Trump Is Legally Correct: Ethics Rules Do Not Apply To Him

495px-Donald_Trump_by_Gage_SkidmoreDonald Trump is under fire for saying this week that he is not legally bound to avoid conflicts of interest because such ethical standards do not apply to him. Various commentators objected but Trump insisted “The law’s totally on my side, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” Trump is legally correct. There is a public disclosure rule that applies but not a binding conflict of interest law. The federal law exempts not just the President but also the Vice President.

The controversy erupted in an interview with the New York Times in which Trump stated “In theory I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly.” Well, “perfectly” is a value-laden term rather than a legal term. Suffice it to say that he can decline a blind trust and run both “legally.”

Under Title 18 Section 208 federal executive branch employees are barred from participating in matters where they have financial interests. Thus, employees use blind trusts to avoid the conflicts since they do not have knowledge of their investments. However, Section 208 expressly exempts the president, vice president, members of Congress and federal judges.  The section states:

“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.”

On top of the language of Section 208, there has been a long debate over the application of ethics laws to a president. The position of the Justice Department in the 1970s was that such laws did not apply to the president — even before the insertion of the express exemption.

What does apply is the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, banning U.S. government employees from accepting presents or compensation from foreign governments. That can be a problem with a businessman with properties and business dealings with foreign leaders. The provision states:

“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, 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.”

The vast Trump holdings raise obvious concerns under this provision and would likely be a continual source of concern for the White House counsel and others in the Administration.

None of this means that the exception under the federal law bars the President-elect from voluntarily accepting a blind trust. However, given the type of investments and properties in the Trump family, it would be hard to use a blind trust for so many fixed assets like hotels etc. The resolution is likely to be found in a shift of control to the children in a family business.

In the end, conflicts of interest may not be legally barred for the president but they can cause significant damage to the Office of the President and the country.  They can also create the environment that leads to more serious violations — an erosion of judgment and restraint that can create serious, including potentially criminal, offenses.  Thus, it is clearly incumbent upon presidents to do all that they can to separate their high office from family or personal interests.  It is the difference between what is required and what is right.

92 thoughts on “Trump Is Legally Correct: Ethics Rules Do Not Apply To Him

  1. Here’s the reality. Even if Trump were to do the extreme, liquidate all of his assets, there will still be suspicions. Did the purchaser of a property pay a very generous amount expecting a favor from the Trump administration. One can’t help but chuckle at the new converts to conflict of interest who have ignored the Arkansas Mafia for decades.

    • Will you please quit picking on the Clinton Cartel? They are in mourning — or shock therapy. They have to get by on $150 million a year and nobody wants to hear from Bill anymore unless he can get you an audience with the Secretary of State which he’s hard-pressed to deliver. These are hard times a Chez Clinton. It’s Thanksgiving. Be generous. Send ’em a gizzard!

      • On the topic of Thanksgiving and politics. My family has had some conflict @ meals. I hear all this fretting over Thanksgiving and political conflict. Hell, if you grew up in an Italian family there was conflicts during breakfast, lunch and supper. WTF is wrong w/ conflict? I have a dear friend who called me last week. He is an easygoing guy, quite liberal but doesn’t usually talk much about politics. My friend went on a rant about Trump that was shocking to me because he simply isn’t one to rant. He was dreading Thanksgiving because he has some family that voted for Trump. I mean I understand many people have problems w/ conflict. I understand people professionally and personally, and I understand group dynamics. Being a glass half full guy, maybe this election will make people talk about and w/ people they wouldn’t normally engage and understand that conflict can be a good thing, if it remains civil. Or at least sorta civil!

        • Nick – I went on a 10 day trip to New Mexico with my wife, brother and sister. We all agreed at the beginning not to talk politics, because blood would flow.

    • I agree with Nick, but would add that Manning, Snowden, and Wikileaks, whose chief officer Obama, Clinton and Trump want jailed or worse, has been the sole source of much of the evidence of conflict and criminal conspiracy. We should be celebrating their patriotism, not condemning them.

        • Brooklin Bridge – never forget Judicial Watch through its FOIA requests was the one that started the ball rolling. Supposedly the Bengahzi emails are going to be available. Obama told us so. Judicial Watch has a motion into the judge to depose Hillary under oath because of her evasions to their written questions. So far Judicial Watch has not broken a law.

  2. If Congress were to move to impeach Trump for profiting off of his position as President they would then expose themselves to the same scrutiny. I say bring it on.

  3. You asked for the Corrupter and chief and you got him. Wait until this power hungry beast gets the real power and not just the prez-elect power that is in his head. You think Nixon was bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Can you imagine if Obama said, ‘“In theory I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly.” The right wing lunacy would be calling for his impeachment. White Chief Trump says it and it’s a big yawn. We don’t need no stinking ethics, tax returns or conflicts of interest. Nothing to see here.

    • Actually Lloyd, many on the Right will have the same expectations that we did with Obama. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Deviate from that and prove to have the character of a hyena and he too will get no pass from many of us that demand different. It’s called having principles.

      • Glad you pointed that out Olly. I don’t like to be pigeon-holed, but unlike the neo-libs, I’ll let the orange man have it if need be. I tried to give both W and Bama a chance, but I let them both have it in the end. No apologizing here…

        • Until 2008 I had always voted Republican. It was primarily because the first 20 years of my eligibility to vote I was in the military. My first President and CinC was Reagan and I continued to vote Republican because of it. It was more self-serving than principled and I take responsibility for that ignorance. When Obama came along I actually considered voting for him. I wasn’t going to change my party affiliation but I was willing to consider the “change” that was being advertised. It was also when I began studying everything I could about this nations founding. It was at that time that I began to question what “fundamental transformation” was supposed to look like. I couldn’t find anything where Obama had been asked what this nation would look like when he had achieved “his” vision for America. The only option was to look into what he had actually said in the past, who he had associated himself with and I could not find the character of the man to be consistent with what the office should expect. That is why I did not vote for him. And thanks to Obama, I’m no longer affiliated with any political party.

          I believe Obama has a legacy that he may not have wanted or expected. He has succeeded in making progressivism known to people that had never known it existed. I know because I was one of them. He has succeeded in making people aware of the danger too much government has been and will be to the security of rights and the happiness of our citizens. He has exposed the myth that only bad actors exist in the “other” party. He has exposed the hypocrisy in the media and he has made the call for the rule of law popular. He has single-handily turned a sleepy electorate into a force that will begin to unwind the progressive damage done these last 100 years. That force will be looking to Trump and his administration to end the corruption, end the secrecy and work towards uniting this country. Trump will enjoy the devotion of his faithful followers much in the same way as Obama did. However, he will be on a very short leash with the other 70% of America that have either learned to not trust government or just ignorantly don’t trust the “other” side. He won’t get a pass from the media nor will he have half of Congress transferring power over to the Executive branch.

          Essentially, Obama made a house fall on the sister (Clinton) of progressivism. Thank you Barack Obama!

    • Lloyd Blankfien – bankster – ” Can you imagine if Obama said, ‘“In theory I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly.”

      I would have loved it if Obama had said that. It would have meant he actually did something in life other than be a community organizer. Obama was the least qualified president in history to me.

    • Lloyd,

      I am surprised by your comment. Trump is corrupt but you must also know that Obama is extremely corrupt. He took his cabinet picks from the list citigroup gave him! He backed off give backs/firings and debt write downs by banking industry officials which just crashed our economy but who financed his campaign. That’s just one example of his enormous corruption.

      I wish citizens would get together to call out corruption whenever it occurs, without regard to party. I think we could possibly get somewhere this way. What we ABSOLUTELY know doesn’t work is having Republicans ignore corruption when it’s their guy in power and then having Democrats ignoring corruption when their guy’s in power. That has proven to be a losing strategy!

  4. He has been trying to move the business to his children. You just have to read the NYPost to find out. Some of the businesses he just sold his name to be branded on the product, those could be put in a blind trust.

  5. “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, 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.”

    Doesn’t say a word about accepting gifts from mayors, local level governments, CEOs, etc., only from national level executives or legislatures.

  6. John Foster Dulles was an accomplished international lawyer before government service. He never liquidated and was an extraordinary Secretary of State. These ethics rules deny us capable men who are accomplished in other walks of life. These rules need some flexibility to be useful.

    • Dulles and his brother also overthrew the elected government of Guatemala when they took and paid the United Fruit Company for its land they took and gave to the farmers. They were paid what the company said it was worth on its property tax rolls. Dulles brothers were major stockholders in United Fruit and used the CIA and State Dept for their own personal gain. I guess Trump will do the same for his properties. Fight and DIE for TRUMP INC GIs! I am sure this will be a great motivating battle cry. Then he will short change them if they are wounded or killed.

  7. LOCK HER UP…….nope not going to do that, admit it folks you’ve been conned. In the past 72 hours alone he has backtracked on all his BS, and now you supporters are bending over and demanding he get special treatment….Thanks for the laugh. Its the rest of the country that will have to pay for it.

    • “Lock her up” was part of his sales pitch. Now that he has made the sale, we are going to find out what the country really bought. I have my own thoughts about what we bought, based on Trump’s prior conduct. They are not far from your thoughts. But time will tell. Enough people intensely disliked Hillary so much (whether the intense dislike was deserved or not is a topic that I am purposely avoiding right now) that they were willing to take a chance on anything Not Hillary, and Trump was the beneficiary of that emotion. Plus he is a good salesman.

      Intelligent and wise people can make foolish choices. That maxim applies to everyone, to Trump “supporters” and to Hillary “supporters”. I used quotation marks because “support” is a relative term. Not very many people I know were enthusiastic about the choices for President they faced in the voting booth. This is one election where, in my opinion, a cogent argument can be made that anyone who voted for any of the four “known” candidates made a foolish choice, i.e., they chose a certain type of train wreck over another type of train wreck.

      While I am an optimistic person, I fear that this Thanksgiving will be the most peaceful and calm Thanksgiving we have for the next few years. I will take no pleasure in watching things deteriorate significantly in Washington, if that is what happens. God help us all, and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

  8. I can’t stand Trump and believe him the US equivalent of Berlusconi, however, the establishment blowholes that get all atwitter about him not doing what everyone else may have done before and not complying with established conventions only undermine their own credibility by exaggerating what his approach means. The danger is almost entirely to Trump in not taking the kind of approach others have taken before him. Trump knows nothing about government, is a wealthy brat since birth and has never had to follow anyone’s rules when it comes to his money and how he makes it. Did they not know this? I expect that the number of indictments and conflict of interest scandals during his tenure will outpace anything we saw during the Reagan or Bush years. Still, the breathless denunciations and overblown exaggerations only make things worse.

    • We will see. But, we will also most likely see an adjustment period coming that may be worse than the 30s. Events based on predetermined events will take center stage soon. A lot of this early discussion will change dramatically. The blowback from the massive debt will make itself know fairly soon, it appears.

  9. Given the fact that Trump said that he could kill a person on 5th Ave and his supporters would STILL vote for him, I am not surprised at the fact, that Trump’s blatant corruption is greeted with a yawn from all of his supporters here. It is absurd that Turley now thinks it is OK for Trumps kids to run his empire to distance himself from his properties! He has one standard for Clinton, vis a vis Chelsea getting a huge salary at a network, yet Trump kids get a pass on their absurd contention that they qualify as being enough distance to avoid conflict of interest. Turley knows FULL well that NO such status applies to such kinship in legal terms for a blind trust. It is sad to see a person give up his principles for partisan politics.

    • Mr. Trump may have thought his advisers were recommending a “blond trust,” and thought he could satisfy the critics by placing Ivanka in charge.

      • MikeA, Sexist. I expect better, but I do like the sarcasm. I understand the anger phase of grief and will cut a good man like you some slack. We’ll call it a mulligan. I have read Bubba, Obama and Trump all like mulligans on the links.

    • randyjet,
      What specifically is the blatant corruption? He has yet to take the oath of office so either you are psychic or referencing actions as a private citizen. Which is it?

      • Olly, I guess you haven’t read much news lately or even read what Turley wrote on this blog about Trump’s ILLEGAL foundation. They recently admitted on their tax filings to giving lots of funds to ineligible people over a number of years. So far they have admitted this cheating for a couple of years, but it seems that this goes back for many more years, which means that they have committed PERJURY too. That means that unlike the Clinton Foundation which is properly constituted and which does NOT put a dime in any Clinton’s pocket, Trump has committed TAX FRAUD. He also had to pay a fine for his foundations contribution to a political campaign which benefited himself in avoiding charges of FRAUD in FL. His foundation also has the distinction of having most of its funds come from outside sources,which he then diverted to HIS own pockets. It is too bad that the AG of NY state did not bother to even check up on this fraud, until a Wapost reporter did his job for the AG and forced him to look. Then we have the FACT that Trump will be his own landlord for his own assets at the US taxpayers expense in leasing government property to himself! Just think what would have happened if any Clinton had this set-up. Turley and crowd would be calling for impeachment NOW! But not to worry that Trump may be otherwise occupied with the remaining 75 lawsuits still in court against him. That should not raise ANY questions about his moral or legal fitness?Since you think he would still make a fine President if he committed murder, I hardly expect you to have any concerns about corruption on his part.

        • Randyjet,
          Guessing is not serving you well. I have always opposed Trump on the grounds his private character is not suited for this office. I opposed Clinton on the grounds her public and private character are not suited for this office. Our corrupted legal system has enabled the likes of Trump to exploit the corruptible in public office. Our corrupted political class has enabled the likes of Clinton to exploit everything. Your expectations are unfounded as I don’t give ANY politician a pass. I have every expectation that Trump WILL live down to his private character. When he does, and ONLY when he does, will I have a legitimate reason to condemn his then PUBLIC character.

  10. Mr. Trump has sloppily described his situation. It is not that he cannot have conflicts of interest as President; he does and will. It is simply that he has no legal duty to either avoid or disclose them. The principal purpose of the Emoluments Clause was to prevent the type of entrenched corruption that was endemic in Europe at the time of the American Revolution. However, I view the clause as toothless. Neither its meaning nor its scope has ever been addressed by the Supreme Court, nor is there any enforcement mechanism other than impeachment.

  11. Here are some rules that apply; The United States Constitution, the United Nations Charter and the principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal.

    According to U.S. and International Law all the U.S. / Israeli invasions are Wars of Aggression, War Crimes.

    Here are some more War Criminals;

    http://www.buenavistamall.com/WarCrimes.htm

    Zionists George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Jeff Sessions, Pence and Ryan are War Criminals, guilty of attacking Iraq and all Iraq War Crimes since. More on the list will also surprise you.

    To fund a War of Aggression is War Crime. Many U.S. politicians (past & present) are War Criminals in funding and supporting U.S. / Israeli Wars of Aggression.

    These War Criminals have been covering up the Truth of 9/11 too.

  12. http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/307515-trump-owns-stock-in-dakota-access-parent-company“The AP found that Trump’s 2016 financial disclosure form showed that he owned between $15,000 and $50,000 in Energy Transfer Partners, a Texas company that is the parent of Dakota Access.

    The president-elect also owns between $100,000 and $250,000 in Phillips 66, a company that owns a quarter of Dakota Access.

    The pipeline has been the subject of intense protests from Native American tribes and their supporters, who are concerned that it could endanger the local water supply and disrupt sacred land.

    Kelcy Warren, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, told the AP that he believes Trump will help expedite the process, which has stalled under the Obama administration.

    “Do I think it’s going to get easier? Of course,” Warren said. “If you’re in the infrastructure business, you need consistency. That’s where this process has gotten off track.”

    During the election, Warren donated $3,000 to the Trump campaign, $66,800 to the Republican National Committee and $100,000 to a committee that backed Trump’s candidacy.

  13. I am sorry for the Jewish people in this catastrophe. I am also sorry they have to live under tyranny as we live under tyranny. We know it could be much, much worse. I am thankful for that.
    I am sad for them but I also realize God is in control. God’s Will is done.

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