4 ways Trump's conflicts of interest could actually hurt the US


With the exception of the lawyers he hired to construct it, it's hard to find any government ethics experts who believe President-elect Donald Trump's plan to distance himself from the management of the Trump Organization while maintaining his ownership stake is enough to eliminate concerns about conflicts of interest.

Trump is signing over management responsibilities for his company to his two adult sons and a Trump Organization executive. He says he is setting up a structure that will allow him to receive only limited information about the performance of the company while serving as president.

Related: Trump Just Failed His First Ethics Test as President

The words from the Trump transition team is that the president "can't have" a conflict of interest as a matter of law, and that Trump is taking extreme measures that he isn't obligated to take out of a sense of propriety.

RELATED: Inside Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort

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Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort
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Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort
PALM BEACH, FL - NOVEMBER 12: (MINIMUM PRICING APPLIES, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE) Place settings photographed before guests arrive for Donald Trump Jr. and Vanessa Trump's wedding reception at The Mar-a-Lago Club November 12, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
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General view of the upper balcony area during Donald Trump Jr. and Vanessa Haydon's wedding at The Mar-a-Lago Club November 11, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida.

(Photo by Michelle McMinn Photography/Getty Images)

View of the beach club pool at the Mar-a-Lago estate, Palm Beach, Florida, February 17, 2003.

(Photo by Davidoff Studios/Getty Images)

General view inside The Mar-a-Lago Club November 12, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida.

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American businessman Donald Trump talks with a group of Boy Scouts on a tour of the Mar-a-Lago estate, Palm Beach, Florida, 1999.

(Photo by Davidoff Studios/Getty Images)

General view of the upper balcony area at The Mar-a-Lago Club November 12, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida.

(Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

General view of Donald Trump Jr. and Vanessa Haydon's wedding reception at The Mar-a-Lago Club November 12, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida.

(Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images)

An American flag flies over Donald Trump's Mar-A-Lago club November 1, 2006 in Palm Beach, Florida. The town of Palm Beach has cited Donald Trump because the flag is too big and does not meet the town's specifications. A hearing is scheduled.

(Photo by Lucien Capehart/Getty Images)

Grand interior reception at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Estate in Florida
Grand interior reception at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Estate in Florida
Party on the Moon performs during US President-elect Donald Trump's New Year's Eve party December 31, 2016 at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida. / AFP / DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH, FL - MARCH 13: The Donald J. Trump Ballroom at the Mar-A-Lago Club' in Palm Beach where Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke after the Florida primary, March 13, 2016 in Palm Beach, Florida (Photo by Brooks Kraft/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 1: Pool that Trump built at Mar-a-Lago. Photo by Mary Jordan/The Washington Post via Getty Images
PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 1: The tiled patio at Mar-a-Lago, a focal point of the estate. Photo by Mary Jordan/The Washington Post via Getty Images
PALM BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 28: A general view at the Mar-a-lago Club Pool view at the Andrea Bocelli concert at The Mar-a-Lago Club on February 28, 2010 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Lucien Capehart/Getty Images)
View from an upper balcony of the Mar-a-Lago estate, Palm Beach, Florida, September 4, 2010. The view looks south towards a newly constucted ballroom. (Photo by Davidoff Studios/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Marjorie Merriweather Post Hutton's home in Palm Beach, Florida.
Real estate developer Donald Trump (C) w. wife Ivana sitting in their home, Mar-a-Lago, w. household staff behind. (Photo by Ted Thai/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH, FL - JANUARY 29: The pool at Mar-A-Lago where cocktails were held for the International Red Cross Ball January 29, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Lucien Capehart/Getty Images)
Atmosphere during Art for Life Gala Honoring Sean P. Diddy Combs Hosted by Russell Simmons and Kimora Lee Simmons at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, United States. (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)
PALM BEACH, FL - NOVEMBER 12: Preparations are made before guests arrive for Donald Trump Jr. and Vanessa Haydon?s wedding reception at The Mar-a-Lago Club November 12, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH, FL - NOVEMER 12: (MINIMUM PRICING APPLIES, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE) Ivana Trump and guests attend the wedding ceremony of Donald Trump Jr. and Vanessa Haydon at the Mar-a-Lago Club November 12, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH, FL - NOVEMER 12: (MINIMUM PRICING APPLIES, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE) Newlyweds Donald Trump Jr. and Vanessa Haydon pose with the groomsmen and bridesmaids after the wedding ceremony of Donald Trump Jr. and Vanessa Haydon at the Mar-a-Lago Club November 12, 2005 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Michelle McMinn Photography/Getty Images)
Palm Beach-dining setting for the club members. Mar-a-lago is an estate and National Historic Landmark in Palm Beach built by the heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. It was envisioned as a winter retreat for presidents, but never used as such and in 1985 Donald Trump purchased it. The estate contains the Mar-a-lago private club, and a separate closed off area that serve as the Trumps family private quarters..............-the Estate showcases a sumptuous decorative style , everywhere you turned there were lavish accents, but all of these tied together with elegance and an undeniable regal style. I was amazed at the countless details, the estate is truly breathtaking. #palmbeach #maralago #lls #blacktie #gala #glamour #jetsetter #exclusive #liveauthentic #luxury #lifestyle #fashion
The closing day at the Cavallino, Classic Sports Sunday in #palmbeach #vintage #cars #pbir #trophy #cavallino #carshow #racecar #bugatti
Ready for a party #HappyFriday . . 📸: @adamoprisphotography
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Both of those claims were shot down Wednesday afternoon by Walter Schaub, the director of the Office of Government Ethics, in a speech delivered at the Brookings Institution. The law that Trump relies on for the claim that presidents "can't have" conflicts of interest was passed for a narrow purpose, Schaub explained.

While the law demands that executive branch nominees recuse themselves from dealing with matters that could affect them personally, "Congress understood that a president can't recuse without depriving the American people of the services of their leader. That's the reason why the law doesn't apply to the president."

Nevertheless, he said, "Common sense dictates that a president can, of course, have very real conflicts of interest." And while Schaub admitted that divestiture would be expensive for Trump, he argued, "It's important to understand that the president is now entering the world of public service. He's going to be asking his own appointees to make sacrifices. He's going to be asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives in conflicts around the world. So, no, I don't think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be the president of the United States of America."

Related: The Simple Fact Trump Is Missing About the 'Leaked' Documents

The potential pitfalls of Trump's plan are numerous, but here are four of the most serious.

1. Allegations of pay-to-play policies.
Trump has promised to donate all of his profits from money spent by foreign governments at his properties to the U.S. Treasury for the duration of his presidency. Without addressing the bookkeeping nightmare of such a plan, it still doesn't address concerns that foreign governments -- not to mention domestic and foreign businesses, special interests groups and pretty much anybody with business before the federal government -- will either feel compelled to patronize Trump's properties or will do so willingly in an effort to curry favor with the Trump administration. It also doesn't address the value of the prestige that would accrue to the Trump Organization in general if it becomes the brand of choice for international diplomats.

The end result could be decisions made by the Trump administration that favor Trump's customers rather than American national interests.

2. Questions of regulatory favoritism.
The Trump Organization will continue to profit from multiple properties and licensing agreements in the United States, all of which fall under the oversight of elements of the executive branch to some degree. That means that any federal workers dealing with a Trump property -- from an Internal Revenue Agency auditor to a workplace safety inspector -- will know that the decision they make could ultimately affect the personal bottom line of their ultimate boss. The problem extends to state government as well. It's not hard to imagine a governor angling for a large federal grant leaning on state regulatory agencies to go easy on the president's businesses.

The end result could be decisions made by federal regulators that favor Trump's businesses rather than American national interests.

RELATED: Trump's most recent press conference

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President-elect Trump's first press conference since election win
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President-elect Trump's first press conference since election win
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in Trump Tower, Manhattan, New York, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
A member of the media waits for U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
US Vice President-elect Mike Pence speaks during a press conference January 11, 2017 in New York. Donald Trump is holding his first news conference in nearly six months Wednesday, amid explosive allegations over his ties to Russia, a little more than a week before his inauguration. / AFP / DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump takes questions from members of the media during a press conference at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. Trump vigorously denounced unsubstantiated reports that the Russian government has gathered potentially damaging information about his finances and conduct. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 11: President-elect Donald Trump arrives at a news cenference at Trump Tower on January 11, 2017 in New York City. This is Trump's first official news conference since the November elections. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
US President-elect Donald Trump arrives to give a press conference January 11, 2017 in New York. Donald Trump is holding his first news conference in nearly six months Wednesday, amid explosive allegations over his ties to Russia, a little more than a week before his inauguration. / AFP / DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, second right, stands with son Donald Trump Jr. right, and daughter Ivanka Trump prior to a press conference at Trump Tower in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. Trump vigorously denounced unsubstantiated reports that the Russian government has gathered potentially damaging information about his finances and conduct. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Numerous files are displayed (L) as US President-elect Donald Trump gives a press conference January 11, 2017 in New York. Donald Trump is holding his first news conference in nearly six months Wednesday, amid explosive allegations over his ties to Russia, a little more than a week before his inauguration. / AFP / DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
US President-elect Donald Trump gives a press conference January 11, 2017 in New York. Donald Trump is holding his first news conference in nearly six months Wednesday, amid explosive allegations over his ties to Russia, a little more than a week before his inauguration. / AFP / DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
US President-elect Donald Trump gives a press conference January 11, 2017 in New York. Donald Trump is holding his first news conference in nearly six months Wednesday, amid explosive allegations over his ties to Russia, a little more than a week before his inauguration. / AFP / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
People watch from a balcony as US President-elect Donald Trump gives a press conference January 11, 2017 in New York. Donald Trump is holding his first news conference in nearly six months Wednesday, amid explosive allegations over his ties to Russia, a little more than a week before his inauguration. / AFP / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
US President-elect Donald Trump Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is seen during a press conference January 11, 2017 in New York. Donald Trump is holding his first news conference in nearly six months Wednesday, amid explosive allegations over his ties to Russia, a little more than a week before his inauguration. / AFP / DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
US President-elect Donald Trump along with his children Eric(L) Ivanka and Donald Jr. arrive for a press conference January 11, 2017 at Trump Tower in New York. Trump held his first news conference in nearly six months Wednesday, amid explosive allegations over his ties to Russia, a little more than a week before his inauguration. / AFP / Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
US President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a press conference January 11, 2017 at Trump Tower in New York. Trump held his first news conference in nearly six months Wednesday, amid explosive allegations over his ties to Russia, a little more than a week before his inauguration. / AFP / Timothy A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 11: President-elect Donald Trump speaks at a news cenference at Trump Tower on January 11, 2017 in New York City. This is Trump's first official news conference since the November elections. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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3. Law enforcement favoritism.
The number of times Trump and his businesses have been sued by angry creditors, customers, employees and others is legendary. Some of those lawsuits, like the highly publicized Trump University suit, were heard in federal court. And in the distant past, the Department of Justice brought cases directly against Trump's company. In an era where federal prosecutors all owe their jobs to the Trump White House, critics could justifiably wonder if any subsequent violations would be treated with the same level of seriousness and impartiality.

The end result could be decisions made by law enforcement and the courts that favor Trump's businesses rather than American national interests.

4. Security costs.
As more than a few people have noticed, Trump tends to put his name on everything, and buildings in dozens of cities and multiple countries around the world currently boast the Trump name and logo. From Trump Tower on down, every one of these facilities could be seen as a potential target for terrorists looking to damage the United States in general and Trump in particular. It's unclear what Trump's status as president will mean for their security, but the U.S. taxpayer is already footing the bill for heightened security at Trump Tower in Manhattan. To the extent that this and some of his other commercial properties also require additional protection, critics will be able to ask whether the Trump Organization is receiving a federal benefit because of Trump's status as president.

The end result could be higher security costs paid by American taxpayers to protect the Trump Organization's business interests.

Related: Is Trump Too Impulsive to Be President? 58% of Americans Think So

Ethics experts appear to be holding out vain hope that something will change in the coming weeks.

"[T]here's still time to ... come up with something that will resolve his conflicts of interest," Schaub said Wednesday. "In developing the current plan, the President-elect did not have the benefit of OGE's guidance. So, to be clear, OGE's primary recommendation is that he divest his conflicting financial interests. Nothing short of divestiture will resolve these conflicts."

Former Republican White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter said, "The president-elect has nine days to fix this problem."

But there is no evidence that the president-elect even views his situation as a problem, and much less that he's interested in fixing it.

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