Casey co-sponsors presidential conflict-of-interest bill
January 10, 2017 12:07 AM
Matt Rourke/Associated Press
Sen. Bob Casey
By Chris Potter / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
President-elect Donald Trump is expected to discuss on Wednesday how he will handle the potential conflicts of interest posed by his sprawling business empire. But Democrats aren’t waiting to call him out. On Monday, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey joined 23 other Democrats to co-sponsor a bill requiring him to cash out any financial holdings that could pose a conflict of interest.
The measure also requires the president and vice president to release their tax returns, a long-standing practice Mr. Trump flouted last year.
“These aren’t bills we should have to introduce,” Mr. Casey said. “But we’re in a different chapter of history now.”
The measure is likely to prove symbolic in a Republican-controlled Congress.
The Presidential Conflicts of Interest Act of 2017 requires presidents, vice presidents, their spouses and minor children to report financial interests within 30 days of taking office. They would also be obliged to furnish tax returns from the previous three years as well as “each taxable year for which an audit … by the Internal Revenue Service is pending.”
Mr. Trump has cited ongoing IRS audits as a reason he can’t release his returns.
The legislation requires any financial holding that poses a potential conflict to be transferred to a blind trust. A failure by the president or vice president to divulge or divest such holdings “would constitute a high crime or misdemeanor” -— the standard for impeachment.
That provision is a symbolic statement, without force of law. Mr. Casey called it “a way to put a fine point on how seriously we take this.”
Mr. Casey acknowledged the legislation would have to clear “a high bar” with Republicans. But “if [Trump officials] are reckless, it might get easier,” he added, saying he hoped the measure would pressure Mr. Trump into divesting voluntarily.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Casey’s Republican counterpart, Pat Toomey, said Mr. Toomey was not available to discuss the proposal.
Mr. Trump’s real estate and branding business interests span the globe. Ethicists have cited numerous concerns: from business leaders currying governmental favor by staying in Trump hotels to foreign policy entanglements stemming from overseas development deals.
Mr. Trump tweeted in November that “legal documents are being crafted which take me completely out of business operations.” But he canceled a press conference to discuss the topic last month. Wednesday’s press conference will be his first since winning the Nov. 8 election.
The bill does not seem to address holdings by Mr. Trump’s adult children, three of whom play a significant role in the Trump family business. It applies only to offspring under the age of 18. Still, “we’ve signed on in support of this, as we feel it is a necessary first step,” said Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
Federal ethics laws require lower-level officials to divest their interests, but Congress’ ability to regulate the heads of a separate branch of government is unclear. Mr. Trump himself has told The New York Times that “the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
“Previously, the president was exempted from conflicts of interest laws because there was a view of ‘Well, the president does so many things that everything could be a conflict,’” Mr. Libowitz said. “But they weren't considering a president with a multibillion dollar multinational corporation to his name.”
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