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Majority: Put Trump assets in blind trust

Nearly three-fourths of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say President-elect Donald Trump should put his assets in a true blind trust with an independent trustee while he’s serving as president.

Trump’s myriad and far-flung business holdings—ranging from hotels and apartment buildings to resorts and golf courses—pose questions about potential conflicts of interest that are unprecedented for a U.S. president. Examples of possible conflicts include regulatory decisions affecting banks with loans to Trump’s businesses and contracts between Trump entities and interests controlled by foreign governments.

Twenty-three percent agree with the plan Trump appears to be proposing: transferring control of his business assets to his children. Three percent say he should maintain control of his business assets.

Trump said Wednesday morning via Twitter that he will appear with his children Dec. 15 to “discuss the fact that I will be leaving my great business in total in order to fully focus on running the country in order to make America great again!”

He said that while not mandated to do this under the law, “I feel it is visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses. Hence, legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations. The Presidency is a far more important task!” He did not provide details.

As president, Trump would be exempt from criminal conflict-of-interest laws that apply to executive branch employees. But presidents are not exempt from federal laws against bribery or from the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bars U.S. public officials from accepting gifts or payment from foreign governments.

The president-elect reportedly wants to transfer control of the Trump Organization to his three eldest children, who already hold executive positions and have key roles on his transition team. To do otherwise, Trump adviser Rudolph Giuliani said recently, “would basically put his children out of work.” (That move, however, could trigger billions of dollars in gift taxes.)

Richard Painter and Norman Eisen, former ethics counsels to presidents George Bush and Barack Obama, maintain Trump should do as other presidents have done: put his assets in a true blind trust run by an independent trustee. That would require Trump to appoint an independent trustee to liquidate and convert to cash Trump’s business holdings, and then manage the investments in the blind trust, of which Trump would have no knowledge.

More than 850 respondents participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Nov. 29 and 30.

What should Donald Trump do with his business assets while serving as president?
He should put his assets in a true blind trust with an independent trustee. 74%
He should transfer control of his business assets to his children. 23%
He should maintain control of his business assets. 3%

COMMENTS:
This is not up for negotiation. The only way that Trump can effectively, ethically, legally and morally be president is to put his financial interests aside for the duration. A blind trust is the only way for that to happen. Even a blind trust should have additional oversight to be sure that it remains truly blind. And a full accounting of all his financial interests and investments should be submitted as part of the public record. As every president before him has done for a century. Especially since he seems to view his family and current properties as an integral part of his ruling empire. If any other public official had the kind of graft already going on before he’s even become president, they’d be summarily removed.
—Lee Drake, CEO OS-Cubed Inc.

This “blind trust” principle is a way to comport with Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution, which bars office holders from accepting “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.” Pretty clear constitutional language.
—Ralph Carter

None of these three options is a workable answer. Instead, he should place his ownership shares of his multiple businesses into a revocable trust, specifying that it may be revoked only after he no longer holds any public office. An independent trustee should be named who would conduct all dealings and communications with his children, who would retain their management positions in the businesses but would be precluded for the duration of Trump’s term from speaking or communicating with him about any business matter. Any permissions needed by the businesses or the children relating to the businesses must be obtained by them from the independent trustee during his presidential term, including, for example, any sale of some or all of the assets of the businesses. I believe this should avoid the gift tax problem and the unfair impact on his children of any liquidation of these businesses.
—David Lovenheim

It is ludicrous to think that it shouldn’t be in blind trust. The potential conflict of interest—as well as the influence that could be used against him—are way too big to ignore. They should also close down his Twitter account to save us all much embarrassment.
—Scott Brown

Donald’s children seem to have more on the ball and he would do well to have them take control of his holdings.
—Mark Williams

No president of the United States should use the office—or encourage the perception of using the office—for his own financial gain. It’s mystifying how Trump can declare himself above having conflicts of interest, when he is in a position to bully or bribe other governments in order to increase his business empire. If he really cares about “making America great again” (whatever that means in the moment), he should have no qualms about focusing on that to the exclusion of his business for four years. Also, when will that audit of his taxes be done? Or is the press going to give him a pass on that, as well?
—Maggie Symington, Rochester

His name is his brand and his assets are his brand. How can there possibly be a blind trust for an asset on the middle of Fifth Avenue with his name at the top of the building? America should have thought about the impossible tangle of conflicts before they elected him. He won. He earned the right to be conflicted. Wait until we are three years into his term. Wait until America hasn’t yet gotten great. Wait until he brags that he has become wealthier while being president. Wait until we all collectively say, “Oh, no.”
—Jay Birnbaum

A blind trust is a weak solution in his case but it is better than doing nothing. Despite his comments, he can have very real conflicts of interest even though there may be no law forbidding them. He wanted to be president and now he has been hired to be president. This is a full-time job, not something one does while simultaneously running the Trump Organization.
—Mike Haugh

His business assets should be put into a blind trust. This is especially important since many of his family members remain in actual as well as advisory positions within his transitional government team. I do not see how Donald Trump can be involved in making governmental decisions without recognizing the effect it will have on his various businesses. This is critical as he has the reputation of being a very “hands-on” CEO.
—Al Schnucker, Schnucker Packaging Inc.

This is the correct thing to do, but I believe that it is virtually an impossible task. It would put his children out of work and would require a tremendous fire sale to liquidate so many assets that few people or corporations could accomplish.
—Charles Kaplan

He should have known the requirements and conditions for being president before he decided to run. He can’t make up new rules as he goes. Unfortunately, our president-elect often seems unable to consider consequences beyond his whims and urges of the moment. He says what he thinks, and that’s why some people thought to elect him. Well, here’s reality time. I think some have called it “suck it up, buttercup.”
—Nancy Peterson

Pay to play: It seems to me that was an accusation thrown at Hillary Rodham Clinton by the Republicans. If he wants to provoke the press to investigate his Russian ties as well as those to other enemies of USA, then turn to his children; otherwise blind trust and concentrate on the presidency.
—Wayne Donner, Rush

Yes, Trump should put his assets into a true blind trust with an independent trustee. All he’s doing is trying to find ways to make more money off the backs of taxpayers. Considering he isn’t much of a taxpayer himself, he damn well better cut out all conflicts of interest. If he can’t do that, then don’t be president. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. I am sick and tired of white, male privilege. Enough.
—M. Curtain, Rochester

It would be a conflict of interest to hand your assets to your kids while keeping them as advisers in your administration. When will people say enough!
—Joanne Greene-Blose

We will see if he walks the walks!
—Philip M. Chirico

Can you imagine if the tables were turned, and Hillary Clinton were the president-elect with vast real estate holdings and other business interests and she ignored calls for transparency? Trump would be flipping out along with the rest of the right wing. It’s interesting to hear total silence on the right. Have we forgotten already how Trump railed unrelentingly during the campaign about Hillary and Bill’s conflict of interest with their foundation? Neither the Trumps nor the Clintons need the “money,” but think of the “quid pro quo” Trump and his family could gain from this behavior. Is there a specific law that states “the president cannot do this”? No, but common ethics sense require that he separate himself and his family from all his current business interests; i.e., a true blind trust.
—Peter Bonenfant, Fairport

And his children involved with the Trump business should not advise him in the White House, to avoid conflict of interest.
—Judith Lundquist, LCSW PLLC

We did not elect a king. He should not be above the law while potentially raking in billions by his decisions.
—Jay Ross

Trump wanted to run for president. He should have known very well what would be required of him concerning his business dealings. A true blind trust with an independent trustee is the only way he would not have a conflict of interests. He should release his tax returns for several years. His wife should be required to move into the White House and be the “first lady” that everyone expects her to be. Not a “part-time, when I’m required to be” first lady. The extra cost to the citizens of the U.S. to provide needed security for her and their son in New York City will be substantial. Without Melania regularly living at the White House with him, Trump is now free to grope and sexually assault as many women that he wants. We all know how he views women.
—Jennifer Apetz

He should transfer his business assets/etc. to his children while serving as president and subsequently his children should not be involved with any government affairs. If his children choose to be involved with government dealings, than they too should also disengage from their business activities. Trump should also setup an impartial (honorable) auditor to review for any conflict of interests and unethical dealings between his former business and his administration. We need to end the government corruption, double-dipping and conflicts of interest. Trump has sacrificed a lot to be president and the business he built can stay in the family, as long as he remains separated from it. He should look at it like “I built this great thing, I will now retire from it and allow my capable children to take over completely. I am starting a new phase in my life and am here to serve the American people NOT my personal interests.” He is a wealthy man, we all know that, and he will remain wealthy while in office, but he should completely retire from his business affairs. And what a wonderful way to retire too, serving others, instead of just playing golf. Time will tell, but I hope that for once this nation takes the high road.
—Marianne Jones

Of course they belong in a blind trust. The fact that this question even rises to the level of being in your poll proves the sad state of affairs of American governmental ethics. Even the most trustworthy and honest president should not hesitate putting his or her assets in a blind trust, but with the track record of Trump it becomes an obvious necessity.
—Alan Ziegler, president, Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation

His investment-type assets should be in a blind trust. If he is managing a business, he should pick the management team to replace himself (in this case, possibly his children since they are active and familiar with the companies) and he should not influence these businesses during his term in office. In the past, presidents put their investments in blind trusts, but they were not the managers of a billion-dollar business. A blind trustee with investment knowledge can care for the investments, but to find a blind trustee with the managerial skills Mr. Trump uses could be extremely difficult and the jobs of thousands of employees would be at risk. He should pick his management team and then have a hands-off policy for the duration of his term as president.
—Tom Walpole

Of course he should. How is this even a question? He should also finally release his taxes, as he swore he would. The word “crooked” was thrown around frivolously during the election, but we’re all being educated by a master in what the term really means.
—Mike Bergin, Chariot Learning

Incredibly complicated, but that is all the more evidence that it is a necessary measure. An alternative might be for all his assets to be managed by a magistrate with direction and authority to liquidate all assets over a 2 year period and invest the proceeds in a blind trust.
—Stephen R. Webb M.D.

There is no middle ground on this issue—the president-elect needs to establish complete separation of his business interests from all of the administration’s dealings and a true blind trust is the only way to put potential conflicts beyond question. With respect to the question of “putting his children out of work,” it’s hard to have much sympathy for this concern. Mr. Trump chose to run for the office and, whether he contemplated a true blind trust of not, he cannot have run without knowing a blind trust would be called for. His children are not without financial resources of their own or the potential to be engaged elsewhere inside the new administration or outside for other private entities. No other way but to bite this bullet.
—Vince Dick

He should follow the practice of previous presidents and remove any risk of violating conflict-of-interest laws but as demonstrated, he is unlike any previous president. Therefore, he will continue to do what he wants and his supporters will “blindly” accept and applaud his actions.
—M. Menz

Absolutely! Every president for decades has done this and with his far-flung business interests, he, more than all the others combined, needs to do so. Otherwise you will have numerous repeats of the recent incident about his business partners in India. He needs to do it for his own protection! Otherwise, I predict inevitable impeachment proceedings within three years.
—Paul E. Haney

The fact that he is a business mogul or that his children are heavily involved in his businesses is irrelevant. He chose to take this opportunity to run for POTUS and has been elected as such. If he was not aware of the conflict of interest ramifications before he made his decision to run, that’s merely a reflection of some of his other poor decision making choices he’s made as a business executive (recent example: Trump University).
—Linda E. Boutwell, retired

There’s really only two choices, blind trust or leave it in family control (his or kids). But it’s legally really up to Trump and whether he wants to risk impeachment and continuous flak from the media if he makes bad/wrong decisions. It’s still his choice!
—Hal Gaffin, Fairport

Donald Trump should transfer control of his business assets to his children just as Hillary Clinton transferred control of her assets to Bill and Chelsea when she was Secretary of State. Trump should not be forced to sell his assets as recommended by Richard Painter and Norman Eisen who were the ethics counsels to presidents Bush and Obama. Obama and Bush’s assets were not in the same league as Trump’s assets. The Clinton’s were broke when they left the White House. Who were the Clinton’s ethics counsels? If the Trump children take control of Trump’s business assets, they should not participate in government business.
—Clifford Jacobson M.D., Vanguard Psychiatric Services PC

Gone are the days of puritanically perverse political correctness. In the very recent past, we would have been patronized by our politicians and given the big thumbs up with someone like Donald Trump placing his assets in blind trust. Behind the scenes his vision and direction would have never ceased. He has no legal or ethical responsibility to place assets into blind trust, rather he has a responsibility to his family, employees and customers to continue delivering results consistent with expectation. For other political leaders to call for this all the while sitting in direct conflict of interest on a daily basis in committees, boards and other paying positions, not only illustrates the blatant hypocrisy, it masks the real intention for them to convert our president elect into the world of politically correct posturing while perversely puppeteering that said hypocrisy into a cloak of self righteous indignation. It’s time to focus on turning a keen eye to corruption and immorality when it comes to those selling our country out for trillions of dollars while receiving fractions of pennies, instead of looking for the tabloid headline while literally accomplishing nothing. Less talking, more action. When we philosophize we compromise the theories of the wise, and we when we give advice is the goal is to entice the listener, but at what price. Time for humility, hard work and compromise, let’s stop the sled righteous partisan witch hunts and restore our American Dream.
—Chris Curts

If I were Donald, I would trust my business assets to Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric, not a blind trust. The media and the politicians will criticize Donald and his business whenever they think they can, but I would trust the business assets to these three grown children. The business assets of Donald grew about one thousand times as these three children grew. This growth is an example for us all and for our country. May these business assets grow another thousand times as the several children of these children grow. Business assets and other property do not grow on trees and they do not belong to others, including the media and the other politicians. Business assets require care, vision, and energy to survive, succeed, and grow. They belong to the owners and cannot be taken from the owners without due process. It is not illegal for our president or vice president to own property in foreign countries. Donald is risking his life and the lives of his family, as other presidents have before him. His family’s property does not need to be risked any more than it already is. Donald is a good father and has a good family. His grown children are exceptionally well prepared. Ivanka will lead and manage the hotels, Donald Jr. will lead and manage the golf courses, and Eric will lead and manage new developments. Trust him and his family to do the right things for the country and the American people. Protect him, his family, and his property. My perpetual Bob Nelson calendar on rewards has a quote today from Vince Lombardi. “It is time for us all to stand and cheer for the doer, the achiever – the one who recognizes the challenge and does something about it.” Bob adds: “Encourage and reward your employees (e.g., Donald, Mike, and others) when they take the initiative to act on their own for the benefit of the organization (i.e., the American people).” I added the examples in brackets.
—Chuck Masick, MIT (Magic Institute of Tutoring)

12/2/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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