By: David J. Herzig (photo from Vox.com)
When a businessperson who runs many active businesses runs and wins for President, clearly there would be many second order problems associated with inherent conflicts between running corporations and the country. When President-elect Trump won the office, many of these conflicts have bubbled to the surface.
For example, to avoid a conflict of interest between benefiting one’s personal holdings and the Country’s best interests, assets of the President are placed in a blind trust. As many have pointed out, this works only when the President does not know the nature of the holdings. Putting existing businesses into a blind trust does not stop the President for knowing the underlying assets of the trust. The conflict is not ameliorated by trust structure. Nor, by the way, would it be fixed if President elect Trump divests but the family continues to own the assets.
For this post, I want to consider the current discussion related to the blind trust problem called emolument. Many prior to the election probably have not heard much about the idea of emolument. Larry Tribe and others believe that President elect Trump’s ownership of active business assets, even in a blind trust, would violate, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution which prevents the President from accepting “presents” or “Emolument” from foreign states. Others, like Andy Grewal, do not believe that mere ownership of assets triggers the Emolument Clause.
If the solution to the blind trust and Emolument Clause problems is a divesture of President elect Trump’s assets as many advocate, this would trigger (to borrow a catch phrase of President elect Trump’s) huuuuuuge tax problem.