Donald Trump’s candidacy raises novel ethics questions

October 07 01:56 2015

If voters decide to hire billionaire Donald Trump as their president in 2016, they couldn’t actually fire him from the job he now holds. Federal law doesn’t explicitly prohibit President Trump from continuing to run the sprawling gambling, real-estate and brand-marketing empire that is the Trump Organization, federal ethics experts say. And the conflict-of-interest rules that bar Cabinet secretaries and other high-ranking executive branch officials from overseeing matters that boost their personal bottom lines don’t apply to the president.

“The president holds a constitutional office, and it’s very difficult constitutionally to restrict the president’s activities,” said Robert Kelner, a Washington lawyer who specializes in ethics and election laws. “Were he to be elected, it would be an interesting test case.” So far, Trump has offered few specific details about how he would navigate potential conflicts of interest if he becomes the nation’s CEO. He told Golf Digest last month that his executives and children would take over the business should he win. Three of his children already are top executives with the company.

“My children have become very good at what they are doing,” he said. “It’s a very big business, but they will be able to run it. And I think they’d run it very well.” The GOP front-runner’s use of business assets in his campaign already has raised questions. Last month, for instance, the Trump Organization’s general counsel, Alan Garten, sent a cease-and-desist letter on company stationery that threatened the conservative Club for Growth with legal action over a political ad that slammed Trump’s positions on issues, such as taxes and health care. Earlier that month, Trump himself penned a note on corporate letterhead, urging CNN president Jeff Zucker to donate profits from the network’s Sept. 16 GOP debate to veterans’ groups.