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President-Elect Trump's Potential Conflicts of Interest Are Massive

A golf course in Scotland. Loans from a Chinese bank. Hotels the world over.


  • Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

President-elect Donald Trump has substantial financial holdings and business interests both in the US and abroad. He has conducted business with many different countries, including China, Azerbaijan and Uruguay.

Eric Lipton, a reporter for The New York Times, has been doing some digging into what that could mean for his presidency.

“The trouble is that we don’t know the full reach of all of his investments and who all of his partners are,” says Lipton. “So, it makes it difficult to have complete visibility into the actions he’s taking and the potential benefits that those actions create.”

For example, Lipton says, we do know that Trump owes money to the Bank of China, and he could, theoretically, offer the country a favor in exchange for debt forgiveness.

“I’m never suggesting that that’s something that he would do,” says Lipton, “but if something like that happens you want to be able to see it and know that it’s irrelevant, and the trouble is we don’t have that kind of visibility into all of his debts and assets to know that properly.”

No other president has ever been in a situation like this before. Trump will be "the wealthiest modern president and perhaps the wealthiest president in American history,” says Lipton. “I don’t think there’s ever been a president who has anywhere close to the number of potential conflicts that Trump has.”

The US system endeavors to separate political power and economic power.

When the two come together, Lipton says, it becomes a problem.

Trump has said that he will avoid conflicts of interest by turning his assets over to his children. Trump's lawyer has suggested this will be a blind trust — but blind trusts must be run by independent parties who don't share information with the business owner.

Lipton, for one, is unconvinced.

“It’s ridiculous,” he says. “It’s not a blind trust. When you turn over your assets to your children to run, children that you’re in constant contact with, that’s not a blind trust, so that’s an incorrect use of the term.”

Besides, Lipton says, Trump’s children seem to be as involved in politics as he is.

“I mean just yesterday, the first meeting he has with a foreign leader, Ivanka Trump is there present at that meeting,” says Lipton. Trump met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday. “So if she’s running the international chain of hotels that he operates, and she’s meeting with the prime minister of Japan, I mean it already creates an appearance of 'well, who knows, maybe they want to open a hotel in Japan?'”