Trump plan to avoid business conflicts of interest doesn't fly

Story highlights

  • Experts say Trump's plan to have his kids run his business presents real problems
  • Foreign countries could use Trump properties to pressure or influence the White House, experts say

Washington (CNN)Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reiterated Thursday that if he wins the presidency he'll have his children run his companies to eliminate any conflicts of interest as commander in chief -- but it turns out, it's not that simple.

Handing the business to his kids will do nothing to minimize the potential for foreign influence on the presidency and would make it possible for the Trump family to gain financially from the highest office in the land, global businesses analysts and former presidential advisers said. Now it's become another line of attack for the campaign of his rival, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
    Trump has said that his children will be his business management back-up plan for months now, most recently in a Fox News interview Thursday.
    "I will sever my connections and I'll have my children and executives run the company, and I wouldn't discuss it with them," Trump said in reference to a Newsweek magazine article about the potential conflicts of interest caused by Trump's business holdings in India, South Korea, Russia and elsewhere.
    However, there are a number of reasons why putting his kids in charge wouldn't address concerns, according to experts. Trump would still know where his family properties are located in the US and overseas, and as president, would be in a position to make decisions on the economy and foreign policy that could benefit his family's fortunes.
    And foreign countries might see Trump business ventures in their country as a way to exert pressure or curry favor.
    Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta charged that the details in the Newsweek report "paint a frightening and dangerous picture of the influences circling Trump and the Trump organization. Trump's business dealings could effect his judgment."
    Podesta noted that few of Trump's foreign interests were disclosed in his filing with the Federal Election Commission and raised the question of transparency -- a weapon both campaigns are trying to deploy against the other.
    "There are 54 days to go to election day," Podesta said. "It's simply appalling that we don't know more about the debts and foreign business dealings of the man running to be president," he said in a conference call Thursday.
    Trump's "extensive financial dealings overseas with America's allies and enemies pose an unprecedented conflict of interest that could threaten our national security interests and global interests."
    The Trump campaign, meanwhile, has been accusing Clinton of conflicts because of the donations her family's charitable foundation receives from international figures.
    Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said Trump's massive empire meant that a Trump White House will be "a constant drama as to whether his business ventures are benefiting or being harmed by his public policy decisions."
    Kenneth Gross, who has advised previous presidential candidates on how to handle their finances, said Trump's handing his business over to his heirs or placing the holdings into a blind trust doesn't work well with physical properties. Generally, these techniques are applied to stock or bond assets that someone else trades for the original investor.
    "Putting it into a blind trust doesn't wipe out your knowledge of it. You know it's there," said Gross, now a lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meager and Flom.
    Trump's Financial Disclosure Report shows the bulk of his business interests are in the US, but he has holdings such as hotels and golf courses in at least 22 countries, including Saudi Arabia, China, Turkey, Panama, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
    Does Trump devalue golf properties to avoid taxes?
    Does Trump devalue golf properties to avoid taxes?


      Does Trump devalue golf properties to avoid taxes?


    Does Trump devalue golf properties to avoid taxes? 02:50
    In an example of how complicated Trump's business holdings are, the candidate paused during remarks about Chinese currency manipulation at the Economic Club in New York Thursday to add a thought -- that he "likes China" because it rents a lot of condos.
    Podesta also raised Newsweek's description of Trump's stymied efforts to get more of a toehold in India's market, wondering aloud if Trump's would "come down harder on Pakistan to win favor with the Indian government."
    "These are decisions affecting countries with nuclear weapons," Podesta said. "They're serious and they're potentially catastrophic" if influenced by anything other than the concerns for our national security, he said.
    Norm Ornstein, a political scientist at the American Enterprise Institute, said that since Trump's international holdings are largely in property and real estate, if he became president, "most foreign policy decisions you would make would have real implications for your holdings and your net worth, which means the conflicts of interests would be piling up beginning with every morning's security briefing."
    And other countries could see Trump's business as a means to wield influence. "There would always be the question -- whether they're putting the screws on him in his private life to have him change his policies in his public life," Hufbauer said.
    A former ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush said another problem will be the way banks and regulatory agencies in the US deal with Trump family members managing his properties.
    "You think the banks are going to turn down the president's son on a leveraged loan?" said Richard Painter, now a corporate law professor at the University of Minnesota.
    In Thursday's Fox interview, Trump was also asked how he would handle a situation in which sanctions were imposed on a country where his businesses are located.
    "Oh, I would absolutely get out in some form, if its ownership -- would have to sell," Trump said. "I would get out of those countries. I wouldn't be want to be involved."
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    Podesta said the fog around Trump's foreign interests mean he must meet three demands. The first would be to disclose those business dealings, a second is that he has to divest from his company if he wins the presidency -- a requirement that would apply to Cabinet members, said Podesta, a former noted.
    "Surely the same standard should apply to those seeking the presidency of the United States," he said.
    And he called on Trump to release his tax returns so people can have greater clarity on what his business interests actually are. Those deals, he said, raise the question of whether a President Trump would "be basing decisions on the best interests of the United States and national security or would he be basing his decisions on what's good for the Trump organization's bottom line."