By Guest Blogger: Susan Perri @socialgoody
Multiple constituents in the Finger Lakes/Southern Tier (New York’s 23rd Congressional District) received letters delivered via email on February 12 from U.S. Congressman Tom Reed. These letters were in response to constituents’ stated concerns that Trump has not fully divested his business interests to remain above multiple ethical violations, including the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. This has been a source of ongoing concern for a number of independent ethics experts, watchdog groups, and the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE). OGE and others have repeatedly stated on record that Trump’s business plan to use a blind trust to resolve potential conflicts of interest between his business and the presidency is not adequate to avoid conflicts of interest and ethics violations; he must fully divest, and he has not.
To reassure his constituents, Representative Reed wrote that Trump has fully divested so there is no need for concern and there are no conflicts of interest. This is patently false.
Divestiture require Trump to go further than the blind trust to ensure the highest protection. It requires the sale of all of his assets, with their value conveyed to a blind trust — and an investment portfolio of which he and his family would have no knowledge or control. Trump’s proposed blind trust exists for his “exclusive benefit”, and gives his sons operational control of his business in an attempt to remove any suggestion of a conflict of interest with his decisions as president. Despite moving his businesses into the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, Trump still continues to own them, meaning he remains exposed to possible attempts by corporations, people or countries to influence him by how they treat his businesses. To illustrate complications that could arise from failure to divest, The New York Times has created a series of circular graphics showing possible ways that Trump’s business ties can create conflicts of interest with the federal government.
On January 12, Walter M. Shaub Jr., Director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, characterized Trump’s blind trust plan as inadequate to avoid these ethical concerns, and moreover would render Trump vulnerable to “suspicions of corruption”. Director Shaub further confirmed that the blind trust plan “doesn’t meet the standards that the best of his nominees are meeting and that every President in the past four decades has met.” Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and leading independent scholar on government ethics, says that the trust is irrelevant from the perspective of the Emoluments Clause and conflicts of interest.
Richard W. Painter, former chief White House ethics lawyer for former President George W. Bush, had this to say about the Emoluments Clause:
“The emolument clause applies to the President. It is rooted in the concern of the founders of this country that foreign governments would try to meddle in American politics. What’s the point of having a Tea Party and throwing King George’s tea into Boston Harbor if you’re then going to elect a president who’s buying and selling tea with King George or any other foreign power?”
National Public Radio has created a Conflicts Team to monitor Trump’s ethical promises, and has identified ten ethics-related promises that Trump has made or has claimed to be addressing. Of these ten, the team found four assertions that apply to Trump’s entire term in office and these are being tracked. The remaining six are pledges that could be fulfilled with specific actions, and of these six only one has clear evidence of steps toward resolution. Of all ten ethics-related promises, not one has presented evidence of being fully resolved.
There are two significant concerns that arise as a result of the emailed correspondence from Tom Reed: (1) is Reed himself misinformed on the issue of divestiture for ethical considerations, and therefore perhaps also ill informed regarding other pertinent issues of state and national interest? Or, (2) is Reed deliberately misleading his constituents with a known falsehood for his own political gain? It is no small thing for a U.S. Congressman to misrepresent the truth in written correspondence to a constituent. It’s perhaps a worse thing that he is potentially so misinformed as to commit in writing what he does not understand in theory or practice. How far does this disregard for his constituents extend? The people of New York’s 23rd Congressional District deserve better, and we demand an answer from Representative Reed as to the purpose of his e-mail correspondence on February 12. Mr. Trump has not divested himself of his business interests. If, as Tom Reed himself has written, “the business of the people should never be exploited for personal gain”, what does he intend to do to protect NY23 from this exploitation?
At the time of this writing, my attempts to obtain an explanation from any of Reed’s New York or Washington offices have gone unanswered.