Edwin D. Williamson, today:
President-elect Donald Trump’s attempt to put the conflicts issue behind him has failed, at least according to the mainstream media. His announcement that he would resign from all positions with companies in the Trump Organization, put the Trump Organization in a trust run by his two sons and a Trump Organization employee, and not communicate with the trustees on the business did not stifle the howl from the media and such self-appointed ethics watchdogs as Richard Painter and Norman Eisen, who continue their dire warnings about the new president's potential conflicts of interests. Even the supposedly nonpartisan director of the Office of Government Ethics has chimed in, saying that Trump's "plan does not comport with the tradition of our presidents over the last 40 years" (which is incorrect with respect to President Carter; the others did not have financial interests that came close to the extent and complexity of Trump's).
The media and the watchdogs insist on a full divestiture by Trump of all financial interests in the Trump Organization (he will be the principal beneficiary of the Trump trust). For a variety of reasons, divestiture probably cannot be done at all, but it certainly cannot be done without creating an entirely new set of conflicts. What the president-elect has done would not satisfy the requirements of the federal conflicts law if they applied to him (they do not), but he has made a good-faith effort to distance his role as president from his financial interests.
Edwin D. Williamson, November, 2008:
An MSNBC article discusses ethics issues that former President Bill Clinton's extensive charitable activities could present if Barack Obama nominates Hilary Clinton to be Secretary of State. Here's an excerpt:
[V]ast amounts of money and prestige are involved, and those factors could pose problems for lawyers at the State Department who work to prevent ethical conflicts from corrupting the nation's foreign policy.
Edwin D. Williamson, who served as the State Department's chief legal adviser under President George H.W. Bush, said he does not know how the agency would resolve the potential conflicts. "If a client came to me with this set of facts, I would describe it as nightmarish," he said.
The gall of these people. Their moral compass disappears as soon as a Republican gets near the White House. Every single legal argument used against the Clintons for over 25 years is simply flushed down the memory hole.
You may remember how both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W, Bush placed their personal assets in blind trusts in order to ensure that they could not be accused of anything unethical, but that's not enough. You may remember how Presidents Clinton and Obama did the same thing, but you'd be sneered at for bringing it up. You might remember how all other candidates have released their tax returns, but now you're just being shrill.
Trump has made a "good faith" effort. Except that he hasn't used a blind trust in any way, shape or form. That's not good faith. That's thumbing your nose at the whole idea that a president should comport himself in an ethical manner.
The Republicans have set up a dangerous precedent. In the future, be prepared to laugh in their face if they ever raise a concern for the "appearance of a conflict of interest" with regards to any Democrat.