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Trump's Private Business Dealings Pose Unprecedented Conflicts Of Interest


President-elect Donald Trump is an unprecedented figure in many respects, in part because there has never been an American president who has such complicated global business interests. Trump has stated that his three older children will manage his business once he enters office. And that's raised - that has raised a whole lot of concerns because it provides so little insulation between the president and his family's business interests. We spoke to Drew Harwell about this. He's a business reporter for The Washington Post.

DREW HARWELL: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Just to be clear, there are no laws that prohibit an American president from continuing to be involved in their private business matters while in office, right?

HARWELL: That's right. There are extensive, strict ethics rules for most high-level government officials, including elected officials, that say they have to recuse themselves from voting or acting on government business that could potentially benefit them, but none of those rules affect presidents. And that's sort of on the basis that, you know, when you get high up enough in the power chain, anything could sort of be construed as a private sort of conflict of interest.

MARTIN: So let's talk about what he could do to prevent conflicts of interest. Presidents in the modern era who've had significant assets have usually put those into a blind trust with some kind of independent manager. Would that work for Donald Trump?

HARWELL: It could work, but it would be potentially painful in the short term and potentially inconvenient for what Trump has created. When they talk about blind trusts, typically - and how we've seen the other presidents do it - they'll sell their assets or they'll liquidate them in some way, and then they'll funnel all that money into a trust where they don't know where that money is being invested. And in that way, you know, whatever decisions they make in the government world, who knows if they're affecting their private world?

But, you know, Trump is obviously - he has built a brand over the last couple decades. And a lot of the things aren't as easily sold. Much of his empire is real estate, which we all know is not just an overnight sort of transaction to get rid of.

And, you know, how do you put a brand into a blind trust when, you know, in Trump's empire, a lot of it is licensing deals where somebody else will put in all the money and build the thing and Trump will just get, you know, millions of dollars to stamp his brand on it? So how do you liquidate that? How do you distance yourself from that? That's the big question.

MARTIN: Can you list a couple of Trump's holdings that might present a challenge in this department?

HARWELL: Yeah. You know, his holdings are all over the world. He has an incredible amount of debts, you know, more than $300 million in loans from a German mega-bank called Deutsche Bank that is currently negotiating a settlement with the Department of Justice over some housing crisis-era abuses. And, you know, that bank, it would behoove them to get a low settlement from the DOJ. And the DOJ will be headed by people who President-elect Trump chooses. So he may want to potentially influence his biggest lender in a way that would not necessarily prevent them from lending to his companies in the future.

All of these are potential real dangers. They're also perceived dangers. And so there doesn't even necessarily have to be a real conflict here, a real damage to the institution. Just the lack of trust there is really enduring. And it's going to be something that could mark Trump's presidency the entire time.

MARTIN: Drew Harwell is a business reporter for The Washington Post. Thanks so much, Drew.

HARWELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.