The most recent post on this blog concerned the possibility of President Elect Trump putting his assets in a trust which would be managed by his children to avoid conflicts of interest that could arise from his management and ownership of such assets while in office. Since then an unrelated legal development has occurred which further underscores the challenge facing Trump: the announcement that JP Morgan was settling the “Princeling” case, which involved the bank’s hiring the sons and daughters of important Chinese officials in return for business. The case (which will likely be followed by others of its sort) is a timely reminder that helping one’s children can inspire corruption – and not just in China.
A famous instance of this sort from the 1980s concerned the hiring (by a former Miss America) of a NY judge’s daughter to influence the judge’s decision on a pending case. And then there are the immortal words of the first Mayor Daley who, in speaking to colleagues on the Cook County Democratic Committee, defended his having directed a million dollars of insurance business to an agency on behalf of his son John by saying: “If I can’t help my sons, then [my critics] can kiss my ass. I make no apologies to anyone.”
Indeed, helping one’s children might be a more powerful source for wrongdoing than is pure self-centered greed, for the very reason that it seems to spring from a sense of duty. (An old saying goes that if you’re not stealing from your company you’re stealing from your family.)
Note that I’m not suggesting that Trump would use his influence to get jobs for his kids or direct government business to them. But if they are running his far-flung, secretive and complex business empire he will have plenty of opportunities to use his influence to benefit them.
None of this means that Trump’s children are destined to serve as “princelings.” I should also stress that I have no reason to think they would do anything unethical. Seriously.
Rather, the focus of this post (and indeed this blog generally) is more about structures and circumstances than it is individual personalities. In effect, the princeling analysis is part of risk assessment, even if it is speculative; it is not an accusation. More specifically, the JP Morgan case reminds us that in designing (or agreeing to) an approach to address the COIs relating to his assets, Trump needs to have procedures that will help avoid not only direct COIs but those involving his sons and daughters as well – and give the public comfort that those procedures are up to the task at hand.