” according to WSJ.
These documents, CNBC economics reporter John W. Schoen points out, provide “only a snapshot of his holdings and business connections, largely because the rules governing disclosure of financial interests did not anticipate a candidate like Trump.”
Trump and his surrogates justify his plan by pointing to Title 18, Section 208 of the U.S. Code, which governs the financial interests of government employees, and specifically exempts “the President, the Vice President, a Member of Congress, or a Federal judge,” Schoen observes.
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