This Top Lawyer Says Trump’s Ethics Solutions Make Sense
As the first billionaire President, Donald Trump's conflict-of-interest proposals are not reassuring everyone that he will be fully separated from his wealth and businesses.
Critics say that the restrictions outlined at a Jan. 11 press conference aren't enough to separate the President from connection to his businesses, Fortune reported.
But John Olivieri, a partner at prominent law firm White & Case, who has drafted blind trusts for politically connected clients, generally finds that the new Trump rules make sense, and that taking the extreme measures proposed by his critics might not work in practice and could potentially cause other conflicts.
Olivieri shared with Fortune his views on the strengths and weaknesses of these proposals:
One of the features is that the Trump Organization will be rolled into a trust, Fortune reported, with full managerial control passing from Trump to his sons and long-time CFO, Allen Weisselberg.
Olivieri observes that the trust agreement resembles the blind trusts created for politicians, with a major difference. "In most cases, blind trusts have independent trustees who make all the decisions with no communication from the 'grantor,' in this instance Donald Trump," says Olivieri. "As represented, this trust calls for his sons and his CFO to make the decisions."
He adds, however, that the terms described bar the three decision-makers from sharing any information with the President regarding individual deals, or even the revenues or profits from different lines of business. "As long as those provisions are followed, the arrangement makes sense," says Olivieri. "It's in the same spirit as a classic blind trust."
Another proposal addresses the call for Trump to sell all of his assets, including the rights to licensing his name, and his collection of hotels, golf courses and apartment buildings, Fortune reported.
Olivieri, however, believes the extreme demands wouldn't work. "First of all, it isn't clear that he could sell the rights to his own name, and prevent Donald Jr. and Eric from using the Trump name in some other way. It's their name too." And selling the "name" to investors poses its own problems. "You create the perception that someone bought the president's name, and paid a big price, because his becoming president made that name worth so much more," says Olivieri.
"It's a better solution to keep the name in the Trump Organization, but have an arrangement where the President has no day-to-day knowledge or influence on what's going on."
What about the practicality of dumping all of his assets for cash?, Fortune asked. Olivieri agrees that putting all of the Trump properties on the market at once, with a tight deadline to sell everything, "would have a depressing effect on the price of those assets."
During the January press conference, Trump's lawyer said that there will be an "ethics advisor" hired, who will be responsible to approve all new deals.
"Having an expert that you pay saying that something is fine, won't necessarily convince the public that it's fine," says Olivieri. But he still feels that the watchdog role is a useful one. "If that expert, unknown to the public, stops them from doing something that's not okay, that will be a valuable service," he notes.