The 16 members of Donald Trump’s transition team include members of his family, who are also tasked with running Mr. Trump's company while he serves as president, leading some observers to question just how well the billionaire can separate business and politics.
From the time Trump announced his presidential bid, analysts, political insiders, and voters questioned how the real estate mogul’s business would affect his campaign and ability to govern the country. Experts say the competing interests could ensnare Trump in legal battles and jeopardize the ethics of his presidency as he makes the unprecedented shift from a modern-day business tycoon to president. Trump has maintained that he would place his company in a blind trust to be run by his children and avoid discussions of it with them, therefore ridding his office of conflict.
“We are in the process of vetting various structures with the goal of the immediate transfer of management of The Trump Organization and its portfolio of businesses to Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump as well as a team of highly skilled executives,” a Trump Organization official said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “This is a top priority at the Organization and the structure that is ultimately selected will comply with all applicable rules and regulations.”
But Trump's decision to appoint his children to his transition team, the first positions of influence in his presidency, has invited those questions to return.
"The fact that they have been included as part of the transition team just shows how inappropriate their role in bridging the gap between him as a businessman and politician is," Meredith McGehee, a strategic adviser at the Campaign Legal Center, told The Washington Post. "It's a clear demonstration that there is no firewall between the two."
Unveiling his transition team Friday, Trump named Vice President-elect Mike Pence to head the committee, placing three of his children, Eric, Ivanka, and Donald Jr., as well as his son-in-law Jared Kushner, on the executive committee. Faithful campaign allies like Rudy Giuliani, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Republican primary candidate Ben Carson have all been selected to assist in the process as well.
While Mr. Christie was previously poised to lead the team, his connection to the 2013 “Bridgegate” scandal has tainted his reputation nationally, prompting Trump’s team to demote Christie and place Gov. Pence in the position.
That gives Pence a pivotal role in the selection of cabinet officials, allowing him to fill the West Wing with establishment Republicans he knows from his days in Congress. Meanwhile, Trump's children, the very people appointed to run his business to avoid government conflicts, will dip their toes in the political realm. That announcement came just a day after the news that the Trump business would fall into the hands of Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric Trump.
“They’re really intelligent. They’re really qualified. That’s why he really didn’t run in 2012, because they were younger by four years,” Michael Cohen, an attorney for Trump, said Thursday, according to Politico. “And they didn’t have, I guess, the experience, maturity that he felt he wanted to leave a $10 billion company to. Now he does. He’s very comfortable with them at the helm and the people that will surround them.”
Blind trusts are commonly used by presidents to secure their investments while they hold office. Trump has said he would be too preoccupied with the important policy changes needed to fix the country to inquire about his business assets, saying that a blind trust would solve the conflict.
"Well I will sever connections and I'll have my children and my executives run the company," Mr. Trump told "Fox & Friends" in September. "And I won't discuss it with them. It's just so unimportant compared to what we're doing about making America great again. I just wouldn't care."
But others say blind trusts aren’t effective ways to manage a public business like a real estate empire, and also don’t bode well under familial management.
"There a lot of reasons not to have a blind trust," Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, previously told The Christian Science Monitor. "I don't really see how blind this could be with a real estate empire."
While there’s no law mandating Trump relinquish his business ties, most presidents have chosen to use a traditional blind trust in which an investor sells an official’s assets and places them in something else without their direct knowledge. Because Trump intends to retain his public real estate empire valued at some $4.5 billion, the concept doesn’t necessarily translate in his case.
Other members of the advisory committee include Breitbart News chairman Stephen Bannon; Rebekah Mercer, a top Republican donor; Reps. Lou Barletta and Tom Marino of Pennsylvania; Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee; Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus; Rep. Chris Collins of New York; Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi; Rep. Devin Nunes of California; PayPal Founder Peter Thiel; hedge-fund manager Anthony Scaramucci; and former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnuchin.
Some have noted that the team filled with political and business insiders hardly resembles the candidate's former intent to “drain the swamp” of entrenched Washington, D.C., politicians, which garnered support for Trump during his campaign. Others have argued that individuals qualified to guide the inexperienced winner’s first term in office would have to come from a political background.
“Look I don’t want his administration filled with Breitbart and Ann Coulter – those kind of folks,” Peter Wehner, who served in the last three GOP administrations and criticized Trump’s unorthodox campaign, told Politico. “I hope for the sake of the country that he gets competent people in place who know how to run the government because he has no earthly idea what to do. I’m sure he’s in the process of figuring out that the presidency is not a reality television show.”
This report contains material from Reuters.