NPR Launches New Tool To Monitor President Trump's Ethical Promises

Feb 18, 2017
Originally published on February 20, 2017 11:21 am
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now let's talk about a new tool that NPR's digital team created. It's the Trump Ethics Monitor. It's a digital project on npr.org that lets us and you keep an eye on President Trump's business interests and what he's doing to rid himself of conflicts of interest related to them. Here to talk about this tool is Marilyn Geewax, NPR's senior business editor. Marilyn, welcome back. Thanks so much for joining us once again.

MARILYN GEEWAX, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So very quickly, remind us of what President Trump has said about these ethical issues. I mean, he reminds us often, as does the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, that presidents are not subject to the same conflict of interest rules that other government employees and even Cabinet secretaries are. So what has he said about this?

GEEWAX: Right. Even though he, on the one hand, says he's exempt from those conflict rules - and he is - he has made a number of assertions. And we went through a bunch of transcripts of the debates and White House statements to look for what has he said he would do, and we came up with 10 claims. And then we set out to find the documentation that he actually has lived up to his own word.

And what we found is that there are these assertions. And sometimes he says he's done them, but we are still not seeing any evidence of them. For example, he said he would sell all of his stock. He said he's done that. But there's no paperwork. We would like to be able to link to a document. Where's the receipt? You know, just show us.

He also said that he would release his taxes when his audit is completed, but he has not released a letter from the IRS saying he is being audited. So - and, of course, there's also the issue that the IRS says you don't have to wait for an audit to be done.

MARTIN: So how does the tool work? Can you kind of walk us through it?

GEEWAX: Well, we just quote the promise, what he has said in his own words or his attorney, and then you can click on it to see - what is the conflict that's potentially the problem? What is the latest development in this? And you can draw your own conclusions.

MARTIN: Are there any areas in which President Trump has made progress?

GEEWAX: Yeah. I think you could say - he has said that he would step back from daily management of the business, and we can find documents to show that. But at the same time, he has - all he's done with the businesses is collect them all up together and put them into a revocable trust. But he's the sole beneficiary of that trust. So even if his sons are running the businesses, the daily management, ultimately the money comes back to him. So ethics experts say that's nowhere near what is enough to end the conflict of interest.

MARTIN: Now, before we let you go, Marilyn, we just heard from NPR's Scott Horsley, who is at a Trump rally in Florida today. And this is actually a campaign event geared toward - wait for it - the 2020 election. So...

GEEWAX: Ooh (laughter). We're all so excited to look forward to another cycle of...

MARTIN: Exactly. So I wanted to know if there are - people have raised ethics questions about these campaign events during the previous campaign. What are those questions?

GEEWAX: Well, it's very unusual to have a president who has so many for-profit businesses. So when he was a candidate, for example, his companies made something like nearly $13 million in rental, you know, for staging an event, and then the campaign would actually pay his businesses. So it's kind of unclear over the next four years - every time he shows up at one of his properties, will he call that a campaign event and collect rent for that? It's a strange situation.

And he can also, you know, take in donations right now. He's already collecting money for 2020. So it's just unusual. Other people in the past have waited at least two years into their term before they started running for re-election.

MARTIN: That's Marilyn Geewax, NPR's business editor. You can check out the Trump Ethics Monitor at npr.org. Marilyn, thank you.

GEEWAX: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.