Senators Introduce Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act

March 29, 2019, 10:48 AM HST (Updated March 29, 2019, 10:48 AM)
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Earlier this week, Sens Mazie K. Hirono, Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and 26 of their Senate colleagues introduced the Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act, which codifies the longstanding practice of U.S. presidents divesting their financial interests and placing them in a blind trust. The bill would prevent President Trump from retaining any financial assets or maintaining conflicts of interest that could violate the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

“This President’s refusal to follow the lead of other Chief Executives who divested their holdings or put them in a blind trust shows us that we cannot rely on the old ways of doing things,” Sen. Hirono said. “It’s not enough to hope that a president will do the right thing. That’s why I am cosponsoring the Presidential Conflict of Interest Act, so that in the future, the American people can be sure their president is working in their best interests, not just to enrich himself, his family, and his friends like Donald Trump.”

“Corruption has always been the central stain of this presidency,” Sen. Warren said. “This bill would force President Trump to fully divest from the same Trump properties and assets that special interests have spent two-plus years patronizing to try and curry favor with this administration—all while lining the President’s pockets.”

While presidents and vice presidents are exempt from many federal financial conflicts of interest laws, before the Trump administration, it was a longstanding practice for them to divest their financial interests and place them in a blind trust (or the equivalent) once elected and sworn into office. To ensure compliance with the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, the bill would:

  • Require the President, Vice President, their spouses, and minor or dependent children to divest all interests that create financial conflicts of interest by placing those assets in a true blind trust, which would be managed by an independent trustee who would oversee the sale of assets and place the proceeds in conflict-free holdings;
  • Adopt a sense of the Congress that the President’s violation of financial conflicts of interest laws or the ethics requirements that apply to executive branch employees constitutes a high crime or misdemeanor under the impeachment clause of the U.S. Constitution; and
  • Prohibit presidential appointees from participating in matters that directly involve the financial interests of the president.
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The bill, which includes language from Senator Ron Wyden’s (D-Ore.) Presidential Tax Transparency Act, would also require that a sitting president and any presidential nominees of a major political party release his or her public federal income tax returns from the three most recent tax years. President Trump is the first sitting U.S. president in 40 years to not release his tax returns, and he has consistently refused to adequately address concerns of foreign and domestic conflicts of interest by divesting his financial interests and placing them in a true blind trust.

In addition to Sens. Hirono and Warren, the Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act is also cosponsored by U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Gary C. Peters (D-Mich.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

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