Prominent Trump Backers Sign Letter Pushing To End Conflicts Of Interest

Jan 3, 2017
Originally published on January 3, 2017 2:15 pm

Some prominent conservatives have signed on to a letter warning President-elect Donald Trump that he needs to sell off his businesses to address his many conflicts of interest.

"Respectfully, you cannot serve the country as president and also own a world-wide business enterprise, without seriously damaging the presidency," says a letter sent Monday by a bipartisan group of politicians, ethics advocates and academics.

The letter was signed by several moderate Republicans, including former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, former Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson and former Rep. Mickey Edwards of Oklahoma, who was chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee.

But the signers also include some further-right conservatives, including Peter Schweizer, president of the Government Accountability Institute, and political consultant John Pudner of Take Back Our Republic, which seeks to build GOP support for campaign finance reform.

Pudner was instrumental in the successful Tea Party-backed effort to unseat then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican. He also is a contributor to Breitbart News, which has been managed in recent years by Trump's senior counselor, Stephen Bannon.

A Trump supporter, Pudner said that cleaning up Washington had been a central part of the president-elect's campaign and that now he needs to follow through.

"He made such a theme of things like the revolving door and the ways in which decisions can be influenced, not for the public good," Pudner said. "If you have the presidency and people are going to question every week, 'Why is he making this decision? Is there some business angle on it?' I just think it undercuts so much of the reason that people did support him."

Other signatories included several good-government groups, such as People for the American Way, Public Citizen, Common Cause and the Revolving Door Project, as well as liberal Democrats such as Zephyr Teachout of Fordham University School of Law and Harvard Law School's Laurence H. Tribe.

Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway told CNN on Monday that a news conference is planned for Jan. 11 to address conflicts of interest. But she added that the date might shift, depending upon the advice of Trump's lawyers.

In the past, Trump has said he will turn over his companies to his grown children to operate.

The letter notes that the president-elect has begun to address some of the conflicts he faces, terminating real estate deals in Brazil, Azerbaijan and Argentina and announcing plans to close his charitable foundation.

"That is a good start, but we wish to be clear that the only way to solve the problems you face remains divesting your business enterprises into a blind trust managed by an independent trustee or the equivalent," the letter stated.

You can read the letter in its entirety here:

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President-elect Trump may face some big conflicts of interest once he takes office. To avoid them, a group that includes former politicians, ethics experts and even contributors to the conservative website Breitbart are calling on Trump to sell off his business interests. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: The letter says Trump cannot serve the country as president and also own a worldwide business enterprise without seriously damaging the presidency, and it says simply handing over those operations to Trump's grown children as the president-elect as proposed won't solve the problem.

MICKEY EDWARDS: We haven't had many presidents who have their own personal economic linkages with people in other countries and other governments.

ZARROLI: Former Congressman Mickey Edwards of Oklahoma served as chair of the House Republican Policy Committee.

EDWARDS: He's going to be the one who makes the really vital decisions about Russia when he's got investments in Russia or other places where he's got investments.

ZARROLI: The letter was signed by good government groups such as Common Cause as well as moderate Republicans such as former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman. It was also signed by prominent conservatives, such as Peter Schweizer of the Government Accountability Institute, a harsh critic of the Clintons, and by Breitbart contributor John Pudner of Take Back Our Republic.

JOHN PUDNER: I think this is good for both the country and for him.

ZARROLI: Pudner says Trump campaigned on a platform of cleaning up the swamp, and failing to deal with the conflicts of interest he faces will distract from his effort to reform Washington.

PUDNER: If you have the presidency and people are going to question every week, well, why is he making this decision; was there some business angle on it, I just think it undercuts so much of the reason that people did support him.

ZARROLI: The letter notes that Trump has begun to address the conflicts he faces by terminating business deals in countries such as Brazil and Azerbaijan. He's also said he wants to shut down his charitable foundation, which is being investigated by the New York attorney general.

This is a good start, the letter says, but the only way for Trump to solve the problem is by putting his businesses in a blind trust managed by someone independent. Trump so far hasn't been willing to do that, but his transition team says he may hold a press conference next week to discuss his plans. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.